Crash Course In Combustion

A Review of the North American Manufacturing Co. Combustion and Kiln Control Seminar

Combustion and Burner Basics

J.J. Lukacs, industrial coordinator – ceramics for North American Manufacturing Co., began the seminar with an overview of combustion. The basic requirements for combustion are fuel, oxygen, the proper proportioning/mixing, an ignition source and a flame holder. Common fuels used in the ceramic industry are natural gas, propane and butane, and each of these has a different energy content (measured in British thermal units [BTUs]). To obtain the right burner setup, it is important to know the BTU content of the fuel. This information can usually be found on a company’s monthly gas bill.

Lukacs also discussed the three different types of heat transfer—conductive, convective and radiation. In conduction, heat (energy) is passed from one side of the product to the other through the product’s molecules. Convective heat transfer—the only method that can go to the center of the product—occurs when hot gases come into contact with all surfaces of the product. Radiation is the most intense form of heat transfer but can only heat products that are in a direct line with the radiation source. Understanding the basics of combustion will help a kiln operator achieve safe, complete, efficient firing. (Lukacs’ presentation on combustion will be published in the May 2000 issue of Ceramic Industry.)

In any ceramic firing application, burners are required for effective heat transfer to the product. According to Fred McMann, southern regional manager of North American Manufacturing, the burner serves to balance the air/fuel mixing speed versus the flame speed, shape and direct the flame, keep the kiln within flammability limits, and possibly mix the fuel and oxygen. High velocity burners are the most commonly used and provide a short, compact, stable flame.

Blowers and Fans

Blowers and fans are also an essential part of any firing operation and typically run with electric motors. According to McMann, three styles of blowers are common: radial, forward and backward curved. The forward-curved models typically develop the highest pressure and horsepower, McMann said. In the backward-curved models, pressure and horsepower continuously fall off, while the radial models have a relatively flat curve and need some restriction to avoid damaging the blower. When pricing fans, it’s always best to obtain a set of blower curves for comparison.

Blowers should be kept out of high-traffic areas. If air is taken from outside the plant, screens should be put in place to keep birds and other small animals out of the blower.

Burner Installation

Many companies choose high velocity burners because of the efficient heat circulation throughout the kiln. However, burner sizing is crucial to ensure safe, efficient firing. A burner that is too large might impinge on the opposite wall and create hot spots that can ruin the product, while a burner that is too small will be inefficient. Burners can often be modified to help ensure uniform firing by changing the shape of the discharge opening. A rectangular, or slotted, shape can re-entrain more gases than a round shape. However, a round shape is generally better for wide kilns because it provides more force.

The setting pattern of the product is also important for efficient firing. To get a good, uniform product, manufacturers must spend time analyzing their setting patterns. The goal is to improve circulation and heat transfer. Saggers that are packed too tightly prevent heat from getting to the entire load.


Different types of fuels require different handling considerations. Solid fuels, such as coal, require material handling equipment, onsite storage, drying, grinding and conveying. Dust collection is important, and pollution control systems may also be needed. When using solid fuels, the combustion process can be difficult to control.

Liquid fuels require onsite storage, pumping, heating, atomizing and pollution control. They might add sulfur or ash to the process or shorten refractory life. They, too, can be difficult to control in the combustion process.

Propane, which is often used as a standby fuel, requires vaporizers and mixing stations. Since it is heavier than air, it can collect on the ground level in storm drains and become an explosion hazard. If a propane system is used, be sure to check regularly for leaks.

Gaseous fuels require onsite storage, pumping, vaporizing and mixing. They are generally clean and easy to control.

No matter what type of fuel is used, various hardware is needed to measure and control pressure and fuel flow. Pressure reducing regulators, ball valves, limiting orifice valves, ratio/atmosphere regulators, vortex shedding devices, hot wire anemometers and turbine meters are some examples of the hardware available. Accurate readings of pressure are important—changes in pressure can have a big effect on the product in the kiln.

Temperature Control & Measurement

Thermal turndown and ratio control are two conventional ways to control kiln temperature. In thermal turndown, the air input remains constant through the burners while the fuel input rate is changed. In ratio control, the same air-fuel ratio is maintained regardless of the firing rate, and the hot mix temperature remains constant. While the latter is more fuel-efficient, a loss in uniformity can occur when the burners are turned down.

According to Lukacs, modern pulse-controlled firing systems provide improved uniformity and fuel efficiency with reduced power consumption. The systems rotate which burners are on high fire and which ones are on low fire to prevent hot and cold spots from occurring in the kiln. However, the benefits of a pulse-controlled firing system can only be fully realized with high velocity burners. Some companies using this type of temperature control have experienced as much as a 10% to 30% reduction in fuel usage, along with a one to four car per day increase in production. Because of these benefits, the systems typically pay for themselves in 18 months to two years.

Steve Ogonek, business group manager – integrated combustion systems for North American Manufacturing, discussed the use of loop controllers, PLCs and PCs to control kiln temperature. The job of a controller is to respond to changing conditions so that a desired setpoint is achieved and maintained, Ogonek said. When choosing a controller, the user should evaluate its accuracy, speed, maintenance requirements, expandability, connectivity to networks, and cost. Loop controllers are generally best for small installations since they offer limited control options. PLCs allow complex programming but are often proprietary and must be programmed by the manufacturer. According to Ogonek, PCs generally offer the best overall control, but the PC setup needs to be exact.

Accurate temperature measurement is important to ensuring temperature control. Kiln temperature is typically measured using thermocouples placed in the top or side walls of the kiln; however, they are only as good as their installation. A thermocouple is typically surrounded by a ceramic tube to protect it from the intense heat inside the kiln. In some plants, the thermocouples are surrounded by two or three protection tubes as an extra precaution—but the added layers can result in slow reaction time and inaccurate temperature measurement. A company should instead use the smallest protection tube possible for a given application. Lukacs recommended using a high alumina tube (98%) for most applications.

The thermocouple should extend into the kiln 10 times the diameter of the protection tube to obtain the most accurate temperature readings. For example, a 1/2-in. diameter tube would need to extend 5 in. into the kiln. The goal is repeatability. The thermocouples should be as close to the load as possible to measure what is happening to the product, rather than just the kiln atmosphere.

Location is also important—each thermocouple should be located in the mid 30% to 40% of the zone being measured. Since a thermocouple measures the air and the re-radiation effect from the refractory and product, a side wall installation typically provides the most accurate measurements.

Other Topics

Safety and emission reduction were also discussed at the seminar. McMann emphasized the need for caution when operating a kiln—especially when temperatures fall below 1500°F, where there is the highest chance for an explosion to occur. Limit switches (including low gas pressure, low combustion air pressure and high temperature) should be in place and operational on all kilns. Most insurance companies also have their own requirements.

McMann also provided tips on reducing NOx emissions through burner modification. High velocity burners can be made into low-NOx burners by staging the fuel, he said. Flue gas recirculation is a universal NOx reducer; however, it increases the system pressure requirements, blower horsepower, air pipe size and piping corrosion, and is an additional stream to be controlled. The best solution is to keep the base NOx low and minimize flue gas recirculation, McMann said.

For More Information

Contact J.J. Lukacs, North American Manufacturing Co., 4455 East 71st Street, Cleveland, OH 44105-5600; (216) 271-6000; fax (216) 641-7852.


Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Ceramic Industry Magazine.

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

2015 Ceramics Expo

Snapshots from the 2015 Ceramics Expo, April 28-30, Cleveland, Ohio. Posted: May 14, 2015.


Ceramics Expo podcast
Editor Susan Sutton discusses the upcoming Ceramics Expo with event director Adam Moore.
More Podcasts

Ceramic Industry Magazine

CI May 2015 cover

2015 May

Our May issue covers bulk batching, pneumatic conveyors, high-temperature furnaces and more! Be sure to check it out today.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

Daily News

We know where you find the latest ceramic industry news (ahem), but where do you catch up on the rest of your daily news?
View Results Poll Archive


M:\General Shared\__AEC Store Katie Z\AEC Store\Images\Ceramics Industry\handbook of advanced ceramics.gif
Handbook of Advanced Ceramics Machining

Ceramics, with their unique properties and diverse applications, hold the potential to revolutionize many industries, including automotive and semiconductors.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.


facebook_40px twitter_40px  youtube_40pxlinkedin_40google+ icon 40px


CI Data Book July 2012

Ceramic Industry's Directories including Components, Equipment Digest, Services, Data Book & Buyers Guide, Materials Handbook and much more!