Commercial SCADA "toolkit" products promise the ability to implement supervisory control systems which can be tailored to the needs of any application, including running heat-treat processes such as kilns.

We have monitored the progress of DIY efforts in our industry for many years, particularly as carried out by a few key brick manufacturers, and observe that their systems achieve at most twenty percent of the functionality of a Kiltel system, at a development and implementation cost at least twenty times greater, and, most interestingly, with absolutely no leverage (ie, a system for the next plant takes exactly as much time to develop and install as its predecessor, with no improvement in functionality or decrease in cost).

In order to compare the experience and expectations of implementing a SCADA system for kiln operations, vs a fully developed commercial product such as Kiltel, we invite you to consider the following issues:

Goals, Features and Expectations

What should a well-formed SCADA system for your kilns include? What features must such a system include to be minimally effective and justify the sizeable development costs? How many data objects need to be measured, and how often? What should be saved, in what format? What is the architecture of higher-level data structures such as firing curves and run histories? What is the composition and format of kiln-specific data exploration and reports?

These fundamental system analysis issues need to be fully explored and mapped out at the start of system development, so that the development project has closely defined goals, which will in turn point the way towards choosing optimal software methodologies and data structures. Toolkits do not provide any help with this task; if you need plotting, you need to find and link in a plotting engine; if you need a database, you need to choose and link in a database, and then define all the relationships between data items. Features that are not defined in advance will not exist; features that are not achievable using pre-programmed toolkit options will never exist.

KILTEL offers a fully designed system, highly specialized, optimized, and proven for managing ware firing in all types of kilns. Our system architecture and design decisions, comprising over 120,000 lines of computer code, have been proven by over 20 years of 24x7 in-plant experience.

Who will create your system?

The promise of a toolkit is that engineers who need not be programmers or database specialists can nonetheless create effective complex systems. But, who will do their regular engineering jobs while this project is underway? Do they have any experience in designing, building and maintaining real-time mission-critical computer programs? Enthusiasm alone may prove an insufficient qualification, and overall project expense can become extremely large when personnel costs are fully included.

KILTEL works full-time developing and maintaining our products; we have extensive background in professional software development and process engineering. We communicate with our customers in engineering/process terms that they understand, and with computers in the languages they understand.

How do you manage a software development project?

Senior plant management with oversight of implementing a SCADA system should carefully consider whether the available in-house talent is up for the task, and also how the project team will be managed. How long should the development project take? One month, six months, two years? At what point should concrete useable results be obtained? How complete is the system design at the outset of the project? How does one evaluate development progress? When should useable features be expected to be on-line and fully functional? What options are available if the development goes off-track? Familiarity with managing the work of engineers doing traditional mechanical/electrical/process tasks may prove of little use in assessing the progress of complex software development, especially when non-professionals are doing it.

KILTEL is not in the project consulting business (and neither are our customers). We deliver a fully developed complete system product, with all described and promised features fully proven, completely operational and ready to run as soon as the system is installed.

What hardware should we use?

Hardware selection should be driven by capabilities, cost, and ability to be integrated into the overall measurement system. Toolkit packages include (optional, extra cost) device interfaces for popular hardware, but hardware that is not supported will not be useable, so the toolkit choice is implicitly making decisions which limit the choices for hardware integration, without regard to the relevance or usefulness (or necessity) of a particular device for measurements related to operating kilns.

KILTEL's SCADA system includes built-in support for the widest range of measurement and control devices used with kilns, and new devices are easily added (at no cost) to expand the system's capabilities.

How will the system be supported?

Toolkit vendors support their products' functionality as a toolkit, closely defined as the interoperability of supplied components. Higher-level functionality in any particular operating context, such as kilns, is entirely developed by the user and as such is beyond the scope of available support. Continuing low-level support from the manufacturer or system integrator requires expensive maintenance contracts and/or hourly fees.

KILTEL's products are complete solutions for manufacturing processes involving kilns. Our ongoing support addresses any and all problems or questions, going beyond the basic aspects of hardware/software performance to the most important issues related to actual context, "why isn't my kiln working correctly, and how can Kiltel help?" Kiltel does not charge for ongoing support, and software revisions are made available at no charge to registered users. We welcome user suggestions for new features and software improvements.