Its been a while since I’ve had a lot to say about the kiln world. We’ve been very busy working on the site, teaching classes, and working with artists to help them get the most from their kiln choice. I spent the week at the Glass Craft Expo in Las Vegas and it was a great opportunity to see all of the kiln manufactures and what's new in their product lines. Here are a few of my thoughts and some reviews of what’s coming in the next wave of technology.
This is always a touchy subject because we become very attached to our brand of controller. It’s an extension of our intensions and helps us get the most out of our kiln work. There’s always debate about what is actually better and why, but for my money, you just can’t beat the TAP Controller. Their new IPhone/Android Phone monitor interface connection is exactly what we’ve dreamed about for the last 10 years. It’s a huge step forward from the rigged up baby monitor that we all thought was genius.
It’s been a year since the TAP Controller hit the market and many predicted doom and gloom for the upstart company with the “new” idea. It’s almost as though many were waiting for it to fail. They equated “new” with risky, or even dangerous, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard that just because it was “new” didn’t mean it was “good.” Well I can tell you that those “nay” sayers have been proved wrong. In this case, new IS good, and now better. Of course there are always glitches in software in early releases, and the TAP crew had their share of snafus, but they were mostly small and fixable, and the new software update took care of the few bugs that existed. It was a hit this year at the show, and their plans are to continue adding functionality to the already stellar leap forward in technology. For larger kilns (with shelves over 12”) I think it’s worth the upgrade. This controller is only available on Jen-Ken and Evenheat kilns right now. Not so sure why the others aren’t on board yet, but I’ve been assured that it’s coming on other brands soon. No dates have been divulged, even though I pressed and was a little snoopy about it.
Also coming in with a new product was the Bartlett Genesis Controller. Bartlett is now entering the arena of the smart control touchscreen interface with this entry. It’s been in the development phase for a year or more and finally it hit the show with not that much fanfare. I was surprised how little promotion was done for the new entry and how relaxed about it the manufacturers were over the new entry. After some questioning and a bit of asking around, I found out that the new controller is built on the existing RM3-12 key architecture and basically adds the touch screen mode to the current control functions. It looks fine to me, but with only 12 program entry options, that have been pre-populated, the only way to enter a user program is to overwrite a preprogrammed entry. That seems a clunky and not that much of a win in comparison to the TAP Controller which holds over 10,000 entries. Bartlett, being the “old line” more conservative company is clearly entering this technology race with a slower horse. They may see this as a marathon and not a sprint. Only time will tell if this was a good choice for them, and for kiln owners. It’s also an upgrade over 12-key digital controllers available on Olympic and Evenheat Kilns.
Paragon has yet to commit either “smart touchscreen” controller as of yet, saying that they’re still “in testing mode,” but when they do, you can be sure they’ll be going at it with those Texas guns blazing!
Both Jen-Ken Kilns and Evenheat Kilns are soon to announce pricing on Plug-N-Play upgrades to their legacy kiln controllers featuring TAP and Genesis upgrades to your existing 3-key or 12-key digital controllers. The configurations will be determined by you kiln model and age and may consist of add-on boxes to your controller panel or outright remote boxes that re-route controls away from your current box to the new smart upgrade box. We’re working with those companies to determine the package pricing and costs. Both companies anticipate their upgrade boxes to be available for almost every brand of kiln on the market today. You can realistically anticipate that kilns with a single relay will upgrade at a lower price than those with 2-4 relays. We think we’ll have this nailed down in the next 60 days.
This year Evenheat hit the market with Solid State Relays (SSRs) available as upgrades on all of their models. This is a major move forward and the rest of the manufacturers took notice. You can be sure that they all will add this option as an upgrade to their lines throughout 2016. This year every manufacturer made mercury relays available as stock upgrades, but certain states, e.g. California do not allow them, so SSRs now solve the availability issue.
If you don’t already know, a relay is the part of the kiln that controls the power or current to the element, allowing the element to either receive current and get hot, or to interrupt the circuit thus not allowing the element to receive current and cool down. The mechanical relays, which come standard on all kilns, are what is responsible for the ubiquitous opening and closing clicking we hear while our kilns run. Mechanical relays have a life of up to “X” amount of clicks and then they fail. This failure can either be in the closed position (Yikes, my kiln temperature keeps rising and it won’t turn off… everything is ruined!”) or they can fail in the open position. (Yikes, my kiln won’t heat up at all!) Either failure stinks and is why we recommend changing those relays out every 12-24 months in an effort to prevent scenario number one. An SSR is a relay that has no moving parts-TA DAH! The current jumps between nodes on the relay thus never producing wear, allowing for “X10” amount of what I’ll call “click life.” Having an SSR on your kiln will mean changing a relay every 10-15 years instead of the standard 1-2 years. The upgrade cost for is probably equal to the total replacement costs of the mechanical relays over time, but the aggravation - risk factor elimination is absolutely worth the cost. Marketers call that the Positive Value Proposition. It’s basically worth the cost over the life of the kiln. I personally have lost more than one kiln load to this killer, and now I change out my relays like the good girl I am!
I’m not sure how, or even if, the manufacturers will address their legacy kilns that are already in the marketplace in regard to SSRs. Although SSRs are not a new relay option in other electronic appliances, this is the first time that kiln manufacturers have made them publically available as stock upgrades. The word on the street is that Jen-ken will be the next to introduce this fantastic option in their line.
Other Cool Stuff:
The booth was full with people road testing the new option when I arrived so I didn’t get to give the bigger drawer a tug. I’m sure the new configuration will be popular. I can see the value if you do a lot of damming and casting work. I also think it would be great for detailed frit work when you just don’t want to be moving that shelf in and out of the kiln. It will be interesting to see if this becomes something the other manufacturers lock into or not. Olympic also had a few new square kilns that were interesting. We’ll be adding them to the site in the next few weeks.
Evenheat introduced their new relay access port. Which isn’t really very exciting to anyone, except for when you have to change your relays. This door, which is really only applicable to the standard mechanical relays allows users much, much, much easier access to the actual relay and pulls the relay and appropriate wires out of the controller box. So basically it’s a quick switch door that keeps your hands out of the box where all the other wires are. This eliminates the feeling that you are changing your relays in a bowl of spaghetti. It’s a nice little convenience that now will be standard on all of their kilns. My big kiln has 4 relays and this feature sure would have been great when I had to change them out.
Paragon Kilns didn’t introduce anything particularly new this year, but they were there in full force with their tried and true “blue” kilns. The classrooms were full of 16” Fiber Fuse kilns that were very roomy. The students loved them. The Pearl 44 casting kiln looked to be further streamlined, which was impressive.
Not to be outdone by the competition, Jen-Ken Kilns introduced wonderful new hard fiber shelves for their fiber kiln line, the Pro-Fusions 16-26-36-52’s. The hard 1” shelves are the same size as the firing areas so that customers have the full surface protection of the bottom of their kilns. The shelves are available now and we’ll be adding them to our site ASAP! We really like them and think they are a “must-buy” option when getting any fiber kiln.
Olympic held their prices steady this year and won’t be making any pricing changes until November. That’s a great thing for our customers. Evenheat hit early with their pricing changes in January with their introduction of the new V-8 kiln and the introduction of the SSR. Paragon was right behind in February with their pricing changes. Jen-Ken pricing changes will likely occur in the next 60 days, which is always their yearly time frame.
You just can’t beat the fun of going to the Glass Craft Expo in Las Vegas. The classes offer a lot of great techniques, the show floor shows all of the latest-greatest stuff, and the people… well that’s the best part! I got to hang out with current and former students, current and former kiln clients, plus vendors, and I got to teach a few classes and share the love! Next year I hope you can join me!
Your Kiln Gal,