Kiln Controller

The Job and What's Involved

Working KilnKiln controllers supervise the operation of kilns used in the manufacturing and production sector for hardening items by heating them to very high temperatures in a process called firing. This produces finished products which can then be used in construction or manufacturing, or can be sold direct to the public. They include:

Tableware, such as cups, plates and bowls.

Bathroom and kitchen fittings such as baths, basins, toilets and cooker hobs.

- Floor and wall tiles
- Pipes and drains
- Bricks and roofing tiles
- Chimney pots and other building products such as flue liners
- Refractories for making steel and glass
- Components used in power transmission and agriculture
- Ornaments such as vases and figurines
- Plant pots and garden ornaments
- Handmade pottery.

Some of these items are fired a number of times at different stages of the manufacturing process. Continuous quality control is achieved by the use of electronic equipment for measurement and machine control, usually monitored by the kiln controller.

Kiln controllers are responsible for the operation of kilns from the arrival of the product to be fired to the completion of the firing process. They:

- May check batches waiting to go into the kiln
- May take samples and check quality prior to firing
- Ensure that all the kilns are running at the right temperatures
- May check the finished product

Rotary kilns and rotating industrial drying ovens are used for a wide variety of other applications including processing raw minerals and feedstocks, heat treatment of hazardous waste and in the manufacture of cement.

Some kiln controllers are also responsible for the control of the production process. They may be involved in:

- Forward planning
- Drawing up production schedules
- Monitoring the production process
- Working out the resources required
- Setting standards for quality
- Supervising employees

Kiln controllers work a basic 38-hour week. Plants normally operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so shift work is common. This may involve night and weekend work and there may be opportunities for overtime. Shifts may be as long as 12 hours, but shift allowances are usually paid.

Kiln controllers may work both inside and outside, as plants may be partly covered or totally enclosed. Indoor control rooms are usually dry, clean and air-conditioned because of the electronic equipment used. Plants are often modern and clean, although some older plants may be affected by dust, fumes, noise or heat.

Kiln controllers may wear protective clothing, such as helmets and boots, as some chemicals are hazardous.

Starting salaries may range from around £12,000 to £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Kiln controllers can work in:

Brick factories - there are 84 brick factories in the UK, with four major employers and some small firms.

Concrete plants - there are over 1,300 ready-mixed concrete plants throughout the UK, most of which come under six major employers.

Precast concrete factories - there are around 850 precast concrete manufacturers throughout the UK, with some concentration in the East Midlands.

Cement manufacturers - there are four cement manufacturers in the UK, operating 15 major plants.

Refractory manufacturers - there are around 15 refractory manufacturers using kilns in the UK, but the number of people employed in the industry has been decreasing.

The pottery industry - employs around 30,000 people, with the majority of the larger manufacturers based around Stoke-on-Trent in the West Midlands.

Vacancies are advertised in local and national newspapers, Jobcentre Plus offices and trade journals such as Production Engineering Solutions and Control.

Education and Training

There are no specific qualifications required to become a kiln controller, but an understanding of machinery is an advantage and some employers may expect GCSE's/S grades (A-E/1-5) in English, maths and a relevant technical subject, or experience in an engineering or electrical environment.

It may be possible to start out as an apprentice in a related field, such as ceramics manufacture, and gain promotion after several years' experience when they are able to take on the full responsibilities of the job.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most of the training in kiln control is on-the-job, under the supervision of more experienced colleagues. There may also be specialist courses run by the manufacturers of the equipment used.

Trainees or apprentices starting in a related field can study for NVQ/SVQ Level 2 in:

  • Manufacturing Ceramic Products
  • Fired Ceramic Items
  • Performing Manufacturing Operations.

Vocational related qualifications are also available in Clay Building Products at Levels 2 and 3.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A kiln controller should:

  • Be able to work to deadlines.
  • Be able to supervise other people.
  • Know about the properties, characteristics and processing behaviour of materials.
  • Be able to accept responsibility.
  • Be able to find practical and innovative solutions to problems.
  • Think logically and systematically.
  • Be a good teamworker.
  • Be able to work with numbers and computers.
  • Communicate well with other people and be able to motivate them.
  • Have initiative and be able to identify opportunities for new product applications.

Your Long Term Prospects

It may be possible to progress to become a senior kiln controller in a large firm. This may involve estimating capacity, co-ordinating the work of planners and supervisors and liaising with buyers, sales and engineering staff.

Opportunities for self-employment are limited, but it may be possible to work as a consultant, advising how to implement new manufacturing and production systems.

Get Further Information

British Ceramic Confederation, Federation House,
Station Road, Stoke-on-Trent ST4 2SA
Tel: 01782 744631
Website: www.ceramfed.co.uk

Proskills UK, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Website: www.proskills.co.uk

SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 0808 100 3628
Website: www.semta.org.uk

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