United Process Controls (UPC) upgraded the vacuum furnace controls and automation platform for Woodward Inc., a U.S.-based provider of fuel and control systems for aircraft engines. The new-generation controls provide streamlined reporting for Nadcap compliance as well as seamless integration with the company’s enterprise planning (ERP) system. UPC also equipped a number of new air drying ovens with Protherm 470 programmable controllers with onboard input and output capabilities.

The control upgrades were undertaken at the company’s Illinois facility and completed in a two-step approach. First, three vacuum furnaces received a full control-system replacement based on UPC Protherm 710 controllers. The scope of work also included new digital heating-zone trims for temperature uniformity and multiple PID sets to minimize overshoot and meet tight tolerance requirements. Once the updated controls were installed, the second step was implementation of the Protherm 9800 SCADA and connectivity to the Protherm 710 controllers for real-time visibility of production data, including connectivity to the company’s ERP system. In the latter case, the ERP interacts with the Protherm 9800, managing the process recipes and feeding data to the Protherm 9800 to align the right recipe with the part or job lot entering the receiving furnace. This setup provides a redundant check and requires the operator to validate the part number or job lot number via the Protherm 9800 interface before a recipe can be deployed.

In addition to complying with Nadcap, the enhanced controls also meet AMS 2750E specification for thermocouple tracking. Since thermocouples have a limited life span, Woodward had to closely monitor how often each unit was used and manually record data. Now the Protherm 710 controller tracks the thermocouple, its serial number and usage history; identifies when a thermocouple needs to be replaced based on running hours, days in service and temperatures reached; and alerts the operator when it is time to change the thermocouple.