Last Christmas I got a small, almost new 8 liter kiln from my uncle who owns a large dental lab. He got it when he bought a whole lot of material in a liquidation and it was to big for them. Small for us is large for their industry, they use tiny desktop kilns, maybe 250 cc that fit a few tooth in them. The only problem was that it was only the kiln with the heating elements and no controller, thermocouple or relays. Buying all the necessary gear through our local pottery supplier would have made us ± 600€ lighter! So having a little tinker ethos I figured that it would be easy to build something yourself using an Arduino as a controller and a Solid State Relay to switch the 2 Kw elements. Not being such a great programmer or electro-engineer I dived into google thinking that this must have been done before considering the prices of commercial controllers, some code would probably be available to get you started. Well, google turned op close to 0 hits so apparently there are not enough potters with programming/engineering background or hackers that like clay? After doing lots of research, driving to holland to pickup some old analog industrial temperature controllers, thermocouples and relays, requesting manuals for gear from the 80s from japanese companies I finally threw in the towel and bought a 300€ controller kit that was a perfect fit for small kilns like ours. I found this kit through all the googling (so never a waste of time) and figured that it was not worth it to continue my search for a DIY solution since I really lack the skills to pull it off from scratch. The ST222 kit I bought included a controller, thermocouple and relays and was made buy the UK company Stafford Instruments. So here's our inferno in a box.
I still love the idea of a DIY kit controller, I calculated the costs of a DIY solution to be around 150€ (Thermocouple 60€, Arduino 30€, SSR 30€, Display for Arduino, buttons etc 20€) which was a quarter of the initial commercial solutions and would allow you to preprogram all curves from a computer instead of using the awkward interfaces of commercial solutions and even monitor the kiln with plotted curves on the computer. The solutions on the market are really basic in functionality. While the 300€ controller was a sweet enough deal for our small kiln I still think a DIY controller would be very interesting for larger kilns. So I hope someone wants to pick up my mission for the OpenKilnController.
Here is what I have found so far, kiln controllers are PID controllers (I never heard of them, remember my lack of skills) and they appear to be very common in industrial control systems. There is already a pretty decent PID library for Arduino. (http://www.arduino.cc/playground/Code/PIDLibrary) that could be used as a starter. The hardware is straight forward as mentioned above, you need a thermocouple as analog sensor, the Arduino with PID library as controller and a SSR as switching mechanism for the kiln. The tricky part looks to be the 'tuning' of the P, I and D parameters.
I also found some rforum posts over at arduino about DIY Arduino PID controllers so at least some people tried like PWillard.
UPDATE: While typing this post I revisited the forum thread I mentioned above and apparently GlennD did build a kiln controller for a glass fusing Kiln. Unfortunately only after I bought the ST222.