Since writing the article below RCBS and Lyman have introduced casting furnaces with PID controllers built in. The RCBS ProMelt 2, RCBS Easy Melt and the Lyman Mag 25 feature easy to program and use PID feature. The RCBS ProMelt 2 and Lyman Mag 25 are bottom pour designs but can also be used for ladle dipping. The RCBS Easy Melt model for ladle dipping only is an especially good buy. All hold 25 lbs of alloy. To read a full evaluation of the RCBS Easy Melt furnace click on: Evaluation of the RCBS Easy Melt Casting Furnace with PID. For more details on how PIDs work, read on. =======================
I've been using a PID controller when casting since Aug. 2015. It’s an electronic device that is installed in-line with the AC power to the casting pot. No modifications are required to the pot. The PID controller (hereon referred to as a PID) plugs into AC power and the pot plugs into the PID. A thermocouple connected to the PID is either installed in the pot prior to adding alloy or inserted into the alloy after it has sufficiently melted. The thermostat on the pot is turned to maximum temperature and the PID takes over control of the power to the pot to finely manage the temperature. After it was calibrated (“trained”), which was a simple step, it held the alloy temperature of my 22 lb capacity RCBS Pro-Melt casting pot to within +/- 5 degrees of the set temperature during the normal casting sequence.
Following is a photo of my setup. You will note the PID in the center of the photo and the thermocouple inserted into the alloy. Also note the temperature is set for 750 degrees (green readout) and the actual alloy temperature is 751 degrees (red readout).
A PID, sometimes referred to as a three-term controller, is a device that compares a set point (SP) or set value (SV) to the actual process value (PV) as measured by a sensor over a period of time. When used to control temperature, the sensor is usually some form of a thermocouple. In simplistic terms, the set point or set value is what you want and the process value is what you get. Using a feedback system and a unique algorithm, the PID supplies power to the pot until the process or actual value is equal to the set or desired value. PID stands for Proportional- Integral-Derivative. For a somewhat simplified discussion of PIDs, go to http: //www.csimn.com/CSI_pages/PIDforDummies.html. For much more information than you need to know, run an Internet search for “PID controller”.
Casting pot thermostats wait until the temperature is below the set point, then full power is applied until the temperature is above the set point. It then shuts off and the cycle starts over, resulting in temperature overshoot and undershoot. When used with a casting pot a PID quickly cycles the power on and off to make small adjustments to the amount of heat being generated in order to maintain the desired temperature. After it was “trained” on my pot and once the alloy temperature increased to within 20 degrees of the set value the PID started cycling the power on and off at approximately a 1-second rate. It continued the 1-second cycle once the set temperature was reached, adjusting the applied power as necessary to maintain the temperature. I understand the cycle rate may be different for different pots.
So, does using a PID result in better bullets? The answer is it may or may not help. If you have an inexpensive pot that does a less than stellar job of controlling the alloy temperature, a PID will likely be a benefit. Some contend that the Lee pots fall into this category. It may also help to some degree if you’re unable to maintain a steady casting cadence. If you’ve developed a good casting technique and your bullets consistently drop out of the mould to within +/- 1gr. than using a PID will most likely not improve the weight variance. As an example, prior to installing the PID, I was able to consistently cast 400 gr. bullets to within +/- 2gr. Using the PID for the 1st time, the weight variance of 300 bullets dropped to +/- 1.5gr. Since then the spread has been reduced to +/- 0.5gr. I can't say for sure that all the weight variance reduction is due to the PID, but it sure has helped.
I found that the PID made casting a little easier and more accurate. Once it was set up and “trained” I did not have to guess what temperature the thermostat setting on the pot was set at; and changing the temperature an exact amount is easy. What was especially nice was seeing the exact alloy temperature at all times and how it was affected when the ladle is submersed and when the sprues are returned to the pot. By the way, when submersed in the full 22 lb pot, a cold (room temperature) RCBS ladle dropped the alloy temperature 25 degrees, and it was simple to determine when the temperature recovered prior to beginning the casting sequence.
Many have built their own units. It’s a relatively simple design and all the necessary parts are readily available on eBay, Amazon and/or several suppliers for $50 to $100. You’ll need the main controller, solid state relay (SSR), heat sink, appropriate thermocouple, on/off switch, fuse/fuse holder, terminal strip, power cord and small project box. All of this is discussed on numerous Internet sites and in several threads on the Cast Boolits forum (http://castboolits.gunloads.com/forum.php). Run a search for “PID controller”. BTW, the controller pictured in the photo was purchased from a company which is no longer in business. For those that don’t want to bother with building one, I understand there is a fellow that frequents the Cast Boolits forum that sells PID controllers.
In closing I’ll leave you with a few comments. The benefits of using a PID depends on what you’re casting for. If your pot has a bottom pour feature and you are using it for casting handgun bullets I doubt a PID will provide any noticeable benefits. But if you're ladle/dip casting for match grade bullets I think it's an excellent idea based on how well it works for me. Most of my casting has been for .40 cal (400 gr.) bullets using a RCBS bottom pour pot, but I don’t use the bottom pour feature. I “dip cast” with a ladle. I also have a 20 lb lee pot and use it with a ladle and different alloy for .45 cal bullets. The PID is switched from pot to pot. Not only does the PID control the temperature very well within a few degrees it also indicates when your pot is up to casting temperature. A Lee pot uses a very basic temp switch that allows relatively large swings in the alloy temperature. It works for many but in my estimation there’s room for improvement when casting match grade bullets.
BTW, if you are considering purchasing an expensive pot, you can save a bunch of bucks by going with a Lee pot and using a PID. The combination will result in a casting setup that provides much better temperature control than available with expensive pots. Plus you gain the benefit of precise visible feedback of the alloy temperature while casting. But don’t expect the addition of a PID to significantly improve results if your casting technique is poor. Precisely controlling the alloy temperature is only one of several factors affecting cast bullet quality.