Marking 40 years of providing temperature-sensing solutions, IRCON Inc. sees markets heating up with new applications. Gloria P. Cahill takes a reading on this innovative manufacturer of infrared thermometers, pyrometers and accessories.
When George Warnke and Dr. Arthur Goldberg founded IRCON Inc. in 1962, they pioneered the application of infrared technology to providing temperature-sensing solutions for industry. Today, the company is a global supplier of instruments that measure temperature in processes where maintaining appropriate heat range is a critical factor.
IRCON equipment has become known for its quality and reliability in measuring temperatures ranging from minus-50 degrees to 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit – often in the harshest conditions. Among the industries that rely on the instruments are automotive, steel, plastics, optical fiber, pharmaceuticals, food processing, electronics, building materials and water treatment. More than 80,000 of the company’s products are working in manufacturing plants and processing centers around the world.
Greg Pacton, the company’s president, describes IRCON’s mission as follows: “We are an entrepreneurial company that endeavors to provide solutions that solve problems for our customers.” Pacton says that the company’s temperature-measuring devices assist original-equipment manufacturers and end users with quality control, cost savings and safety.
“We help customers improve quality, improve manufacturing yield, reduce the number of rejections on the production line, improve the production process and throughput of items in the process, and also avoid making unnecessarily large investments in plant and equipment by improving the current process,” he says.
On the subject of improved safety, Pacton states, “Our equipment can make the work environment safer, especially in tough environments such as steel mills, cement kilns and manufacturing plants where high temperatures and rough conditions are found. And using our technology can help avoid fires that can occur in the manufacturing process if something gets too hot.”
Packaged Control A distinctive feature of IRCON’s
product offering is that it comprises a total solution to customers’ temperature measurement needs by supplying both the hardware and the software. A thermal imaging camera or scanner, imbedded computer processor, power source and the software to run the system are key parts of the package. The spectrum of IRCON pyrometers (thermometers used in non-contact temperature measurement) ranges from simple, handheld models to sophisticated production-line systems that continuously monitor the temperature ranges in the process.
IRCON’s manufacturing operations are conducted in an ISO 9001-certified, 100,000 square-foot plant at the company’s headquarters in Niles, Ill. The European base is in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and offices are located throughout Europe and in China and Korea. IRCON is part of London-based Spectris, Plc, an $870 million developer and marketer of precision instrumentation and controls.
The support services provided by IRCON’s sales and application engineering staff include analyses of products or materials in the Illinois laboratory, demonstrations of instruments directly on the customer’s process and training seminars on infrared technology. The company’s Technical Services Center also provides field services, preventive maintenance contracts, calibration service and equipment maintenance training. Commenting on the capabilities of IRCON’s staff, Pacton states, “One of our greatest strengths is the inventiveness of our people. They are a dedicated group – some of them are here a long time – and they are very conscientious. They pull together as a team.”
Taking the Heat
The technology of infrared thermometry is based on the fact that an infrared thermometer calculates temperature by measuring the intensity of radiant energy emitted by an object, not by touching the object. That ability makes it possible for IRCON instruments to measure the temperature of manufacturing processes such as:
• Extrusion, lamination and drying of plastics, paper and rubber
• Curing of resins, adhesives and paints
• Cold rolling and forming of metals
• Forming, tempering and annealing of glass
• Smelting, casting, rolling and heat-treating of metals
• Calcining and firing of ceramics and cement.
Pacton points out that IRCON products help customers solve manufacturing problems that seemed unsolvable and, in some cases, can identify unknown problems. He notes the additional properties of infrared technology in these instances. First is that infrared instruments can “see in the dark,” in contrast to regular video cameras, which require light to see an object.
Second, infrared thermometers can identify and monitor the temperature zone in which a material begins changing from one form to another (for example, when plastic changes from liquid to solid). Because this change – which often involves a change in a property known as emissivity – is not readily detectable to the eye, monitoring the temperature range in which it takes place can help control the process more efficiently and cost-effectively,
Pacton makes clear that IRCON’s future is based on the same type of quality and efficiency built into its products. “We instituted lean manufacturing, so we are achieving more in our existing space,” he says. “We invest very heavily in R&D and we do extensive quality testing and life-cycle testing. The results show that we are exceeding our customers’ expectations.”
Recent IRCON product introductions illustrate the results. In 2001, the company introduced a grid-inspection system for the automobile rear window, which may have multiple grids for the defroster, radio antenna, cell phone and on-board navigation.
Pacton notes that a defect in one grid means the entire window is defective, so inspecting the window during manufacturing and installation is important. IRCON also offers infrared inspection systems for the windshield, side mirrors and seat warmers. A new software package for the optical-fiber industry was also launched last year. IRCON infrared is used in several stages of fiber-optic manufacturing, a multistep process in which temperature control and purity of the material is critical. An image-analysis package for use in unique applications, especially pharmaceuticals and semiconductors, that enables testing of new products and/or manufacturing processes was also made available last year. Finally, a mold-inspection package that helps improve large and complex molding processes was offered in 2002.
Pacton says IRCON is looking to the semiconductor, electronics, pharmaceutical, food, medical and fiber-optic industries for continued growth. Further, he says IRCON is “always looking for acquisition opportunities, but will only consider a target if it offers some type of unique synergy.” Certainly, IRCON has the equipment to measure the potential heat of new markets and alliances.