New portable solution becomes hottest tech in heat treatment

Heat View delivers compact, rugged and customizable heat treating systems using space-saving EtherCAT measurement I/O and PC-based automation from Beckhoff

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Chris Bladek  |  Mar 28, 2024
Heat View equipement
Heat View’s ConPak product packages a stand-alone, 24-channel heating controller into a rugged, highly portable solution.

When Jeremy Breetzke started prototyping the Heat View Heat Treating System, he had no idea how many different applications and industries it would eventually be used in globally. Back in 2018, Breetzke, Owner and Controls Specialist at Heat View, simply saw a gap to fill.

There was no compact, flexible option to monitor and provide reports during in situ heat treating for applications in factories, plants or remote areas. So he started working on a design as part of his system integration business, Grand Controls, Inc. based in London, Ontario. “The Heat View product grew so quickly that in 2021 we spun it off as its own company, Heat View Heat Treating Controls, Inc.,” Breetzke says.

The original use for welding systems was to ensure parts reached and held the correct temperature to avoid defects. This is critical when building oil and gas pipelines or refining infrastructure, for example, where failures can be costly and environmentally catastrophic. The system has been used for that purpose in aerospace, mining, shipbuilding, petrochemicals and more. But it has also been applied to power generation and high-velocity combustion. Once the work is completed, the unit provides the necessary quality control reports.

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The system optimizes in situ heat treating for a range of applications, including shipbuilding, petrochemicals, mining, aerospace and more.

During development of the Heat View system, Scott Fong, Group Director at KASI Technologies Inc., has continued to provide technical input about the heat-treating process. KASI sells and rents field heat-treating equipment and consumables. So Fong knew there was a need for a more a compact, flexible platform, but didn’t know just how broadly it would apply.

“There are so many interesting applications that we never thought of,” Fong says. “On the flip side, it’s used in very harsh environments often out in the elements for days, so the technology has to hold up.”

Technology demands turn up the heat

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The Heat View controller can be embedded into new or existing equipment.

The Heat View team had several additional goals for their solution. First, the product had to be easy to transport and set up. Second, it needed to flexibly adapt to customers’ requirements, such as accommodating different types of current transformer (CT) coils or communicating via various fieldbus protocols to existing equipment. Third, it needed to be easy to use with a more intuitive operator interface, whether the customer wanted a built-in control panel or simply to plug in a laptop.

Breetzke and Fong worked diligently through the end of 2018 to find the ideal answer to these questions. But demand sped up the timeline to finalize the Heat View Heat Treating System. Breetzke knew a flexible automation platform would be key not only to meeting the timeline but also to creating a scalable, adaptable solution for future orders. He had been working with Beckhoff Canada since 2017 for applications with his system integration business. And the EtherCAT and PC-based control technologies seemed like an ideal fit for the Heat View system.

PC Control offers an ideal treatment

The Heat View Heat Treating System comes in several form factors with options for customization. The most portable is the ConPak stand-alone, 24-channel heating controller, which is built into a rugged plastic case for easy setup and portability. In addition, the company provides an embedded Heat View controller for installation into new or existing equipment and generator panels that ideally mix the embedded controls system with all necessary electronics.

From an automation technology perspective, both Heat View systems are very similar. Scalable, fully integrated control technologies from Beckhoff allow the company to use either a C6015 ultra-compact Industrial PC (IPC) or a CP6606 Panel PC when customers would like a built-in, 7-inch industrial touchscreen.

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The engineering team at Heat View was determined to develop an intuitive operator interface after reviewing the convoluted options on the market.

“Both controllers run the same Windows version, along with TwinCAT 3 automation software, of course,” Breetzke says. “So the code that we wrote for the CP6606 was easy to port over to the C6015, and we could write custom code in C# and C++, which isn’t possible on a traditional PLC.”

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By leveraging TwinCAT 3 from Beckhoff, the Heat View team benefited from a universal, end-to-end engineering and runtime platform for automation. TwinCAT integrates with Microsoft Visual Studio®, which empowers engineers to program in a familiar, contemporary environment with the language that best fits their application. That includes IEC 61131-3 programming languages with their object-oriented extensions, predefined or custom function blocks, and computer science standards.

Breetzke appreciated having Structured Text as a programming option, as well as the ability to deploy functions built into the libraries: “TwinCAT has a vast array of libraries that includes many function blocks that aren’t very common with PLCs, such as file read and write,” Breetzke says. “This makes code development much faster.”

EtherCAT I/O measures up to Heat View’s requirements

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Using EL EtherCAT I/O terminals, the ConPak solution incorporates a significant level of automation functionality and signal flexibility into a 45-pound, ruggedized plastic case.

The EtherCAT industrial Ethernet system simplifies industrial networking for Heat View. While their system doesn’t require EtherCAT’s real-time speeds, it does take advantage of its openness and flexibility. Beckhoff’s wide variety of bus couplers and gateways to more than 30 common protocols ensures Heat View can connect to all kinds modern control and SCADA systems.

“Customers have asked us to integrate the systems with EtherNet/IP, PROFINET and even Modbus Serial,” says Breetzke. “The only question I’ve needed to ask was, ‘Why are you still using Modbus Serial?’”

Heat View uses various EL series EtherCAT Terminals for basic input and output of signals. However, even more specialized measurement modules retain the same compact 12-millimeter housing size. For the Heat View systems, these include the EL2624 4-channel relay output and EL3174 4-channel analog input.

The EL2624 offers a relay contact up to 125 V AC or 30 V DC, reliably cycling in the field for years. “The EL2624s are phenomenal; they have a ridiculously long lifetime,” Breetzke says. “I would expect maybe 10 million cycles out of this type of terminal, but most the cards in the field are performing well beyond that. And I haven't had any terminals fail in the field from usage, which blows my mind.”

With four individually parameterizable inputs, the EL3174 supports signals ranging from -10/0 to +10 V or -20/0/+4 to +20 mA on each channel. This helps the Heat View systems adapt to changing customer requirements in terms of current transformers, according to Breetzke.

“Because the EL3174s do positive and negative voltage measurement, we can use them with various CT types. With most heat-treating control solutions, changing the CT type would require opening up the console, rewiring it and replacing all the CTs – or using very expensive ones that rectify the signal and feed it back into their controllers,” he says.

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Heat View relies on the EL3174 4-channel analog input cards with multiple signal types – from -10/0 to +10 V or -20/0/+4 to +20 mA on each channel – to support a variety of current transformers.

The EL3174 terminals allow the Heat View system to feed the AC signal from any CT into the system, then calculate the current going out. The system can use that for fault analysis and checking the power, Fong explains: “We were able to design ours in such a way that it could adapt to any existing hardware rather than having to order a proprietary CT coil.”

Heat View’s flexible solution becomes a hot commodity

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Automation and heat treatment experts meet at the Grand Controls, Inc. and Heat View Heat Treating Controls, Inc. facility in London, Ontario: (from left) Dean Herron, Regional Sales Engineer at Beckhoff Canada, with the Heat View team of Ashley Dunn, Nathyn Smeets and owner Jeremy Breetzke.

PC-based automation and EtherCAT solutions empowered the Heat View team to meet all their goals and deliver a scalable, lightweight product for countless kinds of heat treatment. Through purposeful, innovative design, Heat View Controls delivered a powerful solution for challenging environments.

“Sometimes, crews weld pipelines in remote areas where they camp and use generators for power. Other times, they’re working on large facilities and move the setup around frequently,” Breetzke explains. “It’s much easier to pull a 45-pound ConPak system out of your pickup and plug in four cables than transport traditional consoles that often weigh 800 pounds or more.”

The system’s next step will involve additional IoT connectivity for reporting and system updates. Currently, Heat View appreciates the ability to communicate QC data to an operator’s laptop using an Ethernet cable and the ADS protocol. Since TwinCAT engineering software is free to download from the Beckhoff website, customers can also easily install updates. In the future, the inherent connectivity of Beckhoff controls and support for vertical communication protocols – such as OPC UA, MQTT and AMQP – will allow them to send reports and push updates from the cloud.

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The Heat View Heat Treating System products offer and easily portable solution for projects in remote, challenging environments.