Fume Cupboard Industrial Controllers

Beta Solutions were engaged by a leading manufacturer of industrial fume cupboards to overhaul the design of their existing controllers. Custom electronic PCBs and dedicated embedded firmware were developed to control their safety critical products. Despite the tight specifications and timeframes, the project was completed on time and on budget.

Fume Cupboard Industrial Controllers

 

Opportunity

Thermoplastic Engineering Ltd (TPE) is a leading international manufacturer of industrial laboratory fume cupboard controllers. Due to specific circumstances a new electronic controller was required to be developed, incorporating "greater flexibility and more features to meet a wider range of end uses". 

Essentially, the project was to involve an improvement of an existing fume cupboard controller and implement a range of new advanced electronic circuitry and embedded software, while not compromising on the strictest of quality control standards. 

In addition to the required new product R&D, TPE were also after a business who could completely facilitate the entire manufacturing process (on an on-going basis) of their electronic products - thereby acting as a "one-stop-shop". 

Out of a range of R&D consultants, Beta Solutions was ultimately chosen as their development partner of choice, due to their R&D expertise, production experience, and issuing of clear project proposal in response to their tender. 

Fume Cupboard
(Photo credit: Thermoplastic Engineering Ltd)

Solution

The new fume cupboard controller solution consisted of designing three separate PCBs, all incorporating their own dedicated micro-controllers and associated firmware.

  • Main Controller 
    The Main Controller is the "brains" of the fume cupboard, and is responsible for its overall control and functionality.
    Some notable features of the Main Controller PCB hardware include:
    • An industrial grade mains power supply 
      • To provide a stable voltage reference even in the harshest of industrial electrical interference
    • Switches to turn on/off lights, fans, spray bars
      • In accordnace with AS 2243.8
    • Temperature and pressure probes inputs
    • Noise tolerant communications between various other devices.

    Some notable features of the Main Controller firmware include:

    • A state-machine based architecture for robust easy to manage code
    • PID motor control algorithms
    • Fault tolerant sensor monitoring
    • A complete user interface including character input, menu navigation and saving of user settings.
Main Controller Firmware
(Photo credit: Thermoplastic Engineering Ltd)
  • EcoAir® III 

    The EcoAir® Controller is an advanced optional add-on peripheral to the Main Controller, providing the ability to control the speed of the large extraction centrifugal fan. This can lead to considerable energy savings to the End User. 

    The EcoAir® PCB hardware accomplishes this fan speed control by constantly monitoring data from various sensors.
    The onboard micro-controller performs real-time calculations based on mathematical airflow models to ensure that the fan is operating at the correct speed to maintain operator safety and conserve energy.

    Both digital (inc: microprocessor) and analogue (inc: amplifiers, filters) circuitry feature on the EcoAir® PCB. A protection circuitry stops voltage spikes.

    Eco Air PCB hardware

    • Operator Panel 
      The Operator Panel is the controller's "front end" and provides the ability for End Users to interact with with the fume cupboard. Among other features the PCB includes:
      • Capacitive touch buttons
        • To provide long levity as they are not subject to "wear and tear" unlike their mechanical counterparts.
      • Backup power system
        • Providing (limited time) backup power to the unit after a power failure condition.
        • Providing a robust, reliable backup power supply which does not degrade over time or with many cycles.
      • A Piezo buzzer
        • To alert the users of a failure condition.
      • A fail-safe emergency stop button
        • Overriding all other functionality and bringing the system into a fail safe state.
      • An LCD screen
        • The primary means of communicating information with the operator

           TPE Operator Panel
  • Industrial Cabling and Connectors
    As well as designing the aforementioned electronic hardware and firmware, custom industrial cabling was also required to form part of the overall product solution. Given that cabling and interconnects are the #1 cause of electronics failure, it was essential that these cables were well specified and designed to a high standard. This included implementing:
    • Twisted pair and shielded cabling - to compliment the noise resilient coms protocol.
    • Polarised sockets/connectors - to ensure that devices could not be incorrectly connected.
    • Lockable connectors - to have a high level of assurance they wouldn't come loose during operation.

Industrial Cabling

Future Developments

The fume cupboard controller hardware has continued to evolve over the years. Recently TPE approached us once again to develop a technical solution that would enable the Main Controller to seamlessly interface with a touch screen Tablet.

This particular project involved several specialty developer companies (including a 3rd party App Developer and a Marketing/Branding business) working collaboratively towards a common end-product goal.

Beta Solutions were responsible for designing a new piece of electronics hardware to enable the Main Controller to connect to the Tablet's USB port. This hardware contained:

  • Communications translation circuitry
    • Namely translating between high speed protocols
  • A ability to fast-charge the Tablet's internal lithium-ion battery.
    • Including voltage and current limiting circuitry 

We also wrote the (Java based), Tablet software which was responsible for controlling the communications to/from the Main Controller.

Fume Cupboard Industrial Controllers

Production Solution

From the outset we have developed the hardware with "design for manufacturing" principles in mind. With the product R&D fully design-validated and accepted testing by TPE, the PCBs (and cabling) were moved onto the production phase. This included making sure all the products were correctly documented and versioned, so the final production source files could be generated and passed to suppliers.

Each production batch entails a considerable amount of work to ensure the goods a produced and quality controlled accurately and delivered on time.

Success

By completing this project on scope, on time and on budget, Thermoplastic Engineering were enabled to launch a successful commercial product. The additional features have allowed them to maintain a competitive edge in the market. Additionally, we continue to manufacture TPE's products on an on-going basis - constantly ensuring on time delivery of the products.

TPE Fume Cupboards
(Photo credit: Thermoplastic Engineering Ltd)

Client Testimonial


"Deadlines don't wait. Working to stringent specifications, it took TPE, working with Beta Solutions Ltd, just under six months to design and produce a new controller EcoAir® III - which includes many new features not seen before in Australasia."

Simon Jones,

Managing Director

Thermoplastic Engineering Ltd

 

* All the content in this article, including imagery, has been approved by our client for publication on this website.