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Process controller focuses on ease of setup: Watlow's F4T temperature and process controller now has enhanced capabilities, including advanced data logging and graphical trend charts. Andy Pye met with company executives to discuss the thinking behind the development.

The F4T is a 1/4 DIN temperature process controller with touch-screen technology that provides a powerful, flexible and easy to use device in one versatile package. Aimed at end users in process plant, as well as OEMs' manufacturing environmental test chambers, where the device is incorporated into the customer's product, it features a 4.3in (109.22mm), capacitive colour touch panel with high-resolution and graphical user interface that provides customised control for demanding applications.

The latest version of the F4T controller comes with COMPOSER with INTUITION, Watlow's graphical software for configuring and customising the company's controllers, and which connects with the controller via Ethernet. It helps users visualise and easily implement control and automation. Task-specific views simplify all aspects of setting up new controllers, including managing the inputs and outputs from pluggable flex modules, setting up functions such as control loops and alarms and creating and editing profiles.

COMPOSER offers many features which help implement applications more quickly and with fewer errors. It speeds up and simplifies commissioning and archiving and documents controller setup. Some of these attributes include a function block diagram with live data and error indication, multi-language support, a dashboard view, multi-language support, a configurable interface and integrated video tutorials.

Additional features that specifically support Watlow's F4T include a profile editor for speeding up profile creation and editing, fast and reliable Ethernet support for connecting one or more controllers and a calibration view with on-screen instructions and automation, which reduces downtime by simplifying the calibration verification procedure.

"Although we introduced the F4T in May 2015, we continue to test and make enhancements," says Craig Dennis, Product Manager. "Our goal is to pro-ride the most powerful, best performing controller on the market for a variety of applications."

The F4T is also the replacement for Watlow's established SERIES 4 controller. Currently, there is no established end-of-life date for the SERIES F4. The F4T comes with backwards-compatible Modbus addresses for factors such as process value, set point and critical profile run-time parameters.

Other features of the F4T include agency certifications (such as UL, FM, CE, RoHS, WEEE and NEMA 4X/IP65) and a variety of communications options, including Ethernet Modbus TCP and SCPI, and EIA 232/485 Modbus RTU.


The F4T version 3.0 is available with encrypted data log records to help meet industry requirements such as Nadcap (National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program), AMS 2750E and CRF 21 Part 11. Other benefits include the ability to log directly to a USB memory stick, transfer data log files over Ethernet or to the USB host ports and select which parameters to data log.

Version 3.0 also allows graphical trending: users can create up to four trend screens and can scroll through a matching colour legend of parameters on the trend chart. There is also a snapshot screen capture feature. The trend chart image can be saved to a USB host port for viewing, emailing or printing.

The new controller combines the functionality of multiple devices, including temperature PID, over/under temperature limit, power switching, math, logic, timers and counters, into one integrated system. The F4T lowers ownership costs, reduces design complexity and saves wiring time and panel space.

A significant benefit is design flexibility. It is scalable, and offers a wide range of field removable input/output modules. This allows the unit to be configured into a multitude of applications, while integrating easily with the required hardware.

Watlow's high quality F4T controller offers robust algorithms for temperature, cascade, altitude, humidity and compressor functions, which lowers ownership costs, eliminates the need for separate discrete components, reduces complexity and simplifies ordering and installation.


Customisation: what are the options for customising the user interface?

* The F4T comes with preconfigured screens; customers do not have to create their own screens from scratch. Also, the screens have endured rigorous usability testing to ensure the controller is intuitive and easy to use.

* The F4T allows a user to personalise the look and layout of up to four home screens. Examples of personalisation include setting how many channels (loops, monitor inputs, limits) are displayed on the four main home pages.

* Within the outputs section, the user can prioritise the specific order in which they would like individual output soft keys or profile events to appear. Additionally the customer can enter custom names for outputs, PID loops, alarms, events, profiles, etc.

Quality and Reliability

* Most of the control algorithms used in the F4T controller, as well as the input/output hardware electronics, have been deployed in other designs that have been used in over 100,000 installations worldwide.

* The display has an environmental NEMA 4X/IP65 rating.

* The LED backlife is greater than 50,000 hours.

Remote Access: can the F4T send an email or text message if an out-of limits condition exists or if a profile completes?

* The F4T controller features an Ethernet communications port that allows connection to the controller via the Internet for remote access.

* There are future roadmap plans with remote access that will allow for e-mail and text messages. Other developments coming on stream include Apple and Android apps for remote interrogation.

Data Logging: what are the options for data logging and how do we access the data?

* The F4T controller is available with a data logging option. Here, set points, process values and per cent output values are logged and saved and can be transferred from the controller via a USB flash drive.

* The file format is a .CSV file that can easily be imported and graphed using common PC programming software packages such as Microsoft.

* Also available are trending screens and data encryption file types to help meet industry standards around data tamper-proofing, such as CFR21 Part 11 (FDA/food), NADCAP and ASM2750D/E (used in aerospace/government/military).

* The F4T allows for the ability to update to new firmware on controllers.

Control Functions

* The F4T can control from one to four PID process loops. The PID loops can be ordered in increments of one to ensure you can order exactly what is needed.

* Additionally, two of the four available loops can be utilised as cascade loops.

* The F4T controller has five independent PID sets that can be utilised to help ensure optimum process control is achieved.

Modularity and scalability

* The F4T controller is both modular and scalable. Inputs and outputs can be ordered in increments of one.

* Modularity--The flex modules (hardware inputs and outputs) can be added, subtracted or changed in the field.

* Scalability--A customer can rearrange different combinations of inputs and outputs to scale up to 24 inputs or 36 outputs depending on the configuration mix.

* Flex modules allow users and OEMs to modify or add inputs, outputs and other capabilities after buying and installing an F4T controller. With minimum clearance, flex modules can be added or replaced without disassembling or even removing the controller from the panel.

Language capability

* The controller can be programmed to display in: English, German, French, Japanese, Korean and Simplified Chinese.

* User manuals are available in English and Simplified Chinese, with quick-start guides in the other languages.

* There are additional support tools such as "how to" videos on the Watlow web site to help users accomplish keytasks.


* Profiles, data log files and the controller configuration file are the three types of files that can quickly be imported into or exported from any F4T controller.

* Locating USB ports on the back helps in instances where security reasons dictate they are not accessible through the front panel. It also results in not taking up valuable space on the front panel that would compete with the size of the colour/graphical display.

* With the use of USB accessory cables, the USB can be mounted in the front panel to any location they prefer. This also allows users to select their preferred type of USB housing, such as open air or an environmentally protected type USB housing.


There are three well-used terms in the measurement industry: accuracy, repeatability and resolution. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably and should not be.

* Accuracy designates how close a measured value is to the true quantity of what is being measured. Without comparison to a standard, accuracy cannot be determined.

* Repeatability describes how well a system or device can reproduce an outcome in unchanged conditions. In some applications, repeatability is more important than accuracy. If the system is repeatable, an error can be mapped and compensated for.

* Resolution is the smallest increment the system can display or measure. A system can have a high resolution with poor repeatability and accuracy. Resolution is a primary concern in applications regarding speed control or surface finish.

Accurate devices are desirable because they yield measurements that closely reflect the true flow rate. Repeatable devices may not yield accurate measurements, but they will perform in the same manner under the same conditions. This may sometimes be acceptable, depending on the application and budget.
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Author:Pye, Andy
Publication:Environmental Engineering
Date:Dec 1, 2016
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