Case Study

Case Study: Multi-Zone, Infrared Thermoforming Oven For Manufacturing

Designing and building a large, single panel, multi-zone heating oven saw Ceramicx use a series of infrared FTE 650W, ceramic heating elements with a custom controller. The infrared heating system was custom-designed for the large-scale thermoforming of polymer sheets to improve multi-zone heat speed and efficiency as well as providing consistent and even temperatures.

Multi-zone thermoforming

With over 1bn end-users and a global reputation, a sanitaryware customer has invested in growing further. Faced with production techniques that gave them neither the efficiency, accuracy, nor speeds required for manufacture, they needed to improve their current infrared systems.

Already using an older system with gas catalytic infrared emitters for their thermoforming processes, the biggest concern had been issues with the zoning of their emitters and the uneven and inconsistent temperatures they were getting from them.

With a slow and inefficient process overall and a lack of precise control, the challenge was to create a custom-designed, replacement infrared thermoforming oven that gave more comprehensive sheet heating through multi-zoning, while giving them the faster and precision-response heat control they required.

During ongoing discussions with Ceramicx’ North American distributor, Weco International, the customer was able to give detailed specifications and requirements on how the engineering for their new infrared thermoforming oven should take shape.

One of the key challenges from a Ceramicx point of view was the ongoing COVID restrictions. Under normal circumstances, our engineers would be on-site with the customer to help with the overall installation, configuration, and testing. Though we weren’t allowed to fly to be there in person, we were able to work with Lixil’s team remotely to help oversee the commissioning in real-time.

The Ceramicx solution

With Weco’s experience in infrared thermoforming across the US, they were able to advise the customer on the best way forward before contacting us here at Ceramicx. Based on their findings, we provided detailed drawings covering the technical specs they required. This consisted of exact sizes, power usage, and zoning requirements, while also mapping out the fixing arrangements.

Designed and manufactured to the customer specifications, our infrared heating system consists of two types of infrared elements on two panels and a control panel on one stainless steel frame. As the zoning of their previous machine was an issue, Ceramicx has created a more spacious multi-zone array, built as two single, upper and lower platens.

The element types are replacements for their current gas emitters, with the control panel connected to the infrared platen using quick-connect plugs for power and thermocouples. Quick-connect plugs are also used to connect the thermocouples inside the panel.

With an overall panel size of approximately 3m x 3m, both upper and lower panels are fitted with polished aluminium clad steel reflectors. Each panel comprises a total of two types of full trough ceramic elements:

  • 650W FTE 480V x150
  • 650W FTE 480V with embedded Type K thermocouple x50

With long-lasting energy efficiency, each element gives a mean surface temperature of 596ºC.

The control system features a 260kW control panel using 3 x 480V +PE AC voltage, while the panel controls the infrared oven by using Siemens HMI and PLC controllers to adjust the required temperature in the oven zones with complete precision.

All zones reach within +/- 1°C of the setpoint temperature using closed-loop PID control giving a big improvement on the original system. The control system also includes a remote access network device to allow troubleshooting and easy maintenance.

Power 130kW
Element type FTE 650W 48V yellow x 150 and TCK x 50
Element array x200 elements (20 x 10)
Frame Stainless Steel 304
Reflectors Manufactured from polished aluminium clad steel
Mounting Brackets for mounting provision
Backing Perforated aluminium back cover
Control zones x50 control zones – x4 heaters per zone – x1 TCK per zone
Electrical connection Via 3 metres of flexible metallic conduit
Controller Siemens S7 series PLC and HMI
Control Type Closed Loop
Power Switching Hetronik

Improved thermoforming processes

This Ceramicx infrared heating system now helps the customer heat their polymer sheeting more quickly over a larger area than their current machinery. It’s also able to provide the even coverage and temperature consistency needed to meet their thermoforming output requirements.

Components Used

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