Thermal process control monitors and adjusts temperatures to keep products within a safe window during manufacturing. Temperature can be an important characteristic for performance and safety in products ranging from canned foods to computer chips. A variety of technologies are available for thermal process control applications, including specialty products for particular manufacturing applications, like working with lead-free solder. In all cases, the goal is consistency and repeatability for the purposes of mass production, as well as the generation of records for quality control purposes.
Companies use process control to limit the operating conditions on the manufacturing floor. In the case of sterilization, for example, the products being sterilized need to reach a minimum temperature to kill any living organisms present. They can’t get too hot, however, as this could damage their components. Thus, the manufacturer uses thermal process control to set and maintain an acceptable window, monitoring throughout to make sure the temperature doesn’t drop or rise too high.
Equipment used in thermal process control can provide continuous information on temperature values, in addition to making adjustments to the temperature. Blowers and fans prevent the formation of hot and cold spots in manufacturing areas. Pressure controls can also be linked, in cases where a company is using pressurized environments. All of these activities are automated to free workers for other tasks, although an alert can sound to summon a worker to address a problem.
Manufacturers have several considerations when it comes to temperatures in the manufacturing process. One is any standards set by government agencies for health and safety reasons. Another is the limitations and tolerances of the product being manufactured. A large temperature window may be desirable to leave more room for error, ensuring that the manufacturing process always falls within the guidelines. The narrower the range of acceptable temperatures, the tighter the thermal process control needs to be.
Records on temperatures throughout the process are generated automatically by the process control equipment. They can be reviewed by quality control to make sure temperatures fell within an acceptable range during production. In the event of a problem, these records may provide information about what happened and when, to allow the company to recall damaged lots and prevent future incidents of a similar type. Regulators may also ask to see records if they have concerns about conditions on the manufacturing floor or want to find the cause of product failures.