When you are putting together a new manufacturing line, or purchasing a replacement process heating system for an existing line, you want to make sure you have covered all the bases in your RFP process. After all, this is a decision you’ll be living with for years to come.
You have done your research about process heating system technologies and done your due diligence to determine the best choice for your product. You’ve decided on the most appropriate and economical energy source. You have designed a material handling mechanism that’s perfect for your process. And of course, looked for the best price for the system you require.
Related article: Selecting a Process Heating Oven Starts with Product & Process
However, there is one additional aspect of designing the best process heating system that you may have overlooked: how difficult and expensive will it be to service and maintain the equipment?
It’s important to remember what happens down the road after you get that new process heating system up and running in your plant. Inevitably, the equipment will need cleaning and occasionally replacement parts to keep it working efficiently and to ensure that your product quality remains consistent. How much will it cost to maintain your process heating system? The answer to that question depends on whether or not the equipment was designed for serviceability.
Radiant Energy worked with a client who made the mistake of failing to plan for service in the design of a piece of equipment. When it came time for replacing a part, a simple job that should have taken 3 hours instead took 3 days due to the poor design of the machine. Meanwhile, the manufacturing line was down, and the company losing money with every minute of downtime. Needless to say, that was an expensive lesson.
The way to avoid a huge unexpected expense when it comes time to service equipment involves planning for the lifecycle of your process heating system. Make sure you understand the maintenance that will be needed for each piece of equipment, and look for design features that make maintenance fast and easy.
At regular intervals (which depend on the usage of your process heating system and the volume of product you are producing), your equipment needs to be cleaned, inspected and tuned up. This regularly-scheduled preventative maintenance prevents those unexpected line stoppages. Typically these are the tasks that must be done:
Cleaning: When you are working with coatings and webs, occasionally a web will break and the coating material gets deposited onto oven parts. That buildup will damage the process heating system as well as your product if it’s not removed on a regular basis.
Inspecting electrical connections and belts: Over time, electrical connections can become loose and wires worn. Tightening connections and replacing wires prevents arcing and unexpected power failures that can take your process heating system down.
Replacing filters: If you have a hot air oven, it contains HEPA filters that are designed to remove dust and debris from the air in the oven and prevent it from settling on your product. Those filters need to be replaced periodically so they don’t become clogged.
Replacing parts on a schedule: There are certain parts in a process heating system that have predictable life spans, including the thermocouple, flame rod and igniter. If you’re smart, you replace those parts proactively when they near the end of that predictable life span, rather than waiting for them to fail. Doing so allows you to plan for downtime to do maintenance, rather than having to stop the line and replace a part when it breaks.
Instrument calibration: Protocols for maintaining certifications require you to regularly calibrate gauges and instruments to ensure their accuracy.
Every piece of equipment will eventually experience a repair issue. When that happens, your line is stopped and you’re losing more money the longer it takes to fix the problem. That’s why it can be a serious problem when you purchase a process heating system that has not been designed to provide easy access for service.
The right process heating system design makes maintenance faster, easier and less expensive. Here’s how to make sure you get it:
CHOOSE A CUSTOM SOLUTION RATHER THAN OFF-THE-SHELF
When your process heating system is custom designed for your needs, your vendor will think through the required maintenance for your specific system and how to accomplish that without disassembling the entire oven. With an off-the-shelf system, that may not be the case.
PLAN FOR PARTS AVAILABILITY
Make sure the parts of your process heating system that will need to be replaced are standard components that are designed for durability and are locally available. If there are some custom parts, you should plan to keep those parts in stock so you don’t have to wait a long time to get them if the need arises.
LOOK FOR FEATURES THAT REDUCE MAINTENANCE TIME
Access doors for getting at frequently-replaced parts greatly reduce the time it takes to service equipment. Alerts that let you know when it’s time to change filters also reduce maintenance by preventing breakdowns caused by skipping important service tasks.
You can also get closed loop controls that make automatic adjustments to airflow as needed between planned service intervals. Radiant Energy’s filter automation incrementally increases air flow as the filter accumulates more debris by speeding up the blower fan. Alerts and controls like this also improve the energy efficiency of your process heating system.
Related article: Optimizing Process Heating Systems for Energy Efficiency
TRAINING FOR MAINTENANCE TASKS
Proper maintenance should be part of the training process provided by the equipment manufacturer. During or prior to your equipment start up, make sure your engineers and operators receive proper instruction on the tasks that need to be done regularly, the recommended schedule, and tips on what to watch for. You should also receive documentation for your process heating system that includes complete maintenance instructions.
While we have you thinking about what happens after you buy a process heating system, don’t forget to evaluate a potential new vendor’s service and support. Yet it can be challenging to figure out how to predict whether you’ll get the support you expect post-sale. To learn more about making this call, grab a copy of our helpful guide: How to Evaluate a Vendor’s Post-Sale Service Before You Buy.