First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about the new generation of Series 500 controllers. We look forward to hearing your insights and finding out about several details that we perhaps may not have known about before.
Firstly, I’d like to ask you, Mr. Grotheer, a few questions. In the past, Nabertherm used a more conventional system of operation – with buttons. Where did the idea of using a graphical touchscreen come from?
With a touchscreen, we can make operability much simpler and clearer. And we also wanted to create something modern and contemporary. I believe we have succeeded in this with our new design.
Having a close relationship with customers is also reflected in your business lines. Which Nabertherm target groups (Dental, Laboratory, Industry, Arts & Crafts) are the new controllers designed for? Answer: The new controllers are multi-functional and will be used in almost all furnace and kiln families and for all customer groups.
Can the new controllers really do more than the old ones?
In terms of the actual controls, we have retained our tried and trusted quality. We haven’t changed anything in this respect. However, with respect to operation, visualization, and documentation, the new controllers differ considerably from the previous series. The temperature curves can be shown alphanumerically or graphically. In addition, 24 different operation languages are a great advantage, since, as an international furnace manufacturer, about 75 % of what we manufacture is for the export market.
That sounds like innovation and serious potential. Is this why you decided to have such a large campaign for the launch?
That was certainly one of the reasons. But we have put so much of our hearts and souls and our innovative strength into this project – so we are a little bit proud. And I think we should show this.
You’re absolutely right. The image of the campaign is very innovative. Do you also perceive the controllers as they are visualized on the website?
I think we worked too long on the real device (laughs) but, on the whole, I really like the campaign. It symbolizes precisely what the controllers stand for: innovation, self-assurance, and new energy.
Can you buy these controllers individually?
No, the controllers are delivered only in combination with our furnaces and kilns.
Yes, of course, that makes sense. And when will I be able to buy a furnace and controller such as this?
Because of the very large number of furnaces that Nabertherm delivers each year, the launch was carried out in stages. We started in December with our furnaces for the Dental and Laboratory areas. We then continued in February, supplying our new controllers together with our industrial furnaces. The next big step was in April 2022. We changed our top loaders and chamber kilns, in other words, the Arts & Crafts area, over to the new controllers. Today, all furnaces all furnaces are delivered with the new controllers.
Great. Can I also retrofit my existing furnace or kiln?
Of course, this is being planned. We are working at full speed so that it will be possible to retrofit existing equipment by the end of 2022.
That’s the perfect transition to you, Dr. Dahl. You are Vice President Research & Development and, consequently, responsible for the technical aspect of the new controller generation. Could you describe your job for us?
I was in charge of the development process and had general responsibility for the planning activities.
That sounds like a lot of obligations and responsibility. Did you also enjoy designing the controller?
Yes, I most certainly enjoyed working on such an innovative product. Especially the collaboration in a team and developing ideas were exciting and pleasant aspects. But, of course, at the end it’s not just about enjoyment, there was also a lot of hard and intensive work.
How many persons were involved in developing the new controller?
That’s a difficult question. The actual core project team consisted of three persons. But there were certainly more than 100 persons from different areas involved during the course of the project. That includes the time from when the first idea was developed through to the finished product.
How long did this process take? Was it clear right from the outset what the finished product should look like and what it should be capable of?
Three years ago, the team was given the task to develop a new generation of controllers and, associated with this, the initial ideas regarding what the product should look like. However, looking back, the very first technical specification has little in common with the actual finished product. Many ideas and operating concepts arose during the project and in the course of many meetings and workshops. It was actually a very dynamic process in which we had very intensive discussions with regard to what our customers expected and how we could implement a uniform, intuitive operating concept for the many different applications and requirements.
I’m sure it helped that this is not the first generation of controllers developed by Nabertherm. Did you take much from the previous generation?
Certainly. We were able to base our work on the experiences of colleagues from controller developments in the past. We simply asked ourselves how we could improve on what we already have. This is how the idea with the MyNabertherm app came about.
What precisely are the functions and benefits of the app?
The MyNabertherm app is a digital enhancement for the new controllers. The app gives you a mobile view of how the process is progressing and you can see the current status of your furnace at all times. If you want to, you can also get push messages indicating the end of a process or malfunctions with a description of the fault. The app can be downloaded for Android and iOS at no cost.
Exciting! For this to work, does the controller have to be connected to the Internet?
Yes, exactly. The controller and the device on which the app is running must have an Internet connection. This allows them to communicate with each other.
As the technical developer, what pleases you especially? Do you have a favorite function?
Yes, the program overview showing the temperature curve and maximum temperature for each heat treatment program allows you to select a program very quickly and easily. When the program is finished, you have a graph of the complete process with information about the programmed temperature curve and the actual curve, which gives you direct, visual feedback regarding how the process went.
And now that the controller has seen the light of day, what will change in your everyday work?
Not a lot (laughs). Although I’m no longer working on the controller, I don’t have any less work on my desk.
Is the next generation of controllers already being planned?
No, with this generation we created a state-of-the-art device and are perfectly happy with it at this point.
Finally, a personal question: Is there a time that you especially enjoy remembering in connection with developing the controller?
Yes, there are actually two instances during the project that I like to look back on. One was the time when the project team confirmed the full technical functionality of the controller. That made it clear that a large part of the development work was complete. The other was the time when a small, independent group of possible users tested the new controller. Without any assistance and without reading the instructions, each member of the group was able to operate the controller intuitively and find everything they needed. The realization that the operating concept that we considered in advance actually worked in practice was very impressive. I have very fond memories of these two milestones.
Well, that was a pleasant end to the interview. Many thanks to both of you! Now we have an idea of what the new controller generation is capable of and were also given a few insights into the design phase.
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