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A Unifying Concept of the Thermal Loop

Sensing, control, heating and managing the integrity of the data, are foundational components of a system that helps process optimization


It is just over a year since the acquisition of Eurotherm® by Watlow® who design and manufacture industrial thermal systems. The acquisition was completed on October 31, 2022. The combined know how and offerings provide greater opportunities in regions and across industries, that might not have been so easy to reach for one or the other previously. The two companies’ technologies and vision make sense, both within the organization and to their customers.

Eurotherm are well established in Europe for their deep domain experience in life sciences, heat treatment and glass manufacturing and in France particularly for their power control solutions. It was clear from the start, that Watlow intended that Eurotherm remain a premier brand for temperature, power control and data acquisition, adding to their strength and global reach.

A fast learning curve

Watlow holds more than 1,100 patents and employs more than 4,200 team members working in 12 manufacturing facilities and nine advanced technology and development centres in the United States, Mexico, Europe, and Asia. Watlow covers 95 countries through sales and distribution offices around the world. ‘This year has been an incredible journey so far’ says Chief System Designer, Andy Selvy, ‘bringing together experienced engineers to help integrate our products and technologies has without doubt for all of us, been a very fast but rewarding learning curve. We are taking the very best practices from both sides to create fantastic opportunities for our collective customers and to be honest, the excitement is palpable.’

Watlow has a large portfolio of products, sold across multiple industries, and used in a wide variety of applications, with deep expertise on applications related to thermal systems and their control.

For Watlow, the underlying concept behind everything they do is that of the thermal loop. Every product offered, and every project worked on, is ultimately about the creation and control of a thermal loop in some application. There are four foundational components or elements of the thermal loop; sensing, control, heating and managing the integrity of the data, which helps optimize that process.

Eurotherm have a solid reputation for their deep domain knowledge and expert solutions in managing data integrity, particularly in highly regulated industries such as life sciences, heat treatment, and food and beverage manufacturing; solutions designed for dairy plant milk pasteurization and a pyrometry solution for the aerospace industry illustrate this well.

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Diagram of a typical thermal loop and its associated components

What Is the thermal loop, and why do customers’ care?

A thermal loop is a kind of system designed to precisely control the temperature of a part, fluid, or environment. Precise control of temperature requires more than simply heating—it also requires accommodating for variation in the system such as fluctuations in voltage or environmental conditions and adjusting accordingly to maintain consistent system performance. In some cases, a single component can play multiple roles. For example, with high temperature coefficient of resistance (TCR) materials, it is possible for a single component to act as both a heater and a sensor, which cuts down on the total number of components and wires needed in the system.


Listen to CEO Rob Gilmore on how to ”Bring the Brains” to Thermal Loop >

Another critical choice in the design of any industrial thermal system, is the selection of a power controller. Dependent on a host of factors that go well beyond simple power requirements. The Watlow family of power controllers is significantly extended when combined with the Eurotherm line offering a comprehensive spectrum of functionality. This wide variety of features and performance means customers can choose the level of sophistication they require to efficiently manage processes and reduce energy costs—without paying for more functionality than is necessary.

Watlow’s power controller offering can be logically divided into three categories based on features and functionality: Standard, smart and application specific. Standard power controllers provide basic functionality when communications and closed loop control are not required. More complex processes require advanced feature sets, with closed loop control and comms options.

Choose your power controller
Cost/performance chart † POWERGLIDE® smart controller available for select applications

Advanced options for greater efficiency

  • Predictive load management: Ensures the system does not draw too much power all at once.
  • Controller diagnostics: Runs diagnostics and keeps a record of controller function.
  • Communication and connection: Communicate and shares the log of diagnostics for audit purposes and alerts relevant parties if there is an issue.
  • Soft start: (aka heater bake out). Gradually increases the power supplied to the heaters to purge moisture and avoid damage caused by premature full power

Application specific power control

POWERGLIDE™ is a unique embodiment of Watlow’s Adaptive Thermal Systems (ATS™) technology and combines temperature and power control into one ATS-enabled device ideal for complex processing applications.

Why Creating a Thermal Loop Requires Systems Thinking?

Why do we talk in terms of “thermal loops” at all? Why not just talk about heaters, sensors, temperature, and power controllers themselves?

Understanding the thinking that goes into choosing the right components, and putting them together, is a far greater challenge. This is where Watlow’s deep bench of expertise comes in. Some issues that arise in a thermal loop are “systems problems” rather than a problem with any one component:

  • The power needs and input to the system fluctuate over time, leading to inconsistent heating even when sensors are recording the correct temperature. Or they draw too much power and become a safety hazard.
  • A particular application calls for rugged equipment, including a rugged control panel. The panel will be difficult to access and maintain, and so must be built to maximize uptime with minimal intervention.
  • Data needs to be recorded and/or transferred because the application is part of a process in a highly regulated industry. There needs to be an adequate “audit trail,” even when everything is working as it should.

The data management component of thermal loop for highly regulated industries

Rapid world growth, globalization, advanced technologies for Industry 4.0 automation and data analysis trends, are emphasizing the need for high standards of data quality and integrity across multiple industries but this has always been the case where safety and traceability are critical factors. Good data practices (GxP) enrich the quality of data, enabling companies within highly regulated industries to make strategic decisions based on trustable data and analytical insights. In these industries, it is not enough to provide precise temperature control, there also needs to be an end-to-end data record. This record provides evidence of compliance of the procedure and that the required results were achieved for every batch, at every stage of the process.

Choose your data management solution

Three highly regulated industry examples

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries closely regulate data production and storage to make sure that data cannot be modified without detection. Regulatory bodies such as the FDA and EMA, as well as global institutions and associations like the WHO, ISPE, PIC/S and local CDSCO, NMPA, MHRA, ANVISA, etc, emphasize the need for accurate measurement and secure storage of critical process and environmental parameters.

Discover Life Sciences Solutions > 

Milk Production and Pasteurization
We take for granted that the milk we buy is safe for our children to drink. The reality is that every milk producer must comply to stringent regulations such as FDA Dairy Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) and multiple guidance principles and standards to prove that every part of the process was controlled, recorded, and meets those regulations.


Discover Milk Pasteurization Solutions>

Aerospace Manufacturing
It is critical that an airplane manufacturer can demonstrate the safety of its aircraft for passengers. They must validate that literally every nut and bolt meets specific aerospace process control regulations, NADCAP and AMS2750G standards during manufacture. Eurotherm specialist heat treatment knowhow and embedded expertise help customers save energy, improve material properties, and reduce these regulatory costs.

Discover AMS2750G pyrometry solutions >

Eurotherm have specialized knowledge and experience in these industries, delivering solutions that help businesses to reduce the time and cost of regulatory compliance, throughout their manufacturing processes and supply chains. Eurotherm solutions and services help customers to efficiently manage the quality, safety, and the authenticity of manufactured goods in multiple ways. Through machine and process automation efficiency, high integrity data management and by partnering with global regulatory bodies to help improve on best practice engineering approaches, such as the ISPE on GAMP® 5 (Good Automated Manufacturing Practice).

Non-compliance in these cases often means hefty fines and item recalls. Even if the equipment used is high performing and well controlled, manufacturers need to easily access and accurately measure, monitor, record, and protect the data collected within their processes. Thus, data management, (data recording, monitoring and secure storage of that data in tamper resistant files) is also very much a part of the thermal loop.

Helping customers achieve their goals often starts with an analysis of the system. This is where Watlow can apply its expertise and bring best practices to bear on a customer’s application. Once that value is demonstrated, the relationship as a trusted partner can hopefully grow.

About the authors

Andy Selvy holds a B.S. in ceramic engineering from Missouri University of Science and Technology and an MBA from Maryville University.
In his current role as a chief system designer, he leverages 20 years of solving complex thermal system problems to help grow new technology into scalable products and services.

Andy Selvy

Chief system designer

Marketing Manager and writer experienced with promoting complex industrial automation solutions; Interpreting technical information to create unified, digestible content.

Kate Merrick

Global Marcomms Manager

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