Old Customer, New Problem, How Can we Help?

EXAIR has a special customer for whom we build vortex tubes to actually heat product up that is used in a rather cold and hostile environment. If the product being heated is not heated properly, the customer is unable to use it for the various lubrication needs they have in their remote location. Originally, the customer came to EXAIR because they felt their existing supplier was charging too much for their products and taking way too long for delivery. To make a long story short, I worked out the details of the vortex tube set-up based on the customer’s requirements and we produced a special cold muffler fitting that was the same as what had been produced by their previous supplier. We made a few tweaks to the design and ended up with a product that the customer was very happy with.

A little over two years later our customer came back to us with a complaint they had received from one of their end users and needed to know what we could do to advise them and help them out of the predicament they were in. After all, they didn’t really know and understand vortex tubes. When our customer came back to me recently, here is the issue that they put to me for consideration.

Their end use customer was using the vortex tube for the intended heating purpose. In fact, they had two of them. One was working very well and the other was not. The end user performed a bit of their own trouble-shooting and found that the material used in the special cold muffler would actually become clogged with ice and other debris from the compressed air that was coming through and also from splashing, rain and other sources of water from outside the heating device.

What happens to the hot end of a vortex tube when the cold end becomes plugged up and cannot flow freely? It forces more air out the hot end which actually has a cooling effect on the hot end. The temperature is no longer high enough to sustain the temperature needed and the end user is quite un-happy. The end user noted this and relayed the information back to our OEM client who, in-turn relayed back to me and asked for help.

My initial reaction when my OEM client asked about the problem was that in our standard products, we always use a “through hole” type muffler assembly on the cold end to keep it from becoming clogged in precisely the manner that the end customer had experienced with their unit. We had discussed this same issue early on with our client, but they were intent on keeping things the same as they always were. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it was sort of the idea at the time.  With this understanding, I went back to our OEM client and suggested they try an arrangement that was more in line with our stock offering. There were a few advantages to it that our client needed to consider. 1. It would not freeze up and block the cold output flow thus causing problems with temperature on the hot end flow. 2. The proposed option was actually quite a bit less expensive than the custom option that the customer had originally specified. 3. By de-coupling the vortex tube muffler from the external housing, the customer has a lot more flexibility in where to actually locate the cold exhaust on their product. Before, they did not have this flexibility. Below is a quick mock-up photo of what I had proposed to our OEM client. I sent them these photos and their response was, “Great, please send us enough to outfit three vortex tubes so we can make a test.” We sent the parts over to them and so far the testing has shown a definite improvement in reliability of their product.

The point of the story is that we had a customer with a very definite idea of what they wanted initially, but when the time came when they needed help to get out of a tough situation, we were able to offer timely and reasonable advice to help our OEM client find their way through what could have been an otherwise very un-desirable situation.

Neal Raker
Application Engineer

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