The PaneraTech team has a long history of developing advanced radar-based sensor solutions. Our primary work has been on thru-wall imaging and advanced wireless sensing technologies for harsh environments. Our company was founded on a mission to commercialize its advanced radar technologies for industrial applications.
Tom Dankert (Retired, Global Furnace Manager at O-I) and Elmer Sperry (Global Furnace Lead at Libbey Glass) were looking for a way to optimize furnace campaign life and lower the risk of leaks in operating furnaces. There was no way to inspect the condition of refractory walls below the glass line. Therefore, the life of each furnace could not be predicted with accuracy. Most maintenance was performed based on a periodic schedule rather than the actual condition of the furnace. Thermal imaging and well-kept records improved speculation. However, this did not solve the problem. Many furnaces were being rebuild and overcoated on a conservative schedule. Some leaks still occurred, halting production for several weeks at a time.
Because of our experience with radar-based technology, we were asked to work on this problem. If a tool could be developed to measure the actual wear and thickness of the refractory walls, it would improve furnace life, reduce costs and increase safety. Libbey Glass, O-I and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Industrial Partnership Division provided the seed funding to demonstrate the feasibility of radar technology to measure furnace wall thickness. Libbey provided development furnaces with molten glass inside to develop and validate our sensors. Glass Worldwide Magazine featured the partnership between Libbey Glass and PaneraTech in the March 2016 issue.
Our work with the development furnaces was successful after overcoming many challenges that took us several years. We performed successful blind trials with operational furnaces that were scheduled to be drained for maintenance. The image to the left shows Elmer Sperry of Libbey Glass, Global Furnace Lead, Dr. Yakup Bayram and Dr. Alex Ruege of PaneraTech in early stages of SmartMelter® development at the Libbey Glass SmartMelter® Development Furnace.