After spending two years as a retail sales associate and five years handling industrial equipment telephone support calls, it became abundantly clear that the experience one creates for their customer can be even more important than having the fast/easy solution. Active listening and finding the true “pain” a customer is experiencing are of the utmost importance.

For instance, a photographer looking for a new computer may be out searching in order to replace an existing computer that cannot run the necessary photo-editing software they require. Without conversation on this topic, or consideration to their needs, it is very easy to quickly sell the photographer on a more inexpensive computer. Ultimately, however,
this would leave the customer dissatisfied and
less likely to return the next time they have a related need.

Similar to the capital-equipment world, this “pain” could be something as simple as small, sporadic annoyances cropping up on aging equipment to exorbitant fees and scheduling difficulties due to relying on contracting out work to severe, line-down failures causing loss-of-production scenarios. Now that I am in a capital-equipment sales role, much more time is required to root out these concerns and understand application needs in order to ensure that they are addressed during the equipment design process.

In my current sales engineer role, my focus is to spend more time with customers speaking about their application to determine what design considerations are best made to suit their specific process. One of the most critical decisions to make during the pre-design process of a convection-heated oven is to determine the type (direction) of air flow used throughout the chamber.

Oven companies often have several standard airflow patterns, but misapplying the path of airflow could lead to a piece of equipment that is, at best, not efficient in its heating and, at worst, not at all useful for the application. Inquiring about how the equipment will be loaded, the orientation of the parts and the size/shape of the parts all play a role in determining optimal airflow.

We recently had a customer that contacted us with concerns that their ovens were taking a very long time to heat their load of aluminum extrusions. Upon investigation, we found that the ovens were ordered several years ago with combination airflow (where air is provided from both sides of the chamber and returned vertically through the ceiling of the chamber) for a different application (Fig. 1).

This new aging application had extruded aluminum tubes that were stacked front to back on a load car and one on top of the next, thus allowing no path for the heated air through the load. Rather than being effectively heated, the material was almost entirely dependent on conduction from one part to the next because only the outside edges of the tubes were directly heated by the air.

After consulting with our customer, we were able to recommend use of horizontal airflow, where air is supplied from one side of the chamber, passes through the tubes and returns through the other (Fig. 2). This recommendation was made by identifying the part orientation within the oven and working with the customer to obtain a 3-D model of the load.

We were able to use CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software to show a change in airflow from combination to horizontal would provide a roughly 50% reduction in heat-up time. Time savings like this can be used to increase the throughput of the oven, thus sending more product out the door and leading to a quicker payoff on the capital investment.