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Title:
IMPROVEMENTS IN OR RELATING TO CONTROL MEANS
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/123653
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Aspects of embodiments described herein relate generally to a control means and related method. In one form, a control means and related method operable for use with a fusion apparatus is described. As applied to at least the context of a fusion apparatus, there is disclosed a control means for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment.

Inventors:
LINNANE, Francis (24/200 Canterbury Road, Bayswater, Victoria 3153, 3153, AU)
PARKINSON, Andrew (88 Guthrie Street, Osborne Park, Western Australia 6017, 6017, AU)
BOURKE, Mark (88 Guthrie Street, Osborne Park, Western Australia 6017, 6017, AU)
Application Number:
AU2016/000025
Publication Date:
August 11, 2016
Filing Date:
February 02, 2016
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
XRF SCIENTIFIC LIMITED (88 Guthrie Street, Osborne Park, Western Australia 6017, 6017, AU)
International Classes:
C03B5/06; F27B14/00; F27B17/02; G01N1/44
Foreign References:
US5269827A1993-12-14
DE10338886A12005-03-03
US5126721A1992-06-30
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
WRAYS PTY LTD (Ground Floor, 56 Ord StreetWest Perth, Western Australia 6005, 6005, AU)
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Claims:
The claims defining the present invention are as follows:

1 . A means for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment.

2. A means according to claim 1 , wherein said means is configured in operable association with an assessing means configured operable for making an assessment of the state of the environment, and wherein said means is arranged operable for causing a modification, if so determined, to be made to the environment on the basis of at least the assessment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

3. A means according to claim 2, wherein the assessment of the state of the environment comprises measuring a characteristic of one or more target object(s) or regions, or portion(s) thereof, associated with or part of the environment in a non-contact and/or remote manner.

4. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim

2, wherein the state of the environment assessed is the current or real time state of the environment.

5. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim

3, wherein the assessing means is configured operable with a thermal measuring means for measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state or a temperature of the or each target object(s), region(s), or portion(s) thereof, such measuring and/or monitoring being performed in a manner in which the current or real-time state of the environment is measured and/or monitored.

6. A means according to claim 5, wherein the thermal measuring means comprises one or more infra-red measurement devices, configured capable of remote temperature measurement in a non-contact manner.

7. A means according to claim 5 or claim 6, wherein said means is configured operable for managing the thermal state or temperature of the or each target object(s), region(s), or portion(s) thereof, by way of a feedback or closed loop arrangement based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

8. A means according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said means is configured operable for use with a gas fusion apparatus.

9. A means according to claim 8, wherein the gas fusion apparatus is configured appropriate for hosting a fusion process, wherein the outcome is the preparation of one or more fusion samples for subsequent spectrometric analysis.

10. A means according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein said means is embodied or exemplified in the form of a control means.

1 1 . A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 8, wherein the fusion apparatus comprises a furnace, whereby the environment is a localised region within a furnace chamber, and wherein the environment is heated by way of a heating means comprising a burner assembly configured operable for heating the environment as appropriate for facilitating and/or progressing a fusion process, the burner assembly comprising one or more burner units.

12. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 1 1 , wherein the burner assembly is configured operable with a fluid supply assembly arranged so as to supply one or more gases to the burner assembly so that it is capable of providing the necessary thermal or heating requirements for facilitating and/or progressing the fusion process in a desired manner.

13. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claims 12 and 10, wherein said control means is configured operable for measuring and/or monitoring one or more physical characteristics of the or each gases supplied to the burner assembly, which physical characteristics include any of the following: the thermal properties of the or each gases, respective flow rates of the or each gases, and/or respective pressures of the or each gases.

14. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claims 13, wherein the control means is configured operable for determining, by way of calculation or informed inference based on, at least in part, an assessment of the state of the environment, prospective values corresponding to respective proportions of the or each gases to be supplied to respective one or more burner unit(s) for creating and/or maintaining the desired state of the environment.

15. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 13, wherein the control means is configured operable for changing or modifying the proportion of the or each gases supplied to the heating means based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

16. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 13, wherein the control means is operably configured for seeking to balance the flow of the gases supplied to the burner assembly or one or more burner units as required.

17. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 8 and 3, wherein the fusion apparatus comprises:

(a) one or more crucibles configured so as to hold a respective melt during at least a portion of a fusion process;

(b) one or more moulds into which a melt formed in a respective crucible can be transferred to; and

(c) one or more burner units associated with a respective crucible and/or mould for heating thereof; and wherein, the assessment of the state of the environment comprises at least one of:

(i) measuring the temperature of the or each crucible directly and/or in a remote manner;

(ii) measuring the temperature of the melt held within one or more crucibles directly and/or in a remote manner; (iii) measuring the temperature of one or more regions within the environment directly and/or in a remote manner; or

(iv) measuring the temperature of a flame of a respective burner unit directly and/or in a remote manner.

18. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claims 1 1 and 10, the control means is configured operable for controlling a temperature of a flame produced from a respective burner unit based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

19. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 1 1 and 10, wherein the control means is configured operable with a means configured for measuring, assessing, and/or managing a quality of a flame emanating from the or each burner unit.

20. A means according to claim 19, wherein the means for managing flame quality is configured operable with a means for making a determination as to the quality of a flame emanating from one or more burner units.

21 . A means according to claim 20, wherein one or more characteristics of the flame may be modified as appropriate depending on the determination made by the means for making the determination as to the quality of the flame.

22. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 1 1 and 10, wherein the control means is configured operable for monitoring, calculating, and/or reporting on burner unit efficiency information/characteristics.

23. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 22, wherein the control means is configured operable for seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, a combustion efficiency of a flame associated with a respective burner unit based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

24. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claims 1 1 and 10, wherein the control means is configured operable for determining, by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least an assessment of the state of the environment, the values or quantum of one or more corrections to be made for modifying or adjusting one or more parameters or characteristics of the state of the environment so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment, the determined values or quantum of corrections including any of: the volume, flow rates, and/or pressures of the or each gases, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the respective burner unit.

25. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 10 and 8, wherein the control means is configured operable for implementing or causing to execute a fusion process in accordance with one or more operating profiles.

26. A means according to claim 25, wherein the or each operating profile is determined, calculated, or estimated by way of informed inference using known, interpolated, extrapolated, or measured: i. thermal data; ii. measured temperature data provided or processed as a function of time; iii. measured data using continuously controlled temperature ramp rate data; or iv. temperature data having a substantially saw tooth profile.

27. A means according to claim 25 or claim 26, wherein the or each operating profile comprises or is informed by one or more temperature versus time profiles.

28. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 10, wherein the control means is configured operable for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of the environment in accordance with one or more temperature versus time profiles. A means according to claim 27 or claim 28, wherein one or more of temperature versus time profiles are arbitrary or of a prescribed nature.

30. A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claims 17 and 10, wherein the control means is configured in operable association with one or more photoelectric sensors, the or each photoelectric sensors configured so as to detect movement of one or more target objects, or portion(s) thereof, associated with or part of the environment.

31 . A means according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 17 and 10, wherein the control means is configured operable with a means for detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds of the apparatus, the means for detecting the presence of the or each crucible and/or mould being a remote infra-red measuring system.

32. A means according to claim 31 , wherein the means for detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds comprises one or more infra-red devices operably configured for detecting a thermal signature corresponding to the or each crucibles and/or moulds.

33. A method for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment.

34. A method according to claim 33, wherein the method further comprises: assessing the state of the environment; and modifying, if so determined, the state of the environment on the basis of at least the assessment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment which is substantially conducive for providing the outcome.

35. A method according to claim 34, wherein assessing the state of the environment comprises measuring and/or monitoring one or more characteristics of one or more target object(s) or region(s), or portion(s) thereof, associated with or part of the environment.

36. A method according to claim 35, wherein the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state or a temperature of the or each target object(s) or region(s), or portion(s) thereof, such measuring and/or monitoring performed in a manner in which the current or real-time state of the environment is measured/monitored.

37. A method according to any one of claims 33 to 36, wherein the method comprises determining a desired operating profile reflective of the desired state of the environment considered appropriate for commencing and/or maintaining a fusion process in accordance with predetermined or known efficiency levels considered acceptable.

38. A method according to claim 37, wherein the method comprises managing the commencement and/or progression of the fusion process such that it accords substantially with the desired operating profile.

39. A method according to claim 37 or claim 38, wherein the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring of the state of the environment prior to a fusion process commencing and determining, by way of at least calculation or informed inference, one or more modifications, if any, to be made to one or more characteristics of one or more target object(s) or region(s), or portion(s) thereof, associated with or part of the environment in order to create or maintain the desired state of the environment.

40. A method according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 37, wherein modifying the state of the environment on the basis of at least the assessment of the state of the environment comprises controlling the supply of one or more gases, or portion(s) thereof, to a heating means configured for applying heat to the environment, the heating means comprising one or more burner units.

41 . A method according to claim 40, wherein the method comprises determining the quality of the gas, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the or each burner unit.

42. A method according to claim 40 or claim 41 , wherein modifying the state of the environment on the basis of at least the assessment of the state of the environment comprises changing or modifying the proportion of gases, portion(s) thereof, supplied to the heating means.

43. A method according to any one of claims 40 to 42, wherein the method comprises balancing the flow of the gases, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the or each burner unit.

44. A method according to any one of claims 40 to 43, wherein the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring one or more physical characteristics of the or each gases supplied to the heating means, which one or more physical characteristics include any of the following: the thermal properties of the or each gases, or portion(s) thereof, respective flow rates, and/or pressure of the or each gases.

45. A method according to any one of claims 34 to 44, wherein, for a case where the method is configured operable with a fusion apparatus comprising:

(a) one or more crucibles configured so as to hold a respective melt during at least a portion of a fusion process;

(b) one or more moulds into which a melt formed in a respective crucible can be transferred to; and

(c) one or more burner units associated with a respective crucible and/or mould for heating thereof; and wherein, the assessment of the state of the environment comprises at least one of:

(i) measuring the temperature of the or each crucible directly and/or in a remote manner;

(ii) measuring the temperature of the melt held within one or more crucibles directly and/or in a remote manner;

(iii) measuring the temperature of one or more regions/locations within the environment directly and/or in a remote manner; or; (iv) measuring the temperature of a flame of a respective burner unit directly and/or in a remote manner.

46. A method according to any one of claims 40 to 45, wherein the method comprises controlling, in a substantially continuous or otherwise manner, a temperature of a flame produced from a respective burner unit based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment

47. A method according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 40, wherein the method comprises determining the quality of a flame emanating from the or each burner unit.

48. A method according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 40, wherein the method comprises monitoring, calculating, and/or reporting/displaying burner unit efficiency information/characteristics.

49. A method according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 40, wherein the method comprises seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, the combustion efficiency of a flame associated with a respective burner unit of the burner assembly based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

50. A method according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 34, wherein the method comprises implementing or executing a fusion process in accordance with one or more operating profiles, which may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature.

51 . A method according to claim 50, wherein the method comprises determining one or more operating profiles, by way of calculation, or estimation by way of informed inference using known, interpolated, extrapolated, or measured: i. thermal data; ii. measured temperature data provided or processed as a function of time; iii. measured data using continuously controlled temperature ramp rate data; or iv. temperature data having a substantially saw tooth profile.

52. A method according to any one of the preceding claims when dependent on claim 33, wherein the method comprises the creation and/or maintaining of the desired state of the environment in accordance with one or more temperature versus time profiles.

53. A method according to claim 52, wherein the or each temperature versus time profiles are arbitrary or of a prescribed nature.

54. A control system arranged in operable association with a fusion apparatus, the control system configured operable in accordance with the means according to any one of claims 1 to 32.

55. A control system arranged in operable association with a fusion apparatus, the control system configured operable for performing the method according to any one of claims 33 to 53.

56. An apparatus operably configured for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment by way of a means arranged in accordance with the means of any one of claims 1 to 32.

57. An apparatus operably configured for carrying out or performing the method of any one of claims 33 to 53,

58. A fusion apparatus configured for hosting a fusion process for preparing one or more samples for spectrometric analysis, the fusion apparatus comprising at least one of: i. a means configured in accordance with the means of any one of claims

1 to 32; ii. a means configured operable for carrying out an embodiment of the method of any one of claims 33 to 53; or iii. a control system configured in accordance with the control system of claim 54 or claim 55.

Description:
IMPROVEMENTS IN OR RELATING TO CONTROL MEANS

TECHNICAL FIELD

[0001] Aspects of the present invention relate generally to a control means and related method. In one form, a control means operable for use with a fusion apparatus is described, in another form, a method operable for use with a fusion apparatus is described.

[0002] The present application claims priority to Australian provisional patent application No 2015900310 (filed on 2 February 2015), the content of which is incorporated herein in its entirety.

BACKGROUND ART

[0003] The following discussion of the background art is intended to facilitate an understanding of the present invention onty. The discussion is not an acknowledgement or admission that any of the material referred to is or was part of the common general knowledge as at the priority date of the application.

[0004] Each document, reference, patent application or patent cited in this text is expressly incorporated herein in their entirety by reference, which means that it should be read and considered by the reader as part of this text. That the document, reference, patent application or patent cited in this text is not repeated in this text is merely for reasons of conciseness.

[0005] X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) is a common analytical technique for the determination of bulk elemental composition. In order for a samp!e matter to be analysed by XRF, one method of sample preparation involves the sample matter being crushed into powdered form in order for the sample matter to be fused (melted) into a fiux prior to the formation of a resultant glass bead or fusion bead. The fusion sample, typically in the shape of a disk, produces a substantially homogeneous sample, thereby overcoming known analysis difficulties of particle size variation and mineralogical effects.

[0006] The fusion process involves the melting of the sample in conjunction with an X- ray flux in a high temperature furnace at a temperature range typically between 1 ,050 and 1 ,200 . Additionally, the melted flux is requ ired to be agitated during the fusion process to ensure homogeneous distribution of the sample matter throughout the flux.

[0007] Currently, operation of conventional XRF gas fusion apparatus requires significant user involvement in operating the apparatus for preparing fusion samples. For example, fluctuations in ambient conditions (those relevant to the apparatus during the preparation of fusion samples) between operations or minor variations in such conditions occurring during use may not be appropriately identified or accounted for when operation of the apparatus is overseen manually. As such, there exists a wide scope of potential for the fusion samples to contain various imperfections of varying degree which can compromise the subsequent XRF analysis process.

[0008] it is against this background that aspects of the present invention have been developed.

SUMMARY OF INVENTION

[0009] According to a first principal aspect, there is provided a means for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment.

[0010] The above described principal aspect, and those described below, may incorporate any of the following features, or combinations thereof:

[0011] In one embodiment, said means is configured operable for use with a fusion apparatus such as for example, a gas fusion apparatus configured for hosting a fusion process for producing fusion samples for subsequent spectrometric analysis. Thus, in one embodiment, the outcome is the preparation of one or more fusion samples for subsequent spectrometric analysis.

[0012] The desired state of the environment may be one which is considered appropriate for hosting the fusion process. In one sense, the desired state of the environment may comprise a thermal parameter or profile which is considered to be appropriate for creating and/or maintaining the course of the fusion process in accordance with desired operating efficiencies. It will be appreciated that the desired state of the environment may not be a specific operating parameter or profile but could be a band or range (having a degree of acceptable tolerance) which may correspond with desired operating efficiencies. Thus, in the broadest form, the assessment of the current state of the environment is measured against the desired operating performance profile and a determination made as to whether any adjustment or modification needs to be made to the environment.

[0013] in a further embodiment, the spectrometric analysis is by way of X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF).

[0014] In other embodiments, the spectrometric analysis may be by way of inductively coupled plasma (ICP) or atomic absorption spectroscopy. In this manner, the outcome could be the preparation of one or more glass disc(s) or fusion melt(s) which may be used for subsequent spectrometric analysis by an appropriate spectrometric method.

[0015] in one embodiment, fusion melt(s) produced by way of said means (or indeed by way of other aspects of the present invention described herein) may be poured directly into acid for ICP spectrometric analysis.

[0016] It is to be understood that the various types of spectroscopy methods which may find application with the samples produced by way of various aspects/embodiments of the invention described herein is not exhaustive. The skilled reader would readily appreciate other spectroscopy methods o techniques which might find utility with the principles of the invention described herein.

[0017] It will also be appreciated that the principles of the various principal aspects of the invention described herein could be adapted or configured for the purposes of generating other types of outcomes, and should not be limited to the preparation/production of fusion samples for spectrometric analysis.

[0018] In one embodiment, the environment is a localised region within the gas fusion apparatus and configured operable for hosting a fusion process, or further fusion processes, for the preparation of one or more fusion samp!e{s) (and/or dilution, glass disc, or fusion melt as appropriate) for spectrometric analysis.

[0019] In one embodiment, the fusion apparatus comprises one or more crucibles configured so as to hold a respective melt during at least a portion of the fusion process. The fusion apparatus comprises one or more moulds into which melt formed in a respective crucible can be transferred to for providing the final form of the fusion sample. In this manner, the or each mould serves as a receptacle for shaping the fusion sample during cooling. Generally, the fusion apparatus is arranged so that each crucible is associated with a respective mould. Thus, in this manner, the fusion apparatus comprises an equal number of crucibles and corresponding moulds. In one embodiment, the apparatus comprises six crucibles and respective moulds, but could be configured with any number of each as might be required.

[0020] In one embodiment, said means is configured in operable association with an assessing means configured operable for making an assessment of the state of the environment, wherein said means is arranged operable for causing a modification, if so determined (such as for example, by way of the assessment), to be made to the environment on the basis of at least the assessment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment which is substantially conducive for providing the outcome.

[0021] In another embodiment, said means is configured in operable association with an assessing means configured operable for assessing the state of the environment, wherein said means is arranged operable for causing a modification, if so determined, to be made to the environment on the basis of at least the assessment provided by the assessing means so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment which is substantially conducive for providing the outcome.

[0022] The assessing means may be, or be operable with, any arrangement of suitable mechanism(s), network of component(s), device(s), system(s) which is configured operable for the purpose of making an assessment of the state of the environment for determining whether any modification needs to be made in order to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment. In one form, for example, the assessing means could encompass a processor or processor module arranged in operable association with a network of measuring devices (such as for example, temperature measuring devices), the processor or processor module being appropriately configured with the necessary functionality (such as for example, by way of programming instructions) for making the appropriate determination as to whether any modification needs to be made to the environment based on at least the assessment of the state of the environment. The assessing means could be exemplified in the form of an assessment module, assessment system, or assessment assembly. The skilled reader will appreciate what other forms the assessing means may take. [0023] In another embodiment, said means is configured operabie with a modifying means configured operabie for modifying the state of the environment, wherein said means is arranged operable for causing a modification to be made to the environment by way of the modifying means on the basis of at least the assessment provided by the assessing means so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0024] In at least one embodiment, the modifying means may take any form or architecture using any number or combination of control mechanisms (for example, solenoids, control valves, or any other appropriate control devices known to the skilled reader) in order to make the necessary adjustments or modifications which may have cause to affect the supply of resources needed for the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of the environment. For example, the supply of gases for adjusting heating requirements {ie. control/adjustment of the temperature of the relevant heating flame(s)) to the environment may need to be modified/controlled as considered appropriate for managing the creation/maintenance of the desired state of the environment. As such, the modifying means may comprise a network of control mechanisms configured operable for controlling the supply of gaseous fluids, as may be required based on the assessment of the statement of environment. The modifying means may be exemplified in the form of a modifying module, modifying system, or modifying assembly. The skilled reader will readily appreciate what other forms the modifying means may take. The modifying means may be operabiy associated with said means and/or the assessing means.

[0025] If a determination is made, based at least on the assessment of the state of the environment, that no modification is needed to be made to the environment (ie. the environment is currently at the substantially the desired state), then said means will allow the environment to remain in its current state until the next assessment is made.

[0026] It will be appreciated that said means couid be exemplified in any appropriate manner. In one embodiment, for example, said means may be embodied or exemplified in the form of a control means, such as for example, a control system, controller, control module, or control unit. However, for convenience of description and explanation, said means will be referred to hereinafter in the context when provided in the form of a control means.

[0027] In one embodiment, said means is configured such that provision of an assessment of the state of the environment comprises measuring one or more characteristic(s) of one or more attributes of the environment (such as for example, one or more feature(s), object(s), region(s) or iocation(s) (localised or otherwise), or portion(s) thereof, which are associated with or part of the environment. A characteristic of an attribute of the environment may include characteristics such as its temperature, mass, thermal signature, its position in the environment, and/or its movement (including acceleration, for example) within the environment.

[0028] As foreshadowed above, attributes of the environment or the environment's state may include one or more region(s) or location(s), localised or otherwise, of or in the environment. Furthermore, attributes of the environment or the environment's state may include one or more qualities, features, elements, object(s), aspects, or portion(s) thereof, which are associated with or part of the environment or the environment's state. Thus, in the context of the present application, it is the attribute(s) of the environment and their respective characteristic(s) which define the environment's state at any point in time. A target attribute, feature, object, region/location, for example, or respective portions thereof, may be one selected for specific scrutiny for measurement purposes for assessing the state of the environment being considered for use in creating or maintaining the desired state of the environment.

[0029] The environment itself may be one which is localised so as to encompass within its scope an object (which may, for example, become the target of a measurement process for seeking to assess the state of that (localised) environment) within or part of the (localised) environment. For example, for the case of such an environment in a fusion apparatus, the environment may be one localised so as to encompass, or embrace within its scope, the local surrounds of a crucible (and a respective melt held thereby during a heating process) provided in a furnace chamber, and/or the respective flame operable for heating that crucible. In other embodiments, the environment may be one localised so as to encompass, or embrace within its scope, the local surrounds of a crucible (and a respective melt held thereby during a heating process), a mould associated with the crucible (and into which the melt will be poured), and/or the respective flame(s) operable for heating the crucible and/or mould, It will be appreciated that the scope of the environment may be variable depending on the application and prevailing circumstances.

[0030] In one embodiment, the assessment of the state of the environment comprises measuring a characteristic (such as for example, temperature) of one or more attributes or target objects, regions, of portions thereof, associated with or part of the state of the environment in a non-contact and/or remoted manner (for example, using an infra-red temperature sensing device). This is in contrast to, for example, a conventional thermocouple used in the measurement of temperature which usually requires placement so as to be in contact with the target object being measured, or is needed to be positioned so as to be sufficiently proximate the target object.

[0031] In another embodiment, the assessing means is configured such that provision of an assessment of the state of the environment comprises measuring a characteristic of the or each attribute(s) of the environment in at least a remote manner (such as, for example, a distal manner). Similarly, this is in contrast to the constraints inherent when using conventional thermocouples.

[0032] In a further embodiment, the assessing means is configured such that provision of an assessment of the state of the environment comprises measuring and/or monitoring a characteristic of the or each attribute(s) of the environment in both a non- contact and remote manner. In this manner, for example, the temperature of one of the attributes of the environment may be measured and/or managed. Such measuring and/or monitoring may be performed in a substantially continuous manner and used as a basis to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0033] In one embodiment, the state of the environment assessed (such as, for example, by way of the assessing means) is the current or real time state of the environment.

[0034] The measurement of any attribute/feature/object/region, or portion(s) thereof, of the environment may be direct in the sense that that attribute/feature/object/region, has attracted specific (or focused) scrutiny for the purposes of assessing the state of the environment for, at least in part, creating and/or maintaining the desired state of the environment. Thus, in the context of the present application, any direct measurement as referred to herein is to be understood as being a focused measurement in respect of the target object or region, or portion(s) thereof, being measured. Use of the term direct in the context of measurement taking is not to be immediately taken that the measurement is taken in a contact, or near contact, like manner [0035] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for managing the or each attributes of the environment's state so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0036] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for actively managing the or each attribute of the environment's state so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0037] In one embodiment, actively managing the or each attribute of the environment's state is achieved by way of basing any need (when so determined) for any modification of the environment on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[0038] In one embodiment, the control means is provided in the form of a control system configured operable for use with a fusion apparatus.

[0039] In another embodiment, the assessing means is configured operable with a thermal measuring means configured for measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state or a temperature of one or more attributes or target objects, regions, or portions thereof, associated with or part of the environment's state, such measuring and/or monitoring being performed in a manner in which the current or real-time state of the environment is measured and/or monitored,

[0040] In a further embodiment, managing the characteristic(s) of the attribute(s) of the state of the environment includes measuring and/or monitoring the characteristic(s) of each attribute prior to and/or during the course of preparation/production of the or each fusion samples. In another embodiment, such measuring and/or monitoring may be performed in a manner in which the current or real-time thermal state of the environment is measured and/or recorded. In such arrangements, the control means is configured operable such that the current or real-time monitoring information is received and processed thereby.

[0041] The thermal state of the environment, as referred to herein, seeks to make reference to the thermal nature of the environment by way of the thermal state of one or more constituent attributes which are part of the environment. For example, the thermal nature of the environment finds reference to the temperature of one or more constituent attributes (or portions thereof) of the environment being monitored. [0042] In a further embodiment, management or control of the thermal state of one or more attributes of the environment is informed, at least in part, by the measuring and/or monitoring of the state of the environment so to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment. For example, said means (eg. control means) may be configured operable for receiving the rea!-time measuring/monitoring information/data (such as for example temperature, fluid flow rate, and/or fluid pressure data) by way of a feedback or closed loop arrangement/process.

[0043] In one embodiment, said means is configured operable for managing the thermal state of the attribute{s)(target object(s), region(s)), or portion(s) thereof, of the environment by way of a feedback or closed loop arrangement based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment, in one arrangement, such feedback or closed loop arrangement is configure so as to provide an active feedback or closed loop arrangement.

[0044] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operabie for measuring and/or monitoring the thermal state of one or more attributes of the environment prior to the fusion process commencing and determining, by way of at !east calculation or informed inference, one or more modifications, if any, to be made to the environment in order to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0045] In one embodiment, the or each modifications correspond to modifications or adjustments to be made to one or more parameters (such as for example, flame quality, flame temperature, and/or other flame combustion characteristics) which influence the thermal state of the environment for seeking to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0046] In one embodiment, the measuring and/or monitoring of the thermal state of one or more attributes of the environment in preparation for the fusion process to commence includes the control means seeking to determine, by way of at least calculation or informed inference, a desired operating profile reflective of the desired state of the environment considered appropriate for commencing and progressing the fusion process in accordance with predetermined or known acceptable efficiency levels.

[0047] In one embodiment, multiple fusion processes may be measured and/or monitored. For example, for the case where multiple crucibles are provided in the fusion apparatus, each could be used for carrying out a respective fusion process. [0048] In one arrangement, the acceptable efficiency levels are predetermined or known.

[0049] In one embodiment, the desired operating profi!e comprises information relating to one or more of the attributes of the environment's state. In one embodiment, the desired operating profile may be predetermined or known.

[0050] in another embodiment, the desired operating profile(s) include information or data substantially describing a desired thermal state of the environment considered appropriate for commencing and/or progressing a fusion process in accordance with the acceptable efficiency levels.

[0051] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for processing the measured information/data of the state of the environment (such as for example, a current thermal state of one or more attributes of the environment) for comparison with the desired operating profile (whether known or determined otherwise) for the purposes of determining whether modification to the environment needs to be made.

[0052] In one arrangement, the control means is configured operable for facilitating necessary actions be performed or executed by one or more components of the fusion apparatus for seeking to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0053] In one embodiment, the thermal measuring means is configured for measuring on a substantially continuous basis, In this manner, the thermal measuring means serves to monitor a thermal state or temperature of one or more attributes of the environment substantially continuously during a period of operation of the fusion apparatus.

[0054] in one embodiment, the thermal measuring means is configured having one or more thermal sensing means, such as for example temperature sensors operable for measuring temperature.

[0055] In one embodiment, the thermal measuring means comprises one or more infrared measurement devices. In one arrangement, the or each infra-red measurement device is provided in the form of an infra-red temperature sensing probe, capable of remote temperature measurement (for example, measurement from a distance). In another arrangement, the or each infra-red measurement device is capable of remote temperature measurement in a non-contact manner.

[0056] In one embodiment, the or each thermal sensing means is configured so as to be moveable, in this manner, the or each thermal sensing means can be configured capable of measuring (for example, temperature) of more than one target attribute(s)/object(s) (or portion(s) thereof) or region(s)/location(s) (or portion(s) thereof) of the environment's state.

[0057] In one embodiment, the or each thermal sensing means is configured so as to be moveable by way of the control means. In another embodiment, the control means is configured so as to be capable of causing the or each thermal sensing means to be moveable together (for example, in concert) or individually.

[0058] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for receiving information recorded by way of the thermal measuring means and processing said information fo use in assisting in the management and/or control of the environment so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[0059] in one embodiment, the management or control of the environment by the control means is conducted substantially automatically (as per programming and/or predetermined instruction) without the need for substantive human intervention or input.

[0060] in one embodiment, the thermal measuring means comprises a means for calibrating the or each thermal sensing means, in one arrangement, such calibration can be done remoteiy and/or by way of, at least in part, an assessment of the state of the environment.

[0061] in another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for receiving measurements taken by way of the thermal measuring means and processing said measurements for managing and/or controlling the thermal state of one or more attributes of the environment in which the fusion process is being conducted.

[0062] In one embodiment, the fusion apparatus comprises a furnace configured for hosting a fusion process, in one arrangement, the environment may be a localised region of space within the furnace, such as one embracing or surrounding one or more components involved in a fusion process. For example, such a component/attribute (or object) might comprise a crucible, mould, and/or a flame emanating from a burner unit for heating the crucible and/or mould.

[0063] In one embodiment, the component(s)(such as foe example, a crucible) and/or its (local) surrounding environment is heated by way of a heating means.

[0064] In another embodiment, the heating means comprises a burner assembly configured operable for heating the component(s) (eg. a crucible) and its local surrounding environment as appropriate for facilitating and/or progressing the fusion process.

[0065] In one embodiment, the burner assembly comprises one or more burner units (for example, a dual burner arrangement) operable for providing/producing one or more flames for heating a target object in the environment.

[0066] For the case of a dual burner arrangement, each dual burner arrangement is operable for producing a first flame for applying heat to a crucible, and a second fiame for applying heat to a mould associated with the crucible (or a mould into which a melt produced in the crucible is transferred into at the appropriate time).

[0067] In one embodiment, the burner assembly is configured operable with a fluid supply assembly, the fluid supply assembly being arranged so as to supply one or more fluids (such as, for example, gases used by the burner unit(s) for providing a flame) to the burner assembly so as it is capable of providing the necessary thermal or heating requirements for facilitating and/or progressing the fusion process in a desired manner.

[0068] in one embodiment, the fluid supply assembly is a gas supply assembly, the gas supply assembly being arranged so as to supply one or more gases to the burner assembly so that the burner assembly is capable of providing the necessary thermal requirements to the crucible and its local environment for facilitating and/or progressing the fusion process in a desired manner, in some arrangements, the gas supply assembly is configured to supply three gases.

[0069] In one embodiment, the gas supply assembly comprises one or more fluid circuits each configured operable for delivery/supply of respective fluids, for example gases, to the or each burner units of the burner assembly. [0070] In another embodiment, the or each fluid circuits can be configured so as to be capable of suppfying respective fluids carried thereby to one or more crucibles and/or moulds of the fusion apparatus.

[0071] In one embodiment, the modifying means is configured operable with the gas supply means for control purposes.

[0072] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for causing the modifying means to adjust or modify supply of one or more gases, or portions thereof, to the heating means for heating or cooling the environment,

[0073] In one embodiment, a means for mixing two or more gases is provided with the fusion apparatus. In some arrangements, the means for mixing two or more gases is provided in the form of a gas mixing assembly.

[0074] In one embodiment, the gas supply assembly comprises first, second and third fluid circuits, each configured for delivering respective gases (for example, compressed air by way of the first fluid circuit, propane gas by way of the second fluid circuit, and oxygen by way of the third fluid circuit) to the burner units or the burner assembly.

[0075] In one embodiment, each fluid circuit comprises various components configured for allowing control/management of the delivery of the gases in a desired manner. The skilled reader will appreciate that the arrangement of the fluid circuits and/or associated components for controlling delivery of the gases in said desired manner (such as for example, proportional flow-control solenoids, solenoid valves, shut-off valves, pressure regulators, automatic shut-off valves, automatic shut-off solenoid valves, and/or manually operated quarter turn-bull valves, one/two way valves, gas regulator units) can be configured as needed.

[0076] In one embodiment, the first fluid circuit receives compressed air and is arranged so as to supply the compressed air to each of the moulds and/or to each of the crucibles,

[0077] In one embodiment, two or more fluid circuits of the gas supply assembly may be configured so that respective fluids carried thereby can become mixed. [0078] In another embodiment, the first fluid circuit is configured so as to be capable of introducing fluid carried thereby into the second fluid circuit so that the respective fluids can be mixed prior to supply to the burner units or the burner assembiy.

[0079] In another embodiment, the first fiuid circuit is configured so as to be capable of introducing compressed air into the second fluid circuit so that the compressed air and the propane gas can be mixed prior to suppiy to the burner units or the burner assembly.

[0080] In one embodiment, the second fluid circuit is configured so as to be capable of venting fluid or gas carried thereby by way of an appropriate venting or relief means.

[0081] In another embodiment, the second fluid circuit is configured so as to be capable of delivering fluid carried thereby (for example, propane gas) to a pilot tube associated with the or each burner unit or the burner assembiy for ignition purposes (ie. for producing a flame).

[0082] In one embodiment, the third fluid circuit is configured so as to be capable of delivering gas carried thereby (for example, oxygen gas) direct to the burner units or the burner assembly.

[0083] In another embodiment, the third fiuid circuit may be configured so as to be capable of delivering gas carried thereby to each of the moulds and/or each of the crucibles,

[0084] The or each fluid circuits may be provided with flow monitoring means such as flow rate sensor/meters and/or pressure sensors as needed. The skilled person will readily appreciate what other devices may be employed for the purpose of measuring and monitoring flow of fluids such as gases.

[0085] In one embodiment, the flow monitoring means can be arranged operable with the control system, the gas supply assembly, and/or the modifying means. Furthermore, fiow control means such as fiow control solenoids and one/two way valve units may be configured for use in each of the circuits as needed. In other arrangements, control and/or monitoring of such flow control means may be arranged actuab!e by way of the control system. In this manner, as noted above the modifying means may take any form or architecture using such fluid control mechanisms (or any known to the skilled reader) in order to make the necessary adjustments to the supply of the gases as might be necessary based on the assessment of the state of the relevant environment in order to facilitate the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of the environment,

[0086] It is to be understood that the control means may be configured operable for use with any sensor units/devices which can be arranged to assist in facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of an environment. In this regard, such sensors may comprise: a motion sensor; an infra-red sensor; a depth sensor; a three dimensional imaging sensor; an inertia! sensor; a Micro-Electromechanical (MEMS) sensor; an imaging means; an acceleration sensor; an orientation sensor; a direction sensor; and a position sensor.

[0087] in one embodiment, the gas mixing assembly is part of the gas supply assembly.

[0088] In another embodiment, the control means is configured so as to be operable with the gas mixing assembly.

[0089] in a further embodiment, the control means is configured so as to be operable with the gas mixing assembly for mixing two or more of the incoming gases in accordance with appropriate management (in accordance with, for example, a desired operating profile), which management may be informed, at least in part, by way of the assessment of the state of the environment.

[0090] in another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for causing the modifying means to remove or reduce one or more gases, or a portion thereof, supplied to the heating means.

[0091] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for causing the modifying means to change or modify the proportion of the or each gases supplied to the heating means. In one arrangement, the control means is configured operable for changing or modifying the proportion of the or each gases supplied to the heating means based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[0092] In one embodiment, said control means is configured operable for measuring and/or monitoring one or more physical characteristics of the or each gases supplied to the burner assembly, which physical characteristics may include any of the following; the thermal properties of the or each gases, respective flow rates of the or each gases, and/or respective pressures of the or each gases. [0093] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for monitoring and/or managing the distribution or the transfer/supply of the or each gases based on, at the least, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[0094] In a further embodiment, the control means is configured operable with a fluid flow monitoring means configured operable for monitoring the flow of the transfer supply of the or each gases.

[0095] in another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for controlling (for example, by way of the gas supply assembly and/or the modifying means) the output flame temperature of the or each burner units of the burner assembly.

[0096] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for managing and/or controlling transfer or distribution of the or each gases, or portions thereof, to respective burner unit(s).

[0097] in one embodiment, the control means is operably configured for seeking to balance the flow of the gases supplied to the burner assembly(ies) or one or more burner units as required.

[0098] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable with a means (for example, a hardware means or possibly a software based means) for balancing the flow of the or each gases, or portions thereof, supplied to the burner assembly/units as required.

[0099] in another embodiment, the control means is arranged operable with a temperature control system configured for controlling the output flame temperature of the or each burner units.

[00100] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for controlling/managing, in an independent manner, operation of the o each burner units of the burner assembly.

[00101] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for monitoring, calculating, and/or reporting burner unit efficiency information/characteristics.

[00102] In another embodiment, the control means is arranged operable with the fluid supply assembly for managing and/or controlling transfer or distribution of the or each gases, or portions thereof, to respective burner unit(s) for, at least in part, controlling the output flame temperature of one or more respective burner units.

[00103] In a further embodiment, the control means is arranged operable with a fluid distribution control system configured operable for managing and/or controlling transfer or distribution of the or each gases, or portions thereof, to respective burner unit(s) for, at feast in part, controlling the output flame temperature of one or more respective burner units,

[00104] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for receiving information recorded by way of the fluid flow monitoring means and processing said measurements for use in assisting in the management of the environment.

[00105] In one embodiment, the control means comprises a control module having one or more processing means provided, for example, in the form of a processor operably configured for receiving the data/information received from the assessing means, thermal measuring means, and/or fluid flow monitoring means, and processing said information for managing the environment.

[00106] In another embodiment, a portion or constituent of the assessing means, comprises a control module having one or more processing means provided, for example, in the form of a processor operably configured for communicating data/information received/sent from the control means, thermal measuring means, and/or fluid flow monitoring means, or any other monitoring means that may be employed for the purposes of making an assessment of the state of the environment, and processing said information for making the assessment of the state of the environment. In one embodiment, the portion or constituent of the assessing means may be appropriate circuitry associated with the processor of the control means.

[00107] In one embodiment, the control means and/or assessing means may be operably associated with a (or respective) storage means. In one arrangement, the storage means comprises read only memory (ROM) and random access memory (RAM).

[00108] In one embodiment, the control means and/or assessing means may be operably configured for receiving instructions that may be held in the ROM or RAM and may be implemented or executed by way of respective processor(s). The processor(s) is/are configured to perform actions under the control of electronic program instructions including processing/executing instructions and managing the flow of data/information through the control means and/or assessing means.

[00109] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable so as to be responsive to any determination reached by the processing of information received from the assessing means, the thermal measuring means, and/or the flow monitoring means, said control means being responsive for managing the state of the environment from commencement and/or during the progression of the fusion process so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment,

[00110] In a further embodiment, the thermal measuring means is configured operable for measuring, monitoring, and/or managing a thermal state of the or each crucibles and/or moulds directiy and/or in a remote manner, whether holding a respective melt or not. In this manner, the crucible and/or melt and/or mould can be monitored and/or managed during the fusion process from solid to liquid form. Thus, in one embodiment, the thermal measuring means is configured operable for measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state of one or more melts directly and/or in a remote manner.

[00111] In one embodiment, for a case where the fusion apparatus comprises (a) one or more crucibles configured to hold a respective meit during at least a portion of a fusion process, (b) one or more moulds into which a melt formed in a respective crucible can be transferred to, and (c) one or more burner units associated with a respective crucible and/or mould for heating thereof, the assessment of the state of the environment comprises at ieast one of;

(i) measuring the temperature of the or each crucibie directly and/or in a remote manner;

(ii) measuring the temperature of the melt held within one or more crucibles directly and/or in a remote manner; or

(iii) measuring the temperature of one or more regions within the environment directly and/or in a remote manner; or

(iv) measuring the temperature of a ffame of a respective burner unit directiy and/or in a remote manner. [00112] As noted above, in the context of the present application, direct measurement as referred to herein is to be understood as being a focused measurement in respect of the target object or region, or portion(s) thereof, being measured. Use of the term direct in the context of measurement taking is not to be immediately taken that the measurement is taken in a contact or near contact like manner.

[00113] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable so that the state of the meit in a respective crucible can be measured and appropriately assessed from solid to liquid form during the fusion process.

[00114] In another embodiment, one or more temperature measurements {or indeed any measurement taken of an attribute of the environment) may be calibrated as appropriate.

[00115] In a further embodiment, the control means is configured in operable association with one or more photoelectric sensors (provided with the fusion apparatus). In some embodiments, the or each photoelectric sensors are configured so as to detect movement of a target object(s), or portion(s) thereof (by way of their photoelectric beams) associated with or of the environment. In one arrangement, the or each photoelectric sensor may be arranged so as to detect movement of a crucible and/or a mould into which melt from a respective crucible is poured or placed so as to form a fusion sample. It would be appreciated that other sensor devices capable of monitoring and/or registering an object's movement could be employed.

[00116] In one embodiment, the control means comprises a means for calibrating the or each photoelectric sensors, in one arrangement, such calibration is conducted remotely by a means which would be known to the skilled person (which may be software or hardware based depending on prevailing requirements).

[00117] In one embodiment, the or each photoelectric sensor is configured so as to monitor and/or detect movement of a respective mould between a first condition and a second condition.

[00118] In another embodiment, the first condition corresponds to a condition in which the mould may be cooled sufficiently so that the melt placed or poured therein hardens to provide a fusion sample. In this condition, the fusion sample may be provided for unloading from the mould and/or removal from the fusion apparatus once cooled.

[00119] In one embodiment, the second condition corresponds to a condition in which meit prepared in a respective crucible can be transferred (by way of, for example, pouring the melt held within the crucible) into the mould. In such second condition, the mould may also be subject to sufficient thermal loading (ie. heat) to facilitate the transfer,

[00120] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for determining, by way of calculation or informed inference based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment, prospective values corresponding to respective proportions of the or each gases to be supplied to respective one or more burner unit(s) for creating and/or substantially maintaining the desired state of the environment.

[00121] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for determining, by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least the assessment of the state of the environment, the values or quantum of one or more corrections to be made for modifying or adjusting one or more attributes (or parameters thereof) of the state of the environment so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00122] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for calibrating, by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least the assessment of the state of the environment, the values or quantum of one or more corrections to be made for modifying or adjusting one or more parameters of the state of the environment so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00123] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable so as to cause the modifying means to implement one or more of the or each determined corrections automatically so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00124] In some arrangements, the one or more attributes of the environment includes the or each gases supplied to the burner assembly. [00125] In one embodiment, the determined values or quantum of corrections includes any of: the volume, flow rates, and/or pressures of the or each gases, or portions thereof, supplied to a respective burner unit,

[00126] In a further embodiment, the contra! means is configured operable for determining by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least the assessment of the thermal state of the environment, one or more values corresponding to the calibration of the or each determined corrections of one or more attributes of the state of the environment so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment. Such determining of the calibration information/data may be implemented automatically.

[00127] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable with a means configured for measuring, assessing, and/or managing a quality of the flame emanating from the or each burner unit.

[00128] In one embodiment, said means for managing flame quality is configured operable with a means for making a determination as to the quality of a flame emanating from one or more burner units, in one embodiment, the said means is configured operable for discriminating between various flame qualities/efficiencies. For example, said means may be configured fo identifying (and/or reporting) low quality flame.

[00129] In another embodiment, one or more characteristics of the flame may be modified as appropriate depending on the determination made by the means for making the determination as to the quality of the flame. The modification to the flame may be conducted in accordance with any known method and/or be of an appropriate nature so that the or each characteristics of the flame meet one or more predetermined criteria.

[00130] In one embodiment, the control means may be configured operable with a means for seeking to achieve and/or maintain that, at low gas flow rates for example, the ratio of oxygen to gas to air is generally sufficient to meet the minimum flame requirements (which may, for example, be over a desired period of time). By way of brief explanation, such requirement is a specific issue for oxygen enriched flames at low gas flow rates, and a general issue for any flame that is a mixture of multiple gases. [00131] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable with a safety means configured for preventing or reducing the risk of the presence of low quality flame.

[00132] In a further embodiment, the control means is configured operable with a means for seeking to ameliorate signal noise or cross talk. In one such embodiment, such a means for seeking to ameliorate signal noise includes software, in another arrangement, such function could be operable in hardware form (eg. by way of appropriate circuitry or processing technology).

[00133] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for determining (such as for example, creating) one or more operating profiles which correspond with one or more specific chemical applications.

[00134] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for implementing or causing to execute a fusion process in accordance with one or more operating profiles.

[00135] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for implementing or causing to execute a fusion process in accordance with one or more operating profiies, such operating profiies being specific to one or more chemical applications.

[00136] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of the environment in accordance with one or more temperature versus time profiles.

[00137] In one embodiment, the or each operating profile may comprise or is informed by one or more temperature versus time profiles.

[00138] One or more of the temperature versus time profiies may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature,

[00139] In one embodiment, the or each operating profile is determined, calculated, or estimated by way of informed inference or otherwise using known, interpolated, extrapolated or measured:

(i) thermal data (such as for example, temperature values/data); or (if) measured temperature data provided or processed as a function of time. In this manner, the control means is configured operable for processing appropriate data for providing or seeking to achieve and/or maintain a desired or prescribed temperature versus time profile for use in the management of the environment;

(iii) measured data using continuously controlled temperature ramp rate data;

or

(iv) temperature data having a substantially saw tooth profile.

[00140] Any temperature versus time profile prepared can be displayed to the user/operato of the apparatus. In some embodiments, the temperature versus time profile so displayed can be reflective of a fusion process in progress (and, for example, be provided in real-time), or could reflect a fusion process in progress but be provided once the fusion process is complete.

[00141] In one embodiment, the temperature versus time profile is arbitrary, and not, for example, restricted to one of continuously controlled temperature ramp data, or temperature data having a substantially saw tooth profile.

[00142] In another embodiment, any temperature versus time profile may reflect any previous fusion process undertaken or managed by way of the control means.

[00143] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for processing appropriate data for providing a comparison between a previous fusion process undertaken by way of the control means with a current fusion process in progress. The control means can be configured so as to provide such analyses in realtime, or once a current or in progress fusion process has completed.

[00144] In one embodiment the control means may be configured operable with a storage means configured for storing one or more sets of data used in the assessment of the state of the environment and/or for storing one or more operating profiles (such as for example, one or more temperature versus time profiles). For example, such sets of data may include data used in the compilation and/or preparation of the temperature versus time profiles. [00145] In another embodiment, the storage means may be configured for storing one or more sets of data corresponding to one or more prescribed operating profiles. For example, any of such operating profiles may be prescribed by a user or operator of the apparatus, and stored by way of the storage means for access by the control means and/or assessing means.

[00146] In another embodiment, the storage means may be configured for storing one or more sets of data corresponding to one or more prescribed temperature versus time profiles. For example, any of such prescribed temperature versus time profiles may be prescribed by a user or operator of the apparatus, and stored by way of the storage means for access by the controi means and/or assessing means.

[00147] In some embodiments, the storage means can include any one or combination of volatile memory elements (e.g., random access memory (RAM) such as dynamic random access memory (DRAM), static random access memory (SRAM)) and non-volatile memory elements (e.g., read only memory (ROM), erasable programmable read only memory (EPROM), electronically erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM), programmable read only memory (PROM), tape, compact disc read only memory (CD-ROM), etc.). The respective storage may incorporate electronic, magnetic, optical and/or other types of storage media. Furthermore, the respective storage can have a distributed architecture, where various components are situated remote from one another, but can be accessed by the processing means. For example, the ROM may store various instructions, programs, software, or applications to be executed by the processing means to control the operation of the apparatus and the RAM may temporarily store variables or results of the operations.

[00148] It will be understood that database(s) may reside on any suitable storage device, which may encompass solid state drives, hard disc drives, optical drives or magnetic tape drives. Any such database(s) may reside on a single physical storage device or may be spread across multiple storage devices or modules.

[00149] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operable for providing real time flow rate and/or pressure (of the or each gases) monitoring and/or display functionality.

[00150] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for discriminating between various gas qualities, variations, and/or reporting relevant findings/determinations to a user. For example, said means may be configured operable for determining (by way of calculation or informed inference) and identifying (and/or reporting) any variation as to the quality of any gas, or portion thereof, supplied to the burner assembly or one or more burner units. Likewise, discrimination between variations to flame quality and associated combustion characteristics is aiso contemplated. Such means would be known to the skilled person and couid include software and/or hardware solutions. Thus, in this manner, the control means can be configured operable for seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, the efficiency of the fusion process (or more than one parallel running fusion processes) based on at least the assessment of the state of the environment (or an environment relevant to a specific fusion process).

[00151] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable for seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, a combustion efficiency of a flame associated with a respective burner unit based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00152] In one embodiment, the control means is configured operable with a means for detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds of the apparatus, in one arrangement, the means for detecting the presence of the or each crucible and/or mould being a remote infra-red measuring system.

[00153] In another embodiment, the means for detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds of the apparatus is a remote based means.

[00154] In another embodiment, the means for detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds comprises one or more infra-red devices operabiy configured for detecting a thermal signature corresponding to the or each crucibles and/or moulds, in such arrangements, information relating to the thermal signature may be used or processed in a manner allowing the presence of the or each crucible to be identified/detected.

[00155] In one embodiment, the means for detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds of the apparatus comprises one or more photo-electric sensors.

[00156] In another embodiment, the control means is configured operabie for detecting and/or determining whether any of the burner units of the burner assembly are blocked or damaged. [00157] In some arrangements, the control means is configured operable with a means arranged for executing necessary action(s) suitable for curing any such blocked or damaged crucible(s).

[00158] In one embodiment, the principles of the present aspect may provide a means operably configured for allowing for substantially continuous flame and temperature control/management of a fusion process informed by way of thermal measurements obtained in a remote and/or non-contact manner. In this regard, specific temperature profiles can be monitored for control and measurement purposes, flame quality can be measured and appropriately assessed, energy efficiencies can be measured and appropriately assessed, and the state of the melt in a respective crucible can be measured and appropriately assessed from solid to liquid form during the fusion process.

[00159] According to a second principal aspect, there is provided a method for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment.

[00160] Embodiments of the second principal aspect may incorporate any of the following features {or various combinations thereof), and/or any of the features (or various combinations thereof), described above in relation to the first principal aspect.

[00161] In one embodiment, the outcome is the preparation of one or more fusion samples for spectrometric analysis.

[00162] In one embodiment, the method is implemented within a fusion apparatus for preparing the or each fusion sample for spectrometric analysis.

[00163] In one embodiment, the fusion apparatus is a gas fusion apparatus.

[00164] In one embodiment, the spectrometric analysis is by way of x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), but other forms of spectrometric analysis are contemplated as noted above.

[00165] As noted above, in one embodiment, the environment is a region provided in the fusion apparatus and configured for preparing a fusion sample for subsequent spectrometry analysis. In another embodiment, the environment is a localised region within a furnace chamber configured for hosting one or more fusion processes.

[00166] In one embodiment, the method comprises: assessing the state of the environment; and modifying, if so determined (for example, by way of the assessment of the state of the environment), the state of the environment on the basis of at least the assessment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment which is conducive for providing the outcome.

[00167] In one embodiment, the state of the environment assessed is the current or reai time state of the environment.

[00168] In one embodiment, assessing the state of the environment comprises measuring and/or monitoring one or more characteristics of one or more attributes or target objects, regions, or portions thereof, associated with or part of the environment. Such measuring and/or monitoring may be performed in an on-going manner during a portion of operation of the fusion apparatus.

[00169] In a further embodiment, the method comprises managing the or each attribute of the environment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment which is conducive for providing the outcome.

[00170] In one embodiment, the method comprises actively managing the or each attribute of the environment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00171] In one embodiment, actively managing the or each attribute of the environment is achieved by way of basing any need (when so determined) for any modification of the environment on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00172] In another embodiment, assessing the state of the environment comprises measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state (for example, temperature) of one or more attributes of the environment's state in a remote manner (eg. a non-contact manner). [00173] in a further embodiment, the measuring and/or monitoring of the thermal state (or temperature) of one or more attributes or target object(s), region(s) (or portion(s) thereof) of the environment is performed in a manner in which the current or real-time state of the environment is measured/monitored,

[00174] In one embodiment, the method is implemented by way of a control system configured operable such that the current or rea!-time measuring and/or monitoring information of the state of the environment is received and processed by the control system.

[00175] In another embodiment the method comprises managing or controlling the state of the environment so as to substantially maintain the desired state of the environment. Such managing or controlling may be informed, at least in part, by the measuring and/or monitoring of the real-time or current state of the environment.

[00176] In one embodiment, the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring the current or real-time state of the environment prior to the fusion process commencing.

[00177] In another embodiment the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring of the state of the environment prior to a fusion process commencing and determining, by way of at least calculation or informed inference, one or more modifications, if any, to be made to one or more characteristic(s) of one or more target object(s) or region(s) (or portion(s) thereof) associated with or of the environment in order to create or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00178] In one embodiment, managing the thermal state of the attribute(s) of the environment by way of a feedback or closed loop arrangement based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00179] In one embodiment, the or each modification corresponds to modifications or adjustments to be made to one or more attributes (or parameters or characteristics thereof) which influence the state of the environment.

[00180] In a further embodiment, the method comprises executing or causing to have implemented the or each modifications for seeking to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment. [00181] In one embodiment, the method comprises determining a desired operating profile reflective of the desired state of the environment considered appropriate for commencing and/or maintaining a fusion process in accordance with predetermined or known efficiency levels considered acceptable,

[00182] In another embodiment, the method comprises managing the commencement and/or progression of the fusion process such that it accords with a desired operating profile,

[00183] In a further embodiment, the method comprises operabty configuring a thermal measuring means for measuring the thermal state of one or more target attributes of the environment. The thermal state of the or each target attribute(s) so measured may be in preparation for the performing of a fusion process and/or progressing the fusion process.

[00184] In one embodiment, the thermal measuring means is configured for measuring on a substantially continuous basis.

[00185] In another embodiment, the method comprises receiving information measured by way of the thermal measuring means and processing said information for use in assisting in the management and/or control of the environment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment on a substantially continuous basis. For example, a flame operable for providing heat or thermal requirements in a fusion process being controlled by way of the present method can be controlled on a substantially continuous basts. In this manner, for example, the fusion process can be monitored through its duration. For example, the state of a melt in a respective crucible can be measured and appropriately assessed from solid to liquid form during the fusion process.

[00186] In one embodiment, the management or control of the environment is conducted automatically without the need for human intervention.

[00187] In one embodiment, assessing the state of the environment comprises measuring characteristic(s) of one or more attributes of the state of the environment in a non-contact manner.

[00188] In another embodiment, the method comprises configuring the therma! measuring means in operable association with one or more thermal sensing means, such as for example temperature sensors, for measuring temperature. For example, the or each thermal sensing means could be provided in the form of temperature sensors such as for example remote infra-red temperature measuring probes.

[00189] In one embodiment, modifying the state of the environment on the basts of, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment comprises controlling the supply of one or more gases, or portion(s) thereof, to a heating means configured for applying heat to the environment. In one arrangement, the heating means may comprise one or more burner units (eg. provided as dual burner units). The or each burner units may be arranged in association with one or more gases arranged to be supplied thereto.

[00190] In another embodiment, the method comprises monitoring and/or managing distribution or the transfer of the or each gases, or portions thereof, based on, at the least, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00191] In another embodiment, modifying the state of the environment on the basis of at least the assessment of the state of the environment comprises removing or reducing one or more gases, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the heating means.

[00192] In another embodiment, modifying the state of the environment on the basis of at least the assessment of the state of the environment comprises changing or modifying the proportion of gases, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the heating means.

[00193] In a further embodiment, the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring one or more physical characteristics of the or each gases supplied to the heating means. The one or more physical characteristics may include any of the following: the thermal properties of the or each gases, or portion(s) thereof, respective flow rates, and/or pressure of the or each gases.

[00194] In a further embodiment, the method comprises receiving information measured and/or recorded by way of, for example, a fluid flow monitoring means and processing said measurements for use in assisting in the management or control of the environment. The fluid flow monitoring means may comprise any appropriate architecture using various flow measuring/monitoring and/or control devices which may be known to the skilled reader. [00195] In one embodiment, the method comprises determining, or causing to have determined, one or more corrections or modifications needed to be made to one or more of the attributes of the environment so that the state of the environment converges toward a desired state of the environment considered conducive for providing the outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of the state of the environment.

[00196] In one embodiment, the method comprises modifying, or causing to have modified, one or more of the attributes (or characteristics thereof) of the environment so that the state of the environment converges toward the desired state of the environment considered conducive for providing the outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of the state of the environment.

[00197] In another embodiment, the method comprises responding to any determination reached by the processing of information received from the thermal measuring means or the fluid flow monitoring means so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00198] In another embodiment, the method comprises contro!iing, in a substantially continuous or otherwise manner, the temperature of a flame produced from a respective burner unit based on, at feast in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00199] In another embodiment, the method comprises managing and/or controlling transfer or distribution of the or each gases, or portion(s) thereof, to respective burner unit(s).

[00200] In one embodiment, the fusion apparatus comprises one or more crucibles configured so as to hold a respective melt during at least a portion of the fusion process, the fusion process being facilitated by thermal energy provided by way of the heating means (for example, a flame from a respective burner unit).

[00201] In one embodiment, the fusion apparatus comprises one or more moulds into which melt formed in a respective crucible can be transferred to (eg. by way of a pouring process) for providing the final form of the fusion sample. In this manner, the or each mould serves as a receptacle for shaping the sample during cooling

[00202] In one embodiment, the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state of the or each crucibles and/or moulds directly. [00203] In one embodiment, the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring, a thermal state of the or each crucibles and/or moulds directly and/or in a remote manner, whether holding a respective melt or not.

[00204] In another embodiment, the method comprises measuring and/or monitoring a thermal state of one or more melts directly and/or in a remote manner.

[00205] In one embodiment, for a case where the method is configured operable with a fusion apparatus comprising (a) one or more crucibles configured so as to hold a respective melt during at least a portion of a fusion process, (b) one or more moulds into which a melt formed in a respective crucible can be transferred to, and (c) ,one or more burner units associated with a respective crucible and/or mould for heating thereof, the assessing of the state of the environment comprises at least one of:

(i) measuring the temperature of the or each crucible directly and/or in a remote manner; or

(ii) measuring the temperature of the melt held within one or more crucibles directly and/or in a remote manner; or

(iii) measuring the temperature of one or more regions/locations within the environment directly and/or in a remote manner; or

(iv) measuring the temperature of a flame heating of a respective burner unit directly and/or in a remote manner.

[00206] In one embodiment, one or more temperature measurements may be calibrated as appropriate. Thus, in another embodiment, the method may comprise calibrating one or more measurements taken of the attributes of the environment.

[00207] In another embodiment, the method comprises determining, by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least the assessment of the thermal state of the environment, prospective values corresponding to respective proportions of the or each gases to be supplied to respective one or more burner unit(s) so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment. Such values may vary between chemical applications.

[00208] In another embodiment, the method comprises determining, by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least the assessment of the state of the environment, the quantum of one or more corrections to be made for adjusting one or more parameters of the environment so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00209] In another embodiment, the method comprises implementing one or more of the above determined corrections automatically so as to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment.

[00210] In another embodiment, the method comprises determining by way of calculation or informed inference based on at least the assessment of the thermal state of the environment, one or more values corresponding to the calibration of the or each determined corrections of one or more attributes of the environment so as to create and/or maintain the desired state of the environment.

[002113 In anothe embodiment, the method comprises determining the quality of a flame emanating from the or each burner unit.

[00212] In another embodiment, the method comprises balancing the flow of the gases, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the or each burner unit.

[00213] In one embodiment, the method comprises the creation and/or maintaining of the desired state of the environment in accordance with one or more temperature versus time profiles,

[00214] In another embodiment, the or each temperature versus time profiles are arbitrary or of a prescribed nature.

[00215] In one embodiment, the method comprises implementing or executing a fusion process in accordance with one or more operating profiles, which may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature.

[00216] In another embodiment, the operating profiles correspond to respective chemical applications.

[00217] In a further embodiment, the or each operating profiles may comprise or be informed by a temperature versus time profile, which may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature. [00218] In one embodiment, the method may comprise determining one or more operating profiles, by way of calculation or estimation by way of informed inference using known, interpolated, extrapolated, or measured:

(i) thermal data (such for example, temperature values/data, eg. as a function of time);

(it) measured temperature data provided or processed as a function of time;

(iii) measured data using continuously controlled temperature ramp rate data; or

(iv) temperature data having a substantially saw tooth profile.

[00219] In another embodiment, the method comprises controlling/managing operation of one or more burner units in an independent manner.

[00220] In another embodiment, the method comprises providing real time flow rate monitoring and/or display functionality.

[00221] In another embodiment, the method comprises monitoring, calculating, and/or reporting/displaying burner unit efficiency information/characteristics.

[00222] In another embodiment, the method comprises determining by way of calculation or informed inference the quality of the gas, or portion(s) thereof, supplied to the or each burner unit.

[00223] In one embodiment, the method comprises discriminating between various gas qualities and/or reporting/displaying relevant findings/determinations (for example, reporting/displaying corresponding findings to a user of the apparatus). For example, a control system may be configured for identifying (and/or reporting) any variation in the quality of any gas supplied to the burner assembly.

[00224] In another embodiment, the method comprises seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, the efficiency of the fusion process based on at least the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00225] In another embodiment, the method comprises seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, the combustion efficiency of a flame associated with a respective burner unit of the burner assembly based on, at least in part, the assessment of the state of the environment.

[00226] In another embodiment, the method comprises detecting the presence of one or more crucibles and/or moulds arranged operabie with the fusion apparatus. In one arrangement, detecting the presence of the or each crucibles and/or moulds of the apparatus comprises operation of one or more infra-red devices operably configured for detecting a thermal signature corresponding to respective crucibles. In such arrangements, information relating to the thermal signature is used or processed in a manner allowing the presence of the or each crucible(s) and/or mould(s) to be identified/detected.

[00227] In another embodiment, the method comprises detecting and/or determining whether any of the burner unit(s) of the burner assembly are blocked or damaged. In some arrangements, the method comprises executing necessary action(s) considered suitable for curing any such blocked or damaged crucibles.

[00228] The method of the present aspect may be configured so as to control or manage operation of the any of the features described herein.

[00229] The method of the present principal aspect may be carried out by way of a control system configured operabie with the fusion apparatus. The control system may comprise or be configured operable with any of the features described herein.

[00230] According to a third principal aspect, there is provided a control system arranged in operable association with a fusion apparatus, the control system configured operable in accordance with any embodiment of the means of the first principal aspect.

[00231] In one embodiment, the control system of the present aspect may be configured operable for carrying out any embodiment of the method of the second principal aspect.

[00232] According to a fourth principal aspect, there is provided a control system arranged in operabie association with a fusion apparatus, the control system configured operable for performing any embodiment of the method of the second principal aspect. [00233] in one embodiment, the control system of the present aspect may be configured so as to comprise any of the features of the means of the first principal aspect.

[00234] According to a fifth principal aspect, there is provided a fusion apparatus configured for hosting a fusion process for preparing one or more fusion samples for spectrometry analysis, the fusion apparatus comprising at feast one of:

(t) an embodiment of a means configured in accordance with the means of the first principal aspect; or

(ti) an embodiment of a means configured operable for carrying out an embodiment of the method of the second principal aspect; or

(iii) an embodiment of a control system configured in accordance with the control system of the third principal aspect; or

(iv) an embodiment of a control system configured in accordance with the control system of the fourth principal aspect.

[00235] The fusion apparatus is a gas fusion apparatus.

[00236] According to a sixth principal aspect, there is provided a method of operabiy configuring a fusion apparatus with at least one of the folfowing:

(i) an embodiment of a means configured in accordance with the means of the first principal aspect; or

(ii) an embodiment of a means configured operable for carrying out an embodiment of the method of the second principal aspect; or

(iii) an embodiment of a control system configured in accordance with the control system of the third principal aspect; o

(iv) an embodiment of a control system configured in accordance with the control system of the fourth principal aspect.

[00237] In one embodiment, the fusion apparatus is a gas fusion apparatus. [00238] According to a further principal aspect, there is provided a method of using a fusion apparatus as described herein.

[00239] According to another principal aspect, there is provided a computer program operably configured for carrying out, or causing to be carried out an embodiment of the method as described herein.

[00240] In one embodiment, the computer program is adapted for use in controlling operation of a fusion apparatus.

[00241] In another embodiment, the method is configured for use with a gas fusion apparatus.

[00242] According to a further principal aspect, there is provided an apparatus operab!y configured for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment. In one embodiment, the apparatus comprises a means configured in accordance with an embodiment of the means of the first principal aspect.

[00243] According to another principal aspect, there is provided an apparatus operably configured for performing an embodiment or implementation of a method configured in accordance with the method of the second principal aspect. In one arrangement, such carrying out of the embodiment or implementation of the method may be by way of an embodiment of a means configured in accordance with the means of the first principal aspect.

[00244] According to another principal aspect, there is provided a means operably configured for allowing for substantially continuous flame and temperature control/management of a fusion process informed by way of thermal measurements obtained in a remote and/or non-contact manner. In one embodiment, the flame is provided by way of a multi-gas arrangement. In some embodiments, specific temperature profiles can be monitored for control and measurement purposes, flame quality can be measured and appropriately assessed, energy efficiencies can be measured and appropriately assessed, and the state of the me!t in a respective crucible can be measured and appropriately assessed from solid to liquid form during the fusion process. [00245] Various principal aspects described herein can be practiced afone or combination with one or more of the other principa! aspects, as will be readily appreciated by those skilled in the relevant art. The various principa! aspects can optionally be provided in combination with one or more of the optional features described in relation to the other principal aspects. Furthermore, optional features described in relation to one example (or embodiment) can optionaliy be combined alone or together with other features in different examples or embodiments.

[00246] In various arrangements, embodiments of the invention may serve to provide a fusion apparatus having one or more of the following features:

(i) remote calibrated temperature feedback means: in one example, temperature measurement from the melt directly, or from the crucible directly;

(ii) calculation/inference process that determines what the different gas proportions should be;

(iii) automatic calculation/calibration of channel corrections;

(iv) safety mechanism to prevent low quality flame

(v) software mechanism to address and/or overcome impact of cross talk;

(vi) hardware mechanism to balance various flows in the system;

(vii) creation of arbitrary temperature versus time profiles for specific chemical applications - which may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature, in some instances, the temperature versus time profiles may be informed from continuously controlled temperature ramp rate data, or temperature saw tooth profiles;

(viti) multiple independent control of the burners of the burner assembly;

(tx) real time flow rate tracking and/or display;

(x) mechanism for calculation/reporting of burner efficiency; mechanism for reporting on variation in gas quality (xit) mechanism for optimising or improving flame combustion efficiency;

(xiti) remote infra-red system for crucible presence detection;

(xiv) mechanism for detecting blocked/damaged burners.

[00247] For the purposes of summarising the principal aspects of the present invention, certain aspects, advantages and novel features have been described herein above. It is to be understood, however, that not necessarily all such advantages may be achieved in accordance with any particular embodiment or carried out in a manner that achieves or optimises one advantage or group of advantages as taught herein without necessarily achieving other advantages as may be taught or suggested herein.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[00248] Further features of the present invention are more fully described in the following description of several non-limiting embodiments thereof. This description is included solely for the purposes of exemplifying the present invention. It should not be understood as a restriction on the broad summary, disclosure or description of the invention as set out above. The description will be made with reference to the accompanying drawings in which:

Figure 1 shows a general perspective view of one embodiment of a fusion apparatus described herein;

Figure 2 shows a further perspective view of the fusion apparatus shown in Figure 1 ;

Figure 3 shows another perspective view of the fusion apparatus shown in Figure 2, with portions of the housing removed;

Figure 4 shows another perspective view of the fusion apparatus shown in Figures 1 to 3, with portions of the housing removed;

Figure 5 shows a further perspective view of the fusion apparatus shown in Figures 1 to 4, showing a cross section taken through a portion of the fusion apparatus;

Figure 6 shows a close up perspective view of the burner arrangement of the fusion apparatus shown in Figures 1 to 5; Figure 7 shows a close up perspective view of a cross section taken through a portion of the burner arrangement shown in Figure 6;

Figure 8 shows a close up perspective view of a cross section taken through a crucible and mould used with the embodiment of the fusion apparatus featured in Figures 1 to 7;

Figure 9 shows a further perspective view of the embodiment of the fusion apparatus shown in Figures 1 to 8, with the housing and electrical cover removed;

Figure 10 shows a schematic representation of the genera! operation of the embodiment of the fusion apparatus shown in the Figures;

Figure 11 shows a schematic representation of one embodiment of a control system arranged for use with the embodiment of the fusion apparatus shown in the Figures; and

Figure 12 shows a schematic representation of one embodiment of a gas supply arrangement used for supplying the requisite gas to the burner units used in the embodiment of the fusion apparatus shown in the Figures.

DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS

[00249] Embodiments described herein may include one or more range of values (eg. size, displacement and field strength etc). A range of values wiii be understood to include ail values within the range, including the values defining the range, and values adjacent to the range which iead to the same or substantially the same outcome as the values immediately adjacent to that value which defines the boundary to the range.

[00250] Other definitions for selected terms used herein may be found within the detailed description of the invention and apply throughout. Unless otherwise defined, all other scientific and technical terms used herein have the same meaning as commonly understood to one of ordinary skill in the art to which the invention relates.

[00251] The present invention is not to be limited in scope by any of the specific embodiments described herein. These embodiments are intended for the purpose of exemplification only. Functionally equivalent products, formulations, and methods (of use and/or operation) are dearly within the scope of the principles of the invention as described herein. [00252] With reference to the accompanying drawings, there is described at least one non-limiting example of a means and a related method for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of an environment conducive for providing an outcome based on, at the least, an assessment of a state of the environment. For the embodiment described herein, the desired state of the environment is one which is considered appropriate for hosting a fusion process. The desired state of the environment may comprise a thermal parameter or profile which is considered appropriate for creating and/or maintaining the course of the fusion process in accordance with desired operating efficiencies. However, it will be appreciated that the desired state of the environment may not be a specific operating parameter or profile but could be a band or acceptable which corresponds with a desired operating performance. The skilled reader would be familiar with appropriate thermal characteristics appropriate for a fusion process to be carried out. Thus, in the broadest form, the assessment of the current state of the environment is measured against the desired state of the embodiment and a determination made as to whether any adjustment or modification needs to be made in order to create and/or maintain the fusion process.

[00253] In the example embodiment described herein, the subject means (the operation of which is reflective in the related method) is exemplified in the form of a control means or control system (150) configured for faciiitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of a localised environment (E) within a furnace chamber (75) of a gas fusion apparatus (4) operably configured for preparing fusion samples for subsequent spectrometric analysis. Such localised environment (E) is one which encompasses the local surrounds of a crucible (36), a melt generated therein, and one or more flames F emanating from a dual burner unit (comprising burners 102a/b) serving to provide the necessary heating/thermal requirements to the crucible 36 and associated mould (40) which are controlled by the control means (150), at least in part, by way of assessing the state of the localised environment. It will appreciated that the scope of the environment cou!d be varied depending on the application and prevailing circumstances,

[00254] The creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of the localised environment (E) in the furnace chamber (75) is based on, at least in part, an assessment of the current or real-time state of the localised environment, in at least one sense, the assessment of the current or real-time state of the localised environment serves as a feedback loop (in some operable implementations providing a form of an active feedback loop or closed circuit arrangement). An appropriate modification can be caused to be made to the environment if a determination is made that an adjustment is necessary. If a determination is made that no modification is needed to be made to the environment (ie. the environment is currently at the substantially the desired state), then the control means 150 will allow the environment E to remain in its current state. The person skilled in the art would readily appreciate that the exemplification of the control means or control system (150) (and related method) as described herein is not to be limited to the specific application or context described (ie. spectrometric arts), but that the principles described herein could be applied to other technical arts, applications, and/or contexts.

[00255] Referring now to the drawings (specifically Figures 1 to 9) there is shown one embodiment of a gas fusion apparatus 4 configured operable for the production of fusion samples (not shown) prepared for spectromethc analysis (in the present instance, by way of X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy). The fusion apparatus 4 includes a body 8 comprising a base 9 and a housing 20. The housing 20 comprises front 21 , side 22, rear 23, and top 25 panels which are configured for suitable assembly for accommodating a furnace 24 (see Figure 2) having a furnace chamber 75 in which the fusion samples are prepared. The fusion apparatus 4 includes a display console 12 provided on a front portion 16 of the body 8. The body 8 further comprises an electrical cover 29 which serves to house the bulk of the associated operational electrical circuitry. Figure 2 shows the provision of cooling vents 31a, and 31 b.

[00256] While in the present instance subsequent spectrometric analysis of the (fusion) sample(s) produced is by way of x-ray fluorescence, in other embodiments, spectrometric analysis may be by way of, for example, inductively coupled plasma (ICP) or atomic absorption spectroscopy. As such, the samples prepared by the fusion apparatus 4 could comprise one or more glass disc(s) or fusion me!t(s) (for example, fusion mett(s) may be poured directly into acid for ICP spectrometric analysis) depending on the spectrometric method used. Thus, it is to be understood that the various types of spectroscopy methods which may find application with the samples produced by way of various aspects/embodiments of the fusion apparatus 4 and/or control system (150) (and related method) described herein is not exhaustive. The skilled reader would readily appreciate other spectroscopy methods o techniques which might find utility with the principles of the invention described herein. [00257] The front portion 16 of the fusion apparatus 4 fronts a loading station 28 (shown accessible in Figure 3) which is accessible by way of a closure 32 (incorporating a window assembly 26) which is configured so as to be moveable between open and closed conditions by way of hinge 27. The closure 32 is articulable between the open and closed conditions by way of gas struts 33a, 33b which are each operabiy supported by respective upright members 34a, 34b which stand on opposing sides of the loading station 28 on base 9. The gas struts 33a, 33b are arranged operable with a rectangularly shaped closure retaining assembly 35 which supports the window assembly 26. The retaining assembly 35 is configured for at feast providing support to two panels of safety glass of the window assembly 26 by way of opposing safety glass spacers 37a (not visible) and 37b.

[00258] The upright members 34a, 34b operate to support opposite ends of a cross member 39 above the loading station 28. The cross member 39 is configured to support a plurality (6 in the embodiment shown) of infra-red (IR) optical sensors such as IR thermal remote measurement probes 160a-160f (hereinafter, 160) which are capable of measuring temperature in a non-contact and/or remote manner. The cross member 39 is rotatably connected at each of its free ends with respective upright members 34a, 34b for allowing the cross member 39 (and therefore the supported IR optical probes 160) to be moveable (for example, about the cross member's (39) longitudinal axis) as needed for measurement purposes.

[00259] With reference to Figures 3 to 9, the fusion apparatus 4 includes six (6) crucibles 36 for the melting (by way of a fusion process) of sample matter in conjunction with an x-ray flux in a high temperature thermal state, and six (6) moulds 40 (each corresponding to a respective crucible 36) for receiving molten fused sample matter (from a respective crucible 36) to form the fusion samples. In this way the fusion samples can be produced as a batch. The crucibles 36 and the moulds 40 are made from material comprising platinum and supported by a crucible carrier 38 and a mould carrier 41 respectively (both shown in Figures 3 to 9). The crucible carrier 38 supports a plurality of crucible holders 43 (6 crucible holders are shown), each of which provides a crucibie port 65 configured to receive a respective crucible 36. Similarly, the mould carrier 41 supports 6 mould holders 45, each of which provides a mould port 70 configured to receive a respective mould 40. [00260] With reference to Figure 8, the crucibles 36 are each configured as a receptacle having a base 44 and a side 48 extending upwardly from the base 44 to a top edge 52 defining an open top region 53, The moulds 40 are of a known kind; each comprising a body 56 having a mould cavity 60 into which the molten fused sample material is poured and allowed to solidify to form the fusion samples.

[00261] The loading station 28 is configured so as to allow the crucibie carrier 38 to be loaded with crucibles 36 (containing sample matter and x-ray flux material) and the mould carrier 41 to be loaded with empty moulds 40. In particular, the loading station 28 provides access to the crucible ports 65 for receiving the loaded crucibles 36 in an upright condition. Additionally, the loading station 28 provides access to the mould ports 70 for receiving empty moulds 40 so that they may await transfer into an appropriate position (see below) for receiving molten fused sample material from respective crucibles 36. As foreshadowed above, in the arrangement shown, the fusion apparatus 4 is configured to produce fusion samples in batches of 6, However, the skilled person would readily appreciate that other arrangements are possible.

[00262] Mould carrier 41 is configured so as to be moveable by way of parallel and spaced apart rails 42a, 42b, and is arranged so as to be translatable thereon by way of an actuator assembly 74 between first (denoted as "X" in Figure 10) and second (denoted as Ύ" in Figure 10) conditions: the first condition X in which each mould 40 may be loaded into a respective mould port 70; and a second condition Y in which the mould 40 is in position for receiving molten fused matter from a respective crucibie 36 (by way of pouring). Furthermore, the first condition X is also the position from which the hardened fused samples can be accessed for unloading purposes (from the respective moulds 40). Cooling of the molten fused sample held within the mould 40 is provided by way of the mould being held (when in the first condition X) substantially above a respective outlet region 46 of respective air flow conduits each provided in the form of an air pipe 49 (6 air pipes 49 are shown),

[00263] With specific reference to Figure 9, the actuator assembly 74 comprises a prime mover provided in the form of an actuator mechanism 76 which is configured operable for actuating movement of an actuator stem 78 so as to cause linkage arrangement 81 to move the mould carrier 41 along rails 42a/b as required (ie. between the first X and second Y conditions). [00264] At the appropriate time when the mould carrier 41 is in the second condition Y, the molten fused mixture can be poured from the crucibles 36 into respective awaiting moulds 40 by way of the crucible carrier 38 being rotated about axis A by a stepper motor 59 (shown in Figure 9) via the crucible carriers (38) operable association with shaft 57 (supported, at least in part, by way of bearing assemblies 55a, 55b).

[00265] Each air pipe 49 is arranged in fluid communication with a respective fan unit 47 provided at an upstream region of the air pipe 49. Each fan unit 47 serves to cause a flow of air through a respective air pipe 49 toward its outlet region 46 so that the flowing air may act to cool the molten fused mixture held within the mould 40 (once returned to the first condition X) resting there above. All 6 air pipes 49 are shown supported and/or housed by way of an air pipe manifold unit 50. Each fan unit 47 is supported and/or housed by way of a filter manifold 54.

[00266] The fusion apparatus 4 is provided with 6 photoelectric sensors 82 which are supported by way of a manifold 80 and positioned proximate to the air pipe manifold unit 50. in this manner, each photoelectric sensor 82 is positioned so as to be associated with a respective mould port 70 for monitoring/detecting (by way of its photoelectric beam, PEB) the movement or presence of a respective mould 40. In the embodiment shown, each photoelectric sensor 82 is positioned so as to be substantially underneath respective moulds 40 (when accommodated within a respective mould port 70) when the mould carrier 41 is positioned in the first condition X. In this manner, each photoelectric sensor 82 is configured operable for monitoring/detecting whether a respective mould 40 is in the first condition X or not, and/or movement of the respective mould 40 (between the first X and second Y conditions). The photoelectric sensors 82 can also be arranged so as to monitor movement of the crucibles 36 pending prevailing circumstances and application requirements. It would be appreciated that other sensor devices capable of monitoring and/or registering an object's movement could be employed.

[00267] The closure 32, when in the open condition, allows access to the loading station 28, the crucible ports 65, and the mould ports 70 for insertion of the crucibles 36 and the moulds 40 respectively. When in the closed condition, the closure 32 substantiaiiy isolates the crucible ports 65 and the mould ports 70 from the exterior environment, thereby isolating a user/operator from fumes and heat generated within the fusion apparatus 4 during production of the samp!es. Such isolation also assists in ensuring that there is no sample contamination during the fusion process. Isolation of the furnace chamber 75 is also assisted by the fusion apparatus 4 comprising heat shield panels 72 being of sufficient construction, configuration, and assembly so as to suitably surround the furnace 24 (aside for the window assembly 26) for seeking to reduce thermal ingress/egress from the furnace chamber 75,

[00268] The fusion apparatus 4 includes a means for heating the environment (or furnace chamber 75) within the furnace 24. Heating of the furnace chamber 75 is provided by way of a heater means configured operable for, by way of a suitable control means (such as control system 150 described below), facilitating and/or maintaining a desired state of the localised environment (E) in the furnace chamber 75 so as to facilitate and/or progress a desired fusion process for producing an outcome such as one or more fusion sample(s). With reference to Figures 6 to 9, the heater means is provided in form of a plurality of burner assemblies 100 (6 burner assemblies 100 are shown) each configured for receiving streams of gas used by a dual burner arrangement comprising burner units 102a and 102b configured operable for providing the heat necessary for the fusion process. In the embodiment shown, each burner unit 102a/b is supported by way of a dual burner manifold 123. The specific configuration of burner units 102a/b is largely standard and will therefore not be discussed in further detail herein. Gas taps 112, 117, and 122 are shown protruding from the rear 23 of the apparatus 4 (in Figure 2).

[00269] The burner assemblies 100 are shown arranged operable with a gas mixing/supply assembly 105 which supplies, and mixes as appropriate, gases 110 (oxygen), 115 (propane), and 120 (compressed air). With specific reference to Figure 12, there is shown a schematic diagram of one embodiment of the gas supply assembly 105 which may be used with the embodiment of the fusion apparatus 4 shown in the Figures for supplying gas to the burner units 102a/b. Oxygen gas (110) is supplied to each burner unit (102a/b) by way of conduit 125 via connection point 134 provided with the dual burner manifold 123. The compressed air (120) and propane (115) gases are mixed prior to supply to the burner units (102a/b) for eventual supply thereto by way of conduit 127 via associated connection point 142 (which is also provided with the dual burner manifold 123). [00270] The gas supply assembly 105 comprises three primary fluid circuits 300, 305, and 310 which are configured for delivering respective gases (compressed air (120), propane gas (115), and oxygen (110))) to burner units 102a/b. Each fluid circuit comprises various components configured for controlling delivery of the gases in the desired manner. The skilled reader will appreciate that the arrangement of the fluid circuits shown and components used (such as, for example, proportional flow-control solenoids, solenoid valves, shut-off valves, pressure regulators, automatic shut-off valves, automatic shut-off solenoid valves, and/or manually operated quarter turn-ball valves, one/two way valves, gas regulator units,) can be configured as needed (see discussion further below). The skilled reader will appreciate that the aim achieved using the architecture (and related componentry) shown in Figure 12 could be realised by way of other arrangements/configurations.

[00271] In substance, fluid circuit 300 receives compressed air (120) and is arranged so as to supply the compressed air to each of the 6 moulds 40 (at junction 315) and to each of the crucibles 36 (at junction 320). At segment 325 of fluid circuit 300, compressed air (120) is introduced into the fluid circuit 305 so that the compressed air (120) and the propane gas ( 5) can be mixed or combined prior to supply to the burner units 102a, 102b via segment 330 of fluid circuit 305. Segment 330 of fluid circuit 305 ultimately supplies the propane/compressed air mixture (115/120) to the burner units 102a, 102b via conduit 127.

[00272] Fluid circuit 305 is configured in fluid communication with secondary fluid circuit 335 which provides a venting or relief means 340 by way of internal LPG regulator 195C, and secondary fluid circuit 345 which serves to deliver propane gas to a pilot tube 350 (for burner 102a/b ignition purposes).

[00273] Fluid circuit 310 serves to deliver oxygen gas 110 direct to the burner units 02a/b by way of conduit 25. However, of note, fluid circuit 310 is configured operable with secondary fluid circuit 355 which serves to convey oxygen gas (110) to each of the 6 moulds 40 and each of the crucibles 36,

[00274] As shown in Figure 12, each fluid circuit 300, 305, 310, and respective secondary fluid circuits (335, 345, 355), may be provided with flow monitoring means such as, for example, flow rate and pressure sensors as needed, all of which can be arranged operable with the control system 150 (described in further detail below). Furthermore, flow control means such as, for example, flow control solenoids and one/two way valve units may be configured for use in each of the circuits as needed. Similarly, control and/or monitoring of such flow control means may be arranged actuab!e by way of the control system 150 (described below).

[00275] On completion of the fusion process, the molten fused mixture is poured from the crucible 36 into awaiting moulds 40 respectively (when in the second condition Y). The pouring of the molten mixture is achieved by way of rotation of the crucible carrier 38 about axis A as noted above. Following the pouring process, the mould carrier 41 moves (by way of the actuator assembly 74} the moulds 40 from the second condition Y to the first condition X, so allowing the fused melts held within the moulds 40 to be cooled for unloading purposes.

[00276] With reference to Figure 11 , there is shown a schematic diagram illustrating one embodiment of a control system 150 which is arranged operable for use with the embodiment of the gas fusion apparatus 4 shown and described herein. The control system 150 is configured operable for, at least in part, actively managing one or more attributes of an environment (for example, localised region (E) of the furnace chamber 75) in which a fusion sample is prepared for use in a subsequent spectrometry analysis.

[00277] In at least one form appropriate for the present application, the control system 150 is configured for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of a desired state of the environment (E) of the furnace chamber 75 which is considered conducive for preparing the fusion samples. The creation and maintenance (by way of appropriate modification of the environment (E)) of the desired state of the environment is based on, at least in part, an assessment of the state of the environment (E).

[00278] In the embodiment shown, the control system 150 is configured in operable association with an assessing means (by way of, for example, a suitably configured processor module 151 as discussed below) which is configured operable for making an assessment or determination as to the state of the localised environment (E). The control system 150 is arranged operable for causing a modification, if so determined, to be made to the localised environment (E) on the basis of at least the assessment provided by the assessing means, the purposes being to create and/or maintain the desired state of the localised environment (E) so as to produce the fusion sample. Of course, if a determination is made that no modification is needed to be made to the environment (ie. the environment is currently at the substantially the desired state), then the control means 150 will al!ow the environment E to remain in its current state until the next assessment is made.

[00279] For the embodiment shown, the control system 150 is configured operab!e with a thermal contro! system 152 having a thermal monitoring means 155 which is configured operable for taking one or more thermal measurements (such as for example, temperature) of target object(s), region(s) (or portions thereof) of the environment E within the furnace chamber 75. !n the embodiment shown, the thermal monitoring means 155 comprises one or more infra-red (IR) measurement probes 160 arranged so as to measure the temperature at one or more regions/locations within the furnace chamber 75 in a remote and/or non-contact manner, in the arrangement shown, 6 infra-red measurement probes 160 (supported by way of cross member 39) are configured operable for remotely taking temperature measurements directly of one or more of the following : the melt (held within an associated crucible (36)), the crucibles 36, one or more moulds 40, and/or one or more regions within the furnace chamber 75 which may include one or more of the flames F emanating from respective burner units 120a/b. it wilf be appreciated that the measured temperature data (and, indeed, the data corresponding to any other measured attribute(s) of the environment (E) or related gas/fluid flows) may require appropriate calibration for processing purposes.

[00280] As shown in Figure 11 , the temperature measurements are provided to the control system 150 by way of the thermal monitoring means 155. The temperature data can then be processed by the control system 150 to assess/determine an appropriate response (for example, a modification to be made to the gas flows to the burner units 120a/b so as to affect/control of the respective flame output temperatures), if any, that might be required to be made in order to create and/or substantially maintain the desired state of the environment (E) in the furnace chamber 75. Any such response may include, for example, adjusting/modifying the rate of the supply of one or more of the input gases (so as to adjust the relative proportions of the gases supplied by way of the gas supply architecture described herein), as might be needed in order to seek to converge toward or maintain the desired thermal state of the environment (E) for the fusion process. This arrangement therefore operates, at least in part, as a feedback loop or circuit 161. In this manner, the control system 150 can be configured operable for seeking to improve and/or optimise the efficiency of the fusion process at any stage during its progression (ie. from solid through to liquid) in a substantially continuous or automatic manner (ie. seeking to reduce, or to avoid if at ail possible, any need for human intervention).

[00281] Thus, the control system 150 can be configured operable for measuring/monitoring the thermal state of one or more regions (or portions thereof) and/or target objects/elements (or portions thereof) within the localised environment E within the furnace chamber 75 prior to and/or during one or more stages of the fusion process so that the thermal state of the environment (E) can be managed as required. From the present description, it will be appreciated that other aspects of the environment could also be measured/monitored for management/contra! purposes. In this manner, the temperature data taken by the iR temperature measurement probes (in real-time for example) 160 is provided to the control system 150 as part of, for example, the feedback loop (eg. active feedback loop) or circuit (161 ) and suitably processed so that the controi system 150 is able to continually monitor the on-going progression of the fusion process and respond (ie. make adjustments to the environment (E)) appropriately if needed.

[00282] Based on at least the information provided by the IR temperature measurement probes 160, the control system 150 can be configured to process the measured temperature data for the purpose of making an assessment/determination as to whether any response (eg. corrective response or modification) is needed. Any such assessment/determination can be informed based on prescribed criteria programmed into the control system 150, such as for example, by way of a suitably configured processor module 151. The processor module 151 is operab!y configured for receiving and processing the measurement data/information for use in the management of the environment. The skilled reader will appreciate the various forms in which the processor moduie 151 could be provided for utility in the present instance.

[00283] The controi system 150 may be operably associated with a storage means (not shown) which could comprise read only memory (ROM) and random access memory (RAM). The controi system 150 can be configured operable for receiving instructions that may be held in the ROM or RAM and may be implemented or executed by way of the processor module 151. in this manner, the processor module 151 is able to perform actions under the control of electronic program instructions including processing/executing instructions and managing the relevant data information (for example, the measured thermal, flow rate, and/or pressure data) as needed. The sktiled reader will appreciate that such processor modules can be any custom made or commerciafiy available processor, a central processing unit (CPU), a data signal processor (DSP) or an auxiliary processor among several processors associated with the control system 150, In other embodiments, the processor module 151 could be a semiconductor based microprocessor (in the form of a microchip) or a macroprocessor, for example.

[00284] It will be understood that database(s) holding one or more operating profiles {for example, temperature versus time profiies as discussed further below) may reside on any suitable storage means or device, which may encompass solid state drives, hard disc drives, optical drives or magnetic tape drives. Any such database(s) may reside on a single physical storage device or may be spread across multiple storage devices or modules.

[00285] In addition to the on-going measuring/monitoring of the thermal state of the localised environment (E) in the furnace chamber 75 by way of the IR temperature measurement probes 160, control and/or management of the fusion process may also be informed by the monitoring of the real-time flow or supply rate of the respective gases from sources 110, 115, and 120. Thus, the thermal controi system 152 may be operab!y associated with a flow monitoring means 165 which is configured operable for monitoring flow rates of the gases as supplied to the burner assemblies 100, or as supplied to each of the burner units 102a/b. In the form shown, the flow monitoring means 165 comprises fluid flow rate sensors/meters 170 and test-point pressure sensors 172 (which could be provided, for example, by way of proportional solenoid units 180 (or associated manifold assemblies) or the dual burner manifold 123) which are configured so as to measure the flow rates and pressures (for example, in associated manifold assemblies - see manifold pressure sensor 178 in Figure 12) of the respective gases at any point in the relevant fluid circuits (as required) as they are supplied to the burner assemblies 100. As shown in Figure 1 , communication between the flow monitoring means 165 and the fluid flow rate sensor(s)/meter(s) 170 and/or pressure sensor(s) 172 can be bi-directional, ie. signals can be sent from the flow rate sensors/meters 170 and/or pressure sensors 172 to the flow monitoring means 165, and/or from the flow monitoring means 165 to each fluid flow rate sensor/meter 170 and/or pressure sensor 1 2. It will be appreciated that the measured flow rate and pressure data may require appropriate calibration for processing purposes. [00286] Thus, as with the thermal monitoring means 155 described above, flow rate measurement data taken by way of the flow rate meters 170 and pressure sensors 172 can be communicated to the control system 150 by way of the flow monitoring means 165. The flow rate and pressure data can be then processed with the measured thermal data and a determination made as to whether any response is needed to be made so that the environment (E) within the furnace chamber 75 is created and/or maintained as desired. Any such response, for example, may include adjusting the rate of supply of one or more of the input gases if needed in order to adjust the relative proportions of the gases supplied (thereby adjusting or modifying the characteristics of the respective flame F output temperature).

[00287] Real time flow rate monitoring (or tracking) of any of the gases can be displayed or reported to the user or operator, for example, by way of the display panel 12. Furthermore, burner units' 102a/b efficiency information/characteristics can also be reported and/or displayed to the user/operator by way of the display panel 12.

[00288] The thermal control system 152 can be arranged operable with a fluid distribution control system 175 which is configured operable for monitoring and/or controlling, in accordance with the control system 150, the rate of supply of one or more of the input gases to the burner assemblies 100 as noted above by way of gas supply assembly 105. In this manner, and with reference again to Figure 12, manipulation and/or control of the flow rates of the gases (110, 115, 120) can be achieved by way of an appropriate arrangement of flow control valves (provided in the form of, for example: proportional flow-control solenoids 180 which might be provided in appropriate manifold assemblies), solenoid valves (a main air solenoid valve 185 and 2 position 2 way solenoid valve 187), one-way valves 190, one-way shut-off York valves 192, pressure regulators (for example, a mini pressure regulator @250kPa 195A, mini pressure regulator @350kPa 195B, and 2.75kPa internal LPG regulator 195C), automatic shut-off pilot valve 200 (for example, that associated with the pilot tube 350), automatic shut-off solenoid valve 202, main gas automatic shut-off solenoid valves 205, main oxygen automatic shut-off solenoid valve 207, and/or manually operated quarter turn-ball valves 210. In this manner, the flow rates of the respective gases (110, 115, 120) can be made variable in response to any determination made by the control system 150 as to any corrective action needed in order to seek to create and/or maintain (or converge toward) the desired thermal state of the localised environment E in the furnace chamber 75. Proportional flow-control solenoids 180 (and indeed other components which can be configured for controlling the flow of the gases) may be configured operable by way of signals provided by the control system 150. In this manner, the control system 150 can be made operable for seeking to balance the flow of input gases supplied to the burner assemblies 100 as required. The skilled reader will appreciate that the aim achieved using the architecture (and related componentry) shown in Figure 12 could be realised by way of other arrangements/configurations.

[00289] As shown in Figure 11 , communication (by way of, for example, electronic signals) between the fluid distribution control system 175 and the proportional flow- control solenoids 180 can be bi-directional, ie. signals can be sent from the fluid distribution control system 175 to the proportional flow-control solenoids 180, and/or from the proportional flow-control solenoids 180 to the fluid distribution control system 175.

[00290] In operation, prior to the fusion process commencing, the thermal control means 152 is configured operable for measuring the thermal state of the environment E in the furnace chamber 75 {which may, for example, include the crucibles 36, the melt held therein, the associated heating flame, and/or one or more specific regions of the furnace chamber directly) for calibration purposes such that supply of one or more of the gases to the burner assemblies 100 can be as close to acceptable efficiency levels as possible as the fusion process begins. As the fusion process begins and progresses, the environment E in the furnace chamber 75 is continually measured and/or monitored (on an on-going basis) so that corrective action can be taken if necessary as may be informed, at least in part, by the on-going measuring/monitoring of the state of the environment E. This operable functionally, in effect, provides an active feedback loop allowing the desired state of the environment E to be maintained in order to improve efficiency of the fusion process.

[00291] It will be appreciated that a number of processes may be managed at the same time so as to allow a batch of fusion samples to be produced. Each fusion process relates to a respective crucible (and associated localised environment). In this manner, the flame output from each burner unit is independently controlled allowing each fusion process to also be independently controlled.

[00292] As the skilled reader will appreciate, and as noted above, the gas fusion apparatus 4 includes suitable components necessary for the control system 150 to operate. This includes the ability to receive, store and execute appropriate electronic program instructions. Such components may include, for example, suitable processing means (such as a processor), associated read only memory (ROM) and random access memory (RAM) capability, and/or appropriate computing means. Such computing means can be a system of any suitable type, inciuding: a programmable logic controlier (PLC); digital signal processor (DSP); microcontroller; personal, notebook or tablet computer, or dedicated servers or networked servers.

[00293] In other forms, the functionality carried out by way of the control system 150 may be embodied for execution by way of one or more software modules. In some instances, such software may comprise one or more modules, and may be implemented in hardware. In such a case, for example, the modules may be implemented with any one or a combination of the fol!owing technologies, which are each well known in the art: one or more discrete logic circuits having logic gates for implementing logic functions upon data signals, an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) having appropriate combinational logic gates, a programmable gate array(s) (PGA), a field programmable gate array (FPGA) and the like.

[00294] In some forms, the control system 150 could be configured operable so as to communicate via one or more communication links which may variously connect to one or more remote devices such as servers, personal computers, terminals, wireless or handheld computing devices, landline communications devices, or mobile communication devices such as mobile (cell) telephones. At least one of a plurality of communications link(s) may be connected to an external computing network through a telecommunications network.

[00295] The skilled reader will appreciate that the above described configuration of the control system 150 provides a broad platform from which a number of operable features can be realised and used for the controi/management of the fusion process in the fusion apparatus 4. A number of these features are discussed below.

[00296] In one embodiment, the control system 150 can be configured operable for determining, by way of calculation or informed inference, the quantum of one or more corrections or modifications considered necessary for modifying or adjusting one or more parameters influencing the state of the thermal environment E so as to manage its thermal state as considered appropriate (for example, in accordance with acceptable efficiency levels). This could be determined by way of reference to measurements taken of the respective volumes, pressures, and/or flow rates of the gases. The determined possible necessary corrections or modifications may include prospective changes to one or more physical characteristics or parameters of the gases 110 (oxygen), 15 (propane), 120 (compressed air) supplied to the burner assemblies 100. The control system 150 can be operably configured fo causing to implement one or more of the above determined necessary corrections or adjustments automatically (or with reduced or minimal intervention from the user/operator). The control system 150 can also be configured operable for determining, by way of calculation or informed inference, one or more values corresponding to the calibration of the determined necessary corrections or modifications of one or more physical characteristics or parameters in accordance with acceptable efficiency levels.

[00297] In another embodiment, the control system 150 (by way of, for example, the controller module 151) can be configured operable for calculating, or determining by way of interpolation or informed inference, prospective values corresponding to respective proportions of one or more of the gases which results in efficiency levels considered to be appropriate for various stages of the fusion process. Such calculations could be based, for example, on the results of theoretical analyses and determinations drawn from interpolation (or informed inference), and/or could be premised either on theoretical calculations or results obtained from experimental programs (or previous operation). The skilled reader would appreciate that such prospective values could be determined by way of neural network or similar theory/methods. In this regard, it would be readily appreciated that such calculations and determinations couid be made by way of various forms of heuristic optimisation methods and operational research techniques, In this manner, the control system 150 can be configured operable for determining respective proportions of the or each input gases for creating and/or maintaining the thermal state of the environment E in accordance with a desired thermal profile (for example, a desired temperature versus time profile, arbitrary or otherwise) which reflects an acceptable operating profile for a given instance of use (eg. a specific chemical application) of the fusion apparatus 4,

[00298] In a further embodiment, the thermal monitoring means 155 can be configured so that the information taken from the IR temperature measurement probes 160 and/or photoelectric sensor(s) can be processed to assist in the detection and identification of each of the crucibles 36 in the fusion apparatus 4. In one possible arrangement, the infra-red probes 160 are configured for detecting a thermal signature which corresponds to a given crucible 36. In such arrangements, information relating to the thermal signature can be transmitted to the control system 150 and processed in a manner allowing the control system to be able to identify the presence of and/or discriminate between any of the crucibles 36. In such processing, the information received by the control system 150 may include positional data. Similar could also be arranged for the moulds 40.

[00299] In another arrangement, one or more photoelectric sensors 82 can be configured operable for detecting movement and/or the presence of one or more target crucibles 36 and/or moulds 40. In another arrangement, one or more IR probes 160 can be configured for directly detecting, in a remote and non-contact manner, the thermal signature or temperature of one or more target crucibles 36, melts held therein, respective flames F, and/or moulds 40 (and their contents).

[00300] In another embodiment, the control system 150 can be configured operable with a means for measuring, assessing, and making a determination as to the quality of a flame (F - shown in Figures 10 and 11 ) emanating from one or more of the burner units 102a/b. In this manner, the control system 150 is arranged so as to be able to discriminate between various flame qualities/characteristics/efficiencies, and/or take corrective action(s) if necessary (which could be provided in the form of a suitable safety mechanism). For example, the control system 150 may be configured operable for identifying (and/or reporting) low quality flame by way of the display console 12. In this manner, the control system 150 can be configured operable for seeking to optimise, or to at least improve, the efficiency of the fusion process. Thus, the control system 150 is configured operable for seeking to improve, the combustion efficiency of any flame F associated with a respective burner unit (102a/b) of the burner assemblies 100.

[00301] One or more characteristics of a given flame F may be modified as appropriate depending on the determination made by the means for making a determination as to the quality of the fame. The modification to the flame F may be conducted in accordance with any known method and/or be of an appropriate nature so that any characteristic of the flame meets one or more predetermined criteria. The control system 150 may be configured operable with a means for seeking to achieve and/or maintain, at low gas flow rates for example, the ratio of oxygen (110) to propane gas (115) to compressed air (120) is generally sufficient to meet the minimum flame requirements (which may, for example, be over a desired period of time). By way of brief explanation, such requirement is a specific issue for oxygen enriched flames at !ow gas flow rates, and a general issue for any flame that is a mixture of multiple gases.

[00302] In another embodiment, the control system 150 can be configured capable of ameliorating signal noise by way of the processor module 151 executing a software algorithm configured for reducing signal noise (or cross talk).

[00303] In a further embodiment, the control system 150 can be configured operable for determining one or more operating profiles for one or more specific chemical applications. In one arrangement the one or more operating profiles are determined, calculated, or estimated using thermal data provided as a function of time, and/or using continuously controlled thermal data {eg. thermal gradient information/data) or a temperature saw tooth profile. Such profiles could be arbitrary or prescribed.

[00304] In a further embodiment, the control system 150 is configured operable for controlling/managing, in a independent manner, operation of the or each burner units 102a/b of the burner assembly 00.

[00305] The control system 150 may be configured operable for managing the thermal state of the environment E in accordance with one or more temperature versus time profiles, in this manner, any operating profile may comprise or be informed by a temperature versus time profile, which may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature. As the skilled reader may appreciate, any operating profile may be determined, calculated, or estimated by way of informed inference using known, interpolated, extrapolated, or measured temperature data. Thus, the control system 150 can be configured operable for processing appropriate data for providing or seeking to achieve and/or maintain a desired or prescribed temperature versus time profile for use in the management of the environment E. Any temperature versus time profile determined or prepared and/or currently in use by the control system 150 can be displayed (for example, by way of the console 12) to the user/operator of the fusion apparatus 4.

[00306] In another embodiment, the control system 150 is configured with a means for making a determination (by way of calculation or informed inference) as to the quality of the gas supplied to any of burner units 102a/b. In this manner, the control system 150 is configured operable for discriminating between various gas qualities and reporting relevant findings/determinations to the user (eg. by way of the display panel 12). For example, the control system 150 may be configured for identifying (and/or reporting) any variation in the quality of any gas supplied to the burner assemblies 00.

[00307] The control system 150 may be configured with any additional sensors which can be configured operable for detecting and/or determining whether one or more burner units (102a/b) is blocked or damaged, in the event a burne unit is determined to be blocked or damaged, such notice can be communicated in an appropriate manner to the control system 150. Embodiments could, of course, be realised in which the fusion apparatus 4 is provided with sufficient means for being able to, at least in part, cure one or more of the burner units 102a/b of any detected deficiencies without requiring substantive input (or any input) from the user/operator.

[00308] It is to be understood that the control system 150 may be configured operable for use with any sensor units/devices which can be arranged to assist in facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of the environment (or furnace chamber 75). In this regard, such sensors may comprise: a motion sensor; an infra-red sensor; a depth sensor; a three dimensional imaging sensor; an inertia! sensor; a Micro-Electromechanical (MEMS) sensor; an imaging means; an acceleration sensor; an orientation sensor; a direction sensor; and a position sensor.

[00309] In view of the above, embodiments of the invention may serve to provide a fusion apparatus having one or more of the following features:

(t) remote calibrated temperature feedback means: in one example, temperature measurement from the melt directly, or from the crucible directly;

(ti) calculation/inference process that determines what the different gas proportions should be;

(iii) automatic calculation/calibration of channel corrections;

(iv) safety mechanism to prevent low quality flame;

(v) software mechanism to address and/or overcome impact of cross talk;

(vi) hardware mechanism to balance various flows in the system; (vii) creation of arbitrary temperature versus time profiles for specific chemical applications - which may be arbitrary or of a prescribed nature. In some instances, the temperature versus time profiles may be informed from continuously controlled temperature ramp rate data, or temperature saw tooth profiles;

(viii) multiple independent control of the burners of the burner assembly;

(ix) real time flow rate tracking and/or display;

(x) mechanism for calculation/reporting of burner efficiency;

(xi) mechanism for reporting on variation in gas quality;

(xii) mechanism for optimising or improving flame combustion efficiency;

(xiii) remote infra-red system for crucible presence detection;

(xiv) mechanism for detecting blocked/damaged burners.

[00310] In view of the above, principles of the invention described herein may serve to provide embodiments/aspects of a means operabiy configured for allowing for substantially continuous flame and temperature control/management of a fusion process informed by way of thermal measurements obtained in a remote and/or non- contact manner.

[00311] The skilled reader will appreciate that the principles described herein may be exploited in a number of different forms. For example, the control means could be embodied as a control system or an apparatus exemplifying the functionality of the control means (150) described herein. As noted in accordance with a further aspect, the principles of the invention may be exemplified as a method for facilitating the creation and/or maintenance of the desired state of an environment based on, at the least, the assessment of a state of the environment. Embodiments of computer programs could also be realised and used for implementing such a method. Of course, additional aspects include, non-exhaustively, a fusion apparatus which embodies the principles of the invention in any appropriate form.

[00312] Those skilled in the art will appreciate thai the invention described herein is susceptible to variations and modifications other than those specifically described. The invention includes ail such variations and modifications. The invention also includes all of the steps, features, formulations and compounds referred to or indicated in the specification, individually or collectively and any and all combinations or any two or more of the steps or features,

[00313] Any manufacturer's instructions, descriptions, product specifications, and product sheets for any products mentioned herein or in any document incorporated by reference herein, are hereby incorporated herein by reference, and may be employed in the practice of the invention.

[00314] Throughout this specification, unless the context requires otherwise, the word "comprise" or variations such as "comprises" or "comprising", will be understood to imply the inclusion of a stated integer or group of integers but not the exclusion of any other integer or group of integers.

[00315] Furthermore, throughout this specification, unless the context requires otherwise, the word "include" or variations such as "includes" or "including", will be understood to imply the inclusion of a stated integer or group of integers but not the exclusion of any other integer or group of integers.