In our modern age, using computer controls to improve the efficiency of a system is often a no-brainer, and it’s easy to see the benefits of digital controls by observing just how many systems and products use them in the world around us. Modern automatic vehicles use computers to shift gears at the most efficient times, autopilot helps reduce a pilot’s mental fatigue on long flights, and analog thermostats with their bimetallic strips are being increasingly replaced by programmable and self-learning models. The potential benefits are there: digital controls can be cheaper to produce, they usually help a machine or system run more efficiently, and they can offer plenty of other benefits to consumers and operators alike. These benefits, however, come at the price of shifting most if not all of the system’s controls onto a computer controller. In most cases this is perfectly fine. In other cases, it becomes more of a liability than a benefit.
Since Tioga originated sixty years ago, our units have been built to withstand the harsh conditions of oilfields and other extreme environments. These demanding applications have required us to prioritize reliability above all else, and one aspect that improves the dependability of Tioga heaters is the use of analog controls. Considering that digital controls were just described as a “no-brainer,” using analog components in our units may sound counterintuitive at first. So, to understand why we forego the advantages of a digital controls, let’s imagine a Tioga heater that does have a computer controller.
In this example, the Tioga heater is used on an oil rig somewhere deep in northern Alaska. The unit runs fine for years without issue. In fact, it runs quite efficiently. One day, however, the computer controller fails out of nowhere. The controller is somewhat specialized as a product, and the rig is in an extremely remote location, so it can take weeks to deliver a replacement controller. Until then, the heater cannot function, and the crew on the oil rig has mere hours before temperatures drop to fatal levels. All because of a random breakdown of the controller, everyone’s focus has shifted from managing the rig’s operation to simply staying alive.
Now let’s look at what would happen if a similar breakdown occurred with analog controls on the heater. In this case, a single analog component fails instead of the entire controller. An oil rig worker calls Tioga’s emergency service line and describes what happened. Over the phone, the Tioga representative then instructs the worker on how to bypass that failed component, and with some luck, the heater is running again in less than one or two hours. While a replacement part is on its way, the heater remains functional enough for operations to continue and, most importantly, for the crew to stay safe.
Not every breakdown is perfect, and not every analog component can necessarily be bypassed. But the simplicity of our analog controls provides an opportunity for a quick repair, while a failed computer controller all but guarantees that the heater won’t work until a replacement eventually comes. When so many of our customers have employees whose lives depend on a consistent source of heat, sacrificing the added safety of analog controls for the potential efficiency of digital controls would be unacceptable.
The world is constantly evolving with new technologies, and digital controllers have played an indispensable part in revolutionizing both systems and consumer products. Tioga eagerly looks for new ways to improve our heaters, but as long as we serve customers who operate in the most hostile conditions possible, our analog controls are here to stay.