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FLO Float Switches: From Design to Product Launch

Float switches.

Embarking on product development is not only an innovative journey for a company, but sometimes a necessary one. We were soon to recognise existing problems with the usability and reliability of a supplier’s float switches, and thus took the initiative to combat the issue with our own range of float switches.

As there was not a suitable float switch in the marketplace to meet the demands of the industry, we were inclined to improve the situation by developing a range of float switches that were optimised to solve current issues. We also wanted to instil confidence among our users, something that is inherently important when controlling sensitive liquids.

Float Switch Development Stage

We started to develop the float switches back in 2010, firstly our in-house design engineers and the combined expertise of a design house created an initial format of the structural composition of the product. Furthermore, a technical team that had a combined knowledge of over 50 years merged with some of T-T’s newest recruits, to bring a fresh perspective to the complications that arise during level control. This allowed design engineers to create a shape with no flat surfaces and a basic volume as a starting point for the process.

With a continuous review of the float switch design, utilising both internal and external design consultants, and after optimising the volume of the float switches at the initial review stage, we had a product design to progress.

Float Switch Testing Stage

Once the finalised prototypes had been developed, the testing procedure commenced. The trials began in 2011 at our in-house facilities, with continuous operations of all float switches within the range continually pumping over a six-month period on three-minute cycles. This allowed us to monitor any complications, faults or issues during this period of rigorous durability testing.

Further in-house testing measured impact resistance, something that was an additional criteria developed by us to further ensure reliability when the float switches were to enter the market. Alongside this, we also acknowledged the requirement for flexibility in cable length, ensuring that the new range of float switches would come in lengths of up to 40m, particularly in relation to the Atex and IECex versions. This therefore required further investment and consideration, due to the pressures encountered with deep submersion, ensuring the float switch range was capable of withstanding such forces.  Again, this was fully tested over numerous years to ensure the design was able to cope in these circumstances. Additional comprehensive assurances carried out by the company included testing the internal switch operation during the manufacturing process and also full immersion for IP integrity, and temperature-controlled testing.

Float Switch Installation & Further Testing

As well as using our in-house facilities once reliability was proven we started to install the float switches on live pumping stations around the country as part of standard installation and maintenance visits. With these sites being closely monitored, we outlined any technical problems the floats could potentially experience in a variety of wet wells and applications and resolved them to ensure efficient operation, eventually resulting in a product that was suitable for multiple liquids and conditions.

Investing in Float Switches for the Long term

As with any new product development, due to the lengthy time required and the range of resources needed, it can become an expensive and time-consuming process. However, we took the commercial view to fully invest in all aspects of the testing procedures to ensure our product would succeed when entering the market, by being compliant with the stringent requirements of manufacturing in the UK, which meant also employing specialist external verifiers and test houses.

Product Focus: FLO101 Float Switch

The FLO101 float switch within the new range received substantial investment in order to meet the demands of the industry. We developed the FL0101 to be an ATEX and IECEx-approved model.

After completing extensive research into notified bodies that could assist with compliance, we appointed Element Materials as our trusted provider for materials and product qualification testing. Element Materials, worked closely with our dedicated Quality Assurance and Product Development Coordinator Anthony Brisbourne, to carry out extensive testing of the product, ensuring that we produced an ATEX and IECEx compliant product deemed officially suitable for zone 0 applications and low current switching.

FLO101 contains a special low current microswitch, which when used with an ATEX/IECEx-approved barrier, is compatible with the voltage and current requirements of intrinsically safe systems, such as areas designated as hazardous gas environments.

Quality Testing for the FLO Range

All float switches within the FLO range were subject to the same rigorous internal and external testing procedures. The FLO102 and FLO103 for general purpose use, the FLO106 for use in diesel oil, and the FLO107 using WRAS-approved materials for use in potable water have all been reviewed by compliance advice companies, such as the CE marking association, and evaluated against the necessary standards and directives such as low voltage directive.

Furthermore, we have developed a series of detailed supporting documentation for their product line. We recognised the end user's requirement for on-hand technical advice in multiple formats and have therefore spent considerable time developing a series of datasheets and operating and instruction manuals. Unlike the traditional manuals, the float switch range manuals were designed with simplicity in mind. After multiple edits, we finally settled on pictorial installation diagrams to demonstrate the product's functions. This was complemented by the required technical information on the rear of the fold-out style manual and the format was mimicked for our new range of counterweights. As the product went through development the manuals were constantly revised to suit any requirements and amendments to the float switch.

Float Switches for the UK and beyond

As a product designed and manufactured in the UK, we feel confident that this product will not only be popular in the domestic market but will also generate great interest for export customers too. As a fully British-manufactured product, the range has been optimised for liquid control internationally, with considerations for uses in this worldwide market evident from conception.

We are already receiving a lot of positive feedback; we envisage distribution will be in full flow by the end of 2016. As with any new product or procedure, we always appreciate feedback from our customers so please do not hesitate to get in contact with our sales team on +44 (0)1630 647200 or email at [email protected]

To access more information about our float switch range request a copy of the brochure by emailing [email protected]