The innovation Partnership – Test Machine R&D was set up between the University of Limerick and Ceramicx Infrared Heating in 2008 and commenced in April 2009 and was funded by Enterprise Ireland and Ceramicx to run for 2 years. This innovation partnership reached a successfully conclusion in April 2011. Image to the right is of; Dr. Mark Southern – Project Lead, Enterprise Research Centre, University of Limerick and Frank Wilson – MD Ceramicx Ireland.
The core of the innovation partnership centre’s on developing systems of more closely specified nominal wattage tolerances for the ceramic and quartz electrical elements through the range of Ceramicx products. It was necessary to develop a prototype machine in order to carry out the tests to facilitate VMEA which is a statistically based engineering method, variation mode and affect analysis (VMEA). This process attempts to provide an understanding of process variation and highlights the product/process areas in which improvement efforts should be targeted.
The semi automated validation system with closed-loop process-control is now both guaranteeing the product quality – and assigning and recording performance characteristics and storing data for each part as it is produced. This data is facilitating VMEA analysis which in turn identifies the areas where process improvement will make the most difference. Four key validation stages are now part of the new Ceramicx QA system:
The Flash test: This QA test allows the electrical integrity of the insulating materials to be verified and is designed to catch manufacturing defects that could otherwise lead to exposed electrical heating elements and wires.
Nominal tolerance: This QA test will establish the degree to which the actual wattage of a given product deviates from its rated wattage and can assist in reducing large variations. Load test: For this test, the product is energized with high-voltage electrical power to rapidly elevate its temperature. The measured temperature reached within a given timeframe then allows the functionality of the product to be assessed.
Thermal analysis: After reaching the target temperature, IR images of the product are then recorded in order to provide for a visual inspection of the heating element within. These images are unique for each product tested – are matched to that product’s serial number – and are traceable. These images will also be statistically analysed by the test software to determine the heat distribution across the product – and identify hot or cold spots. And for models with built-in thermocouples, the integrity, operation and placement of these thermocouples will also be validated.
Ceramicx and the University of Limerick have been aided by Enterprise Ireland as part of the Innovation partnership program. The work has provided ‘win-win’ outcomes for both organisations. The University has been enabled to take its research and project expertise into the manufacturing and commercial marketplace. Ceramicx has been able to leverage the University’s in-house competencies to research, identify and measure current process variations.
The successful conclusion of this innovation partnership in April 2011 provided impetuous for Ceramicx and the University of Limerick to apply for an new innovation partnership which was approved by Enterprise Ireland in July 2011. This new innovation partnership is a larger more complex undertaking and will focus on the development of the Ceramic element production process in its entirety.