Convergent Series

learning, using & teaching metal clay, and other aspects of life

Problem resolved, and mystery solved.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/08/08

It’s always something, isn’t it? Just when you think you’re making some progress, sixteen roadblocks suddenly appear. Not necessarily crises, mind you, just things that suck time and energy away from what you’d intended to do.

One of my time-sinks last spring involved problems with a new kiln. I wrote a little bit last June (with this same photo of three of the kiln controllers I’d tested) but the whole story is this:

With a digital kiln, in theory, you should be able to program it and walk away, letting it run while you do something else (whether that’s more jewelry, making dinner, getting a good night’s sleep, or whatever). It should “ramp” up to the set temperature, run through its entire program, and finish with no error code being reported. And mine would appear to do that. Except….

Mine was not holding the set temperature. It was yo-yo-ing, getting up ok, not getting too hot (whew! since that would have melted the contents) but it was dropping hundreds of degrees lower than it should have. Thus, all the binder was burning out fine, but some pieces were coming out inadequately sintered. Since it was not reporting any errors, however, I had to watch its display to identify the problem.

The kiln was still under warranty. It really had never worked right. To get coverage, nonetheless, I had to make it clear to the distributor that it wasn’t just some fluke or mistake at my end but, instead, some semi-replicable problem. Since it was not generating any error codes, I had to monitor repeated firings, to document and report what I observed.

Not wanting the expense of shipping kilns back and forth under warranty, these products are manufactured with a number of parts that can be replaced by the end-user. When you report a problem, they try to figure out the cause, and send you the piece to replace yourself. Even if they’re wrong, it’s more of your time than their tech’s that has been wasted, and the postage for shipping a few parts back and forth is less to them than that of shipping the kiln. I don’t mean that as any sort of attack on the kiln manufacturers or distributors, just as a statement about modern business practice in general… Much of the time, the problems are simple, fixed quickly, and everyone is happy.

But, in order to know if the replacement has worked, I needed to again watch it run. And since my kiln’s problem occurred somewhat erratically, I had to watch it a number of times to be sure … that the problem still wasn’t fixed.

After several rounds of this, with no improvement, the distributor agreed to take back the original kiln and let me have a new one. In the end, I was happy with how they handled that, and with the new kiln I’ve been using since mid-June. In other words, the problem has been resolved for a while.

I had said, since I’d spent so much time bonding with that kiln as I just sat there monitoring its operation, if they ever did figure out what the problem was, I’d like to know. I got a message on Friday saying they’d finally gotten to it. Now even the mystery of what was wrong with it has been solved!

After replicating the replacements I’d made, with things like controllers and thermocouple (which I understood they had to do to first check that it hadn’t been “just me”), one of the only other obvious possibilities was the relay. They’d not had me try replacing that. (After the relay, pretty much all that is left is some wire and the actual heating elements, isn’t it?) Well, it wasn’t the relay either. That piece was fine.

The problem was that the plug at the end of the wire that connects to the relay was loose. (I assume that connection is made with a plug — or, more accurately, a lug — rather than a direct soldered joint so that the relay is also user-replaceable.) But there it was, a simple manufacturing error: a crimp that wasn’t tightened down enough. Does that sound familiar, or what?! Ha!!!

Anyway, my website (which I’m trying to do myself) is probably half a year behind where I thought it’d be right now. And a good two of those months are directly attributable to time I spent watching that kiln fail. (Part of my plan for the site had been to work on that some of the times when the kiln just ran in the background.) I know, that leaves another four months to account for (no, dear reader, I won’t bore you with tales of other distractions) but I will publicly admit that I’m happy to know exactly why I lost all that “spare” time … to a kiln!


6 Responses to “Problem resolved, and mystery solved.”

  1. Alice Walkowski said

    Glad to hear that at least the mystery was solved. Ah, how often it is just something small that causes big problems. Good to know if mine ever starts acting up, although I already replaced the controller board. (May not be the right name, but the old memory ain’t so good.)

  2. C Scheftic said

    Yeah, the geek in me was glad to know what had happened, but my jeweler-side also got a good laugh at the answer that a crimp hadn’t been clamped down tight enough!

    But I think the general lesson here is not so much that detail as: “don’t assume your program has run perfectly just because it finishes without reporting an error.” Kind of like remembering to check the calibration on a scale now and then 😉 it’s good to check how a kiln is running on occasion too (watch the controller display, double-check the temperature, maybe even verify the clock timing, etc.).

    Happy firing! -cs

  3. All’s well that ends well?? I can relate to the frustration of lost time. You never get it back. However, you are now the resident “kiln expert”.

  4. Alice Walkowski said

    Ha, Ha! Wonder who you were thinking of when you mentioned the scale calibration.

    • C Scheftic said

      Well, I wasn’t going to say, but anyone who got one of those 5 gm copper “fan” charms that I’d carefully measured to be 3 gms might be able to guess … if they knew I was visiting your studio when I made them.

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