Economical artistry

Efficient electric furnaces help glass blowers save on utilities.

Most professional glass blowers are artists, first and foremost. Their creative output is high, but most run small businesses operating on modest budgets. For many of these artisans, the cost of gas and electric utilities to run high-temperature, glass-melting furnaces can be the most expensive aspect of their business.

Steve Stadelman, a machinist by training, started blowing glass as a hobby in the mid-1990s. To feed that hobby, Stadelman built a glass-blowing furnace he uses to produce a variety of glass pieces — mostly for fun.

“I built it with a heating element that worked well, but I didn’t know much about it,” Stadelman says. “I soon found out that the heating element is one thing, but controlling the heating system is something else entirely.”

As Stadelman became entrenched in the glass-blowing industry, he began to receive requests from other glass blowers to help them build furnaces. Before long, he was running his own small furnace-building business — Stadelman Glassworks — which forced him to learn more about making the furnaces operate as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.

One of his first challenges was to figure out how to make furnaces consume less power while still maximizing output. He cites a customer in Portland, Ore., whose two natural gas furnaces together were costing nearly $5,000 a month to operate. That customer, Stadelman says, replaced the two furnaces with equipment designed by Stadelman Glassworks that drew 50% more power but included a switchgear and a multi-tap transformer to help melt glass faster and — best of all — it also reduced the customer’s natural gas utility expenses from $5,000 a month to about $1,400.

“You can make a glass blower pretty happy when you save him $43,000 a year in utility expenses and, at the same time, make his furnace more efficient,” Stadelman says.

Before long, he was running his own small furnace-building business — Stadelman Glassworks — which forced him to learn more about making the furnaces operate as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible.

Stadelman Glassworks has been tapping into the heating and controller expertise at Watlow for several years, further enhancing its ability to build efficient furnaces. Watlow’s expertise in power control has helped Stadelman in the correction of the furnaces’ power factor. To generate a higher power factor, Watlow’s Senior Application Engineer, Larry Crane, recommended a higher voltage output from the Watlow single-phase and three-phase Power Series microprocessor-based power controller. He also recommended changing to a tapped transformer to allow greater use of the full AC sine wave across the heaters. This helped get the voltage and current closer to being in phase and reduced wasted energy. While a tapped transformer costs a little more on the front end, it quickly saves on electric bills, Crane explains.

Stadelman is also incorporating Watlow temperature controllers and QPAC modular silicon controlled rectifier (SCR) power controllers into his furnaces — all of which contribute to furnace efficiency.

Demand for Stadelman Glassworks furnaces continues to grow. Stadelman estimates he is now selling about 36 furnaces a year — each one custom built based on differing needs such as voltage, output and varying regulations for those used outside of the United States.

“Watlow has, by far, offered me the best technical support of any company I’ve come in contact with,” Stadelman says. “The combination of thermal expertise and energy-saving products has really paid off for me and my customers as I grow my business.”

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