Discovery of The Vortex Tube

There are many theories regarding the dynamics of a vortex tube and how it works. Many students have studied them in hopes of advancing the physics or as part of their undergrad studies. The man that started it all was not intentionally researching it, however.

The Vortex Tube was invented by accident in 1928, by George Ranque, a French physics student. He was performing experiments on a vortex-type pump that he had developed and noticed that warm air exhausted from one end and cold air from the other. Ranque quickly changed his focus from the pump to start a company taking advantage of the commercial possibilities for this odd little device that produced both hot and cold air, using only compressed air, with no moving parts. The company was not successful, and the vortex tube was forgotten until 1945 when Rudolph Hilsch, a German physicist, published a widely read paper on the device.

A vortex tube uses compressed air as a power source, has no moving parts, and produces hot air from one end and cold air from the other. The volume and temperature of the two air streams is adjustable with a valve built into the hot air exhaust.  Temperatures as low as -50°F (-46°C) and as high as 260°F (127°C) are possible.

Compressed air is supplied to a vortex tube and passes through nozzles that are tangent to an internal counterbore. As the air passes through it is set into a spiraling vortex motion at up to 1,000,000 rpm. The spinning stream of air flows down the hot tube in the form of a spinning shell, like a tornado (in red). The control valve at the end allows some of the warmed air to escape and what does not escape reverses direction and heads back down the tube as a second vortex (in blue) inside of the low-pressure area of the larger warm air vortex. The inner vortex loses heat and exits through the other end of as cold air.

It is thought that both the hot and cold air streams rotate in the same direction at the same angular velocity, even though they are traveling in opposite directions. A particle of air in the inner stream completes one rotation in the same time of an air particle in the outer stream. The principle of conservation of angular momentum would say that the rotational speed of the inner vortex should increase because the angular momentum of a rotating particle (L) is equal to the radius of rotation (r) times it’s mass (m) times its velocity (v).  L = r•m•v.  When an air particle moves from the outer stream to the inner stream, both its radius (r) and velocity (v) decrease, resulting in a lower angular momentum. To maintain an energy balance for the system, the energy that is lost from the inner stream is taken in by the outer stream as heat. Therefore, the outer vortex becomes warm and the inner vortex is cooled.

At EXAIR, we have harnessed the cooling power of the vortex tube, and it can be found and utilized in such products as Spot CoolersCabinet Coolers, and Vortex Tubes themselves. If you have questions about Vortex Tubes, or would like to talk about any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Max Refrigeration vs. Max Cold Temp Vortex Tubes

Here at EXAIR, our vortex tubes are offered in two separate series. The reason for this is to optimize the performance of the cold air temperature drop when operating with opposite ends of the cold fraction chart. The maximum refrigeration vortex tubes, 32xx series, perform optimally when they are set to a greater than 50% cold fraction.  The maximum cold temp vortex tubes, 34xx series, perform optimally when they are set to a less than or equal to 50% cold fraction. The cold fraction is discussed more in-depth within this link from Russ Bowman, Vortex Tube Cold Fractions Explained. This blog is going to explain a little further why one series of vortex tubes would be chosen for an application over another.

Cold Fraction
EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

Maximum refrigeration (32xx) vortex tubes are the most commonly discussed of the two types when discussing the optimal selection of the vortex tube for an application. The 32xx series vortex tubes achieve a maximum refrigeration output when operated at 100 psig inlet pressure with around  80% cold fraction. This would give a temperature drop from incoming compressed air temperature of 54°F (30°C). The volumetric flow rate of cold air will be 80% of the input flow which means only 20% is being exhausted as warm exhaust air. By keeping the flow rate higher the air is able to cool a higher heat load and is the reason the vortex tube is given a BTU/hr cooling capacity.

Vortex Tube Hot Valve Adjustment

Maximum cold temperature (34xx) tubes are less common as their applications are a little more niche and require a very pinpoint application. Rather than changing the temperature inside of a cooling tunnel or cooling an ultrasonic welding horn, the max cold temp vortex tube is going to have a minimum cold flow rate, less than 50% of input volumetric flow.  This minimal flow will be at temperature drops up to 129°F (71.1°C) from the incoming compressed air temperature.  This air is very cold and at a low flow. A 20% cold fraction exhausts 80% of the input volume as hot air. This type of volume would be ideal for sensor cooling, pinpoint cooling of a slow-moving operation, or thermal testing of small parts.

In the end, EXAIR vortex tubes perform their task of providing cold or hot air without using any refrigerants or moving parts. To learn more about how they work, check out this blog from Russ Bowman. If you want to see how to change the cold fraction, check out the video below. If you would like to discuss anything compressed air related, contact an application engineer, we are always here to help.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Vortex Tube Cold Fractions Explained

Simply put, a Vortex Tube’s Cold Fraction is the percentage of its supply air that gets directed to the cold end. The rest of the supply air goes out the hot end. Here’s how it works:

The Control Valve is operated by a flat head screwdriver.

No matter what the Cold Fraction is set to, the air coming out the cold end will be lower in temperature, and the air exiting the hot end will be higher in temperature, than the compressed air supply.  The Cold Fraction is set by the position of the Control Valve.    Opening the Control Valve (turning counterclockwise, see blue arrow on photo to right) lowers the Cold Fraction, resulting in lower flow – and a large temperature drop – in the cold air discharge.  Closing the Control Valve (turning clockwise, see red arrow) increases the cold air flow, but results in a smaller temperature drop.  This adjustability is key to the Vortex Tube’s versatility.  Some applications call for higher flows; others call for very low temperatures…more on that in a minute, though.

The Cold Fraction can be set as low as 20% – meaning a small amount (20% to be exact) of the supply air is directed to the cold end, with a large temperature drop.  Conversely, you can set it as high as 80% – meaning most of the supply air goes to the cold end, but the temperature drop isn’t as high.  Our 3400 Series Vortex Tubes are for 20-50% Cold Fractions, and the 3200 Series are for 50-80% Cold Fractions.  Both extremes, and all points in between, are used, depending on the nature of the applications.  Here are some examples:

EXAIR 3400 Series Vortex Tubes, for air as low as -50°F.

A candy maker needed to cool chocolate that had been poured into small molds to make bite-sized, fun-shaped, confections.  Keeping the air flow low was critical…they wanted a nice, smooth surface, not rippled by a blast of air.  A pair of Model 3408 Small Vortex Tubes set to a 40% Cold Fraction produce a 3.2 SCFM cold flow (feels a lot like when you blow on a spoonful of hot soup to cool it down) that’s 110°F colder than the compressed air supply…or about -30°F.  It doesn’t disturb the surface, but cools & sets it in a hurry.  They could turn the Cold Fraction down all the way to 20%, for a cold flow of only 1.6 SCFM (just a whisper, really,) but with a 123°F temperature drop.

Welding and brazing are examples of applications where higher flows are advantageous.  The lower temperature drop doesn’t make all that much difference…turns out, when you’re blowing air onto metal that’s been recently melted, it doesn’t seem to matter much if the air is 20°F or -20°F, as long as there’s a LOT of it.  Our Medium Vortex Tubes are especially popular for this.  An ultrasonic weld that seals the end of a toothpaste tube, for example, is done with a Model 3215 set to an 80% Cold Fraction (12 SCFM of cold flow with a 54°F drop,) while brazing copper pipe fittings needs the higher flow of a Model 3230: the same 80% cold fraction makes 24 SCFM cold flow, with the same 54°F temperature drop.

Regardless of which model you choose, the temperature drop of the cold air flow is determined by only two factors: Cold Fraction setting, and compressed air supply pressure.  If you were wondering where I got all the figures above, they’re all from the Specification & Performance charts published in our catalog:

3200 Series are for max cooling (50-80% Cold Fractions;) 3400’s are for max cold temperature (20-50% Cold Fractions.)
Chocolate cooling in brown; welding/brazing in blue.

EXAIR Vortex Tubes & Spot Cooling Products are a quick & easy way to supply a reliable, controllable flow of cold air, on demand.  If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Applications for Vortex Tube Spot Cooling

The EXAIR Mini Cooler family is one of the many vortex tube based Spot Cooler products that EXAIR offers.  This is the smallest of the group coming in at 550 BTU/hr of cooling capacity.  The Mini Cooler Systems  are available in two options.

minicoolerWFAM_500
EXAIR’s Mini Cooler is available with a single point hose kit or a dual point hose kit.
  • The Single Point Outlet option will give you ten inches of flexible cold outlet to easily position the cold air stream near the target point.
  • The Dual Point Outlet option gives ten inches of 1/4″ flexible outlet that then splits to two separate four inch lengths of 1/4″ flexible cold outlet hoses.
  • Both include point or flat fan tips for the cold air outlets
  • Both include a manual drain filter separator
  • both include the swivel magnetic base with 100 lb. pull magnet.
minicooler_appli400
The Single Point Mini Cooler with a Flat Fan Tip installed on a milling application where liquid coolant cannot be used due to material constraints.

The single point hose kit is ideal for small diameter milling or drilling applications where the cold air can cover the contact area of the cutter.  It can also be used on soldering, industrial sewing, ultrasonic welding, or even small punching applications to list just a few.

EXAIR’s Mini Cooler System w/ Dual Point Hose Kit keeping UHMW cool while being machined

The dual point hose kit is ideal for two separate small diameter cutters, one larger diameter cutter, rotary style knives where there material is being slit, or larger diameter multi-point ultrasonic welders/punches.

When using the Mini Cooler the adjustable cold outlet stays in place and can easily bend around fixtures, spindles, welding horns, or dye aligning pins.  The swivel magnetic base gives additional adjustment at the base of the cooler to aid in the versatility of this product.   To further the adjustability of the cooler the operating pressure can easily be adjusted to lower or raise the cooling capacity of the Mini Cooler to meet the demands of the precise application.

If you believe you have an application that would benefit from the use of a Mini Cooler, or you are unsure which product would be ideal for your application please contact an Application Engineer.  we are all here, willing to help however possible to get your application improved in both safety and efficiency.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

 

Cold Guns for Spot Cooling or Replacing Mist Systems

By using only a source of compressed air, the Cold Gun and High Power Cold Gun produces a stream of clean, cold air 50°F (28°C) below your compressed air supply temperature. The Cold Gun is very quiet at only 70 dBA and has no moving parts to wear out. Just supply it with clean compressed air and it’s maintenance free.

How does it work, and what are the benefits?

  • The Cold Gun uses compressed air to produce a stream of clean, cold air at 50°F (28°C) below supply air temperature. Generally this will be 20°F-30°F outlet temperature.
  • They use Vortex Tube technology…no moving parts to wear out.

How A Vortex Tube WorksInstant cold air flow with no moving parts!

  • Cold flow and temperature are preset to optimize cooling capability, and are non-adjustable to prevent freeze-up during use.
  • Eliminates the expense of both the purchase & disposal of cutting fluids when replacing expensive mist systems.
  • Removes the potential for health problems associated with breathing mist & vapors, and the safety issue of slipping on a wet floor.

Cold Gun Aircoolant System selection is easy & straightforward…we offer a standard, and a High Power version to meet your specific needs.

CG
Four systems to choose from, to meet most any need.

We also offer Single & Dual Point Hose Kits, to further meet the needs of your application.

One of the best applications I have seen with our cold gun came from a customer in Peru. They are a gold mining operation and they were having trouble with the liquid they were using to cool a saw. Read all about it here!

IMG_20180613_094120_HDR

If you have an application that you believe would be better served by the use of an EXAIR Cold Gun, give us a call.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Georges J. Ranque and the Vortex Tube

The Vortex Tube was invented by accident in 1928, by George Ranque, a French physics student. He was performing experiments on a vortex-type pump that he had developed for vacuuming iron filings and noticed that warm air exhausted from one end and cold air from the other when he inserted a cone at one end of the tube! Ranque quickly stopped work on the pump, and started a company to take advantage of the commercial possibilities for this odd little device that produced both hot and cold air, using only compressed air, with no moving parts. The company was not successful, and the vortex tube was forgotten until 1945 when Rudolph Hilsch, a German physicist, published a widely read paper on the device.

How A Vortex Tube Works

A vortex tube uses compressed air as a power source, has no moving parts, and produces hot air from one end and cold air from the other. The volume and temperature of the two air streams is adjustable with a valve built into the hot air exhaust.  Temperatures as low as -50°F (-46°C) and as high as 260°F (127°C) are possible.

During the second world war Georges J. Ranque started developing steels that would be used in military aviation efforts. After the war he took a job at  Aubert et Duval steelworks as director of metallurgical laboratory where he continued developing alloys for use in the aviation industry.

In 1972 he published a book on the search for the Philosophers stone, a legendary chemical substance capable of turning base metals such as mercury into gold. And in 1973 he passed away in his home just outside of Paris.

If you have any questions of want more information on how we use our vortex tubes to better processes all over industry. Give us a call, we have a team of application engineers  ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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The Case for the Cold Gun

Heat is an unavoidable by-product of any cutting or machining operation. Think about it: you’re creating friction on a piece of material with a fast-moving piece of harder material in order to forcibly separate pieces of the original material from its existing shape & size. No matter what, something’s going to get hot: the work piece, the tooling, or (almost always) both. If you don’t do something about it, your parts can become damaged, your tooling can become dull and brittle, and productivity will suffer.

There are ways to alleviate the problem…you can slow the speed of your tooling, but that’s hardly practical, and only marginally effective.  You can use liquid cooling…in fact, you may have to if the particulars of the operation require the lubrication you can only get from a cutting oil or liquid coolant.  But those can be messy, expensive, and the time you spend maintaining the coolant could certainly be spent better elsewhere…like, on machining your products!

The EXAIR Cold Gun Aircoolant System is a novel solution to these problems…heat related and otherwise:

  • The Cold Gun uses compressed air to produce a stream of clean, cold air at 50°F (28°C) below supply air temperature.
  • They use Vortex Tube technology…no moving parts to wear out.
Instant cold air flow with no moving parts!
  • Cold flow and temperature are preset to optimize cooling capability, and are non-adjustable to prevent freeze-up during use.
  • Eliminates the expense of both the purchase & disposal of cutting fluids.
  • Removes the potential for health problems associated with breathing mist & vapors, and the safety issue of slipping on a wet floor.

Cold Gun Aircoolant System selection is easy & straightforward…we offer a standard, and a High Power version to meet your specific needs.

Four systems to choose from, to meet most any need.

We also offer Single & Dual Point Hose Kits, to further meet the needs of your application.  Right now, you don’t have to decide up front…order a Cold Gun Aircoolant System with a Single Point Hose Kit before December 31, 2018, and we’ll throw in the Dual Point Hose Kit for free.

If you’d like to find out more about how Cold Gun Aircoolant Systems can improve your machining or cutting operations, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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