Cooling With Compressed Air: Air Knife vs. Vortex Tube Products

One of the popular applications for the EXAIR Super Air Knife is cooling. When mounted so that the air flow sweeps across the surface of a product, the laminar nature of the air flow works to maximize the contact time with the surface, which also maximizes the heat transfer…which means better product cooling than, say the turbulent air flow from a fan or blower.

Still, it’s common for us to get questions about how to provide even faster cooling.  Well, the two main variables in heat transfer are the time the air is in contact with the product, and the difference in temperature between the product surface and the air.

We’ve already touched on “time in contact”…sweeping the laminar flow across the surface at as low of an angle as you can, against the direction of travel, is ideal.  Combine that with the extraordinarily high air flow due to the entrainment level of the Super Air Knife, and you get an awful lot of air in contact with the surface, for a (relatively) long time.

Super Air Knives cool steel casting from 1,725°F (940°C) to 200°F (93°C) in under 20 minutes.

The difference in temperature, though, is a little trickier to deal with.  Because the developed flow from the Super Air Knife is mostly entrained ambient temperature air from the surrounding environment, you’re at the mercy of that ambient temperature.  One of the most common question – of the common questions about faster cooling – is, can you feed a Super Air Knife with cold air from a Vortex Tube?  The answer is no, for two big reasons:

  • The Vortex Tube’s cold flow can’t be back pressured, which would happen if you fed it through the plenum of a Super Air Knife and tried to make it come out the 0.002″ gap.
  • Even if it did work, the entrained air which, remember, makes up most of the flow, is still room temperature…meaning the total developed flow is a lot closer to room temperature than however cold the air you fed the Super Air Knife would be.

If the surface area to be blown on, to effect the desired cooling, is suitably sized, a Vortex Tube can be installed at a low angle to sweep its flow across.  The cold air flow from a Vortex Tube can also be distributed to more than one point, to cover more surface area.  That’s exactly what we do with our Dual Point Hose Kits for our Adjustable Spot Coolers, Mini Coolers, and Cold Gun Aircoolant Systems:

Dual Point Hose Kits can distribute air to both sides of a part, or onto a wider surface, than a single point discharge.

In fact, both the Single and Dual Point Hose Kits have a variety of tips they can be fitted with for tighter, or broader, flow patterns:

In some cases, multiple Vortex Tube products can be used, and, in other situations, the cold air can be directed through a manifold of some sort:

There are numerous methods to distribute the cold air flow from a lone, or a series of, Vortex Tubes.

Applications like the two on the right above (setting molten chocolate in molds, and keeping those white plastic parts during ultrasonic welding, respectively,) commonly start out as Air Knife inquiries, but the need for refrigerated air leads to creative Vortex Tube solutions.

If you’d like to discuss whether your application is best served by a Super Air Knife or a Vortex Tube Spot Cooling Product, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

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
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

Choosing the Right Vortex Tube – Max Refrigeration vs. Max Cold Temperature

The Vortex Tube is a low cost, reliable, maintenance free way to provide cooling to a wide variety of industrial spot cooling problems.

VT_air2

There are two (2) popular uses for the Vortex Tubes.  One is to spot cool a warm item as fast as possible.  The other is to chill an item to as low a temperature as possible. Because these are very different requirements, different Vortex Tube configurations exist to handle each.

For those applications of spot cooling, we recommend the 3200 series of Vortex Tubes. They are designed to be most efficient at providing maximum refrigeration, which is a function of high cold air flow rate and moderate temperature differential of the cold air to the warm item.

And for those applications of chilling an item to a very low temperature at low flow rate , we recommend the 3400 series of Vortex Tubes.  They are designed to be most efficient at providing maximum cold air temperatures, but with a lower cold air flow rate.

An important parameter for the Vortex Tubes is the Cold Fraction.  By adjusting the hot valve on a vortex tube, the amount of air that is discharged through the cold end changes. When expressed as a percentage of the total compressed air that is supplied to the vortex tube, we get the Cold Fraction.  For example, if the hot valve is adjusted so that for every 10 parts of compressed air supplied, we get 7 parts of cold air, then we have a 70% Cold Fraction. When you know the Cold fraction setting and the compressed air supply pressure, you can use the Vortex Tube Performance tables and get the cold air discharge temperature.

Using the table below left, at 100 PSIG compressed air pressure and a 70% Cold Fraction, we can expect the cold air discharge temperature drop to be 71°F.  With 70 ° compressed air temperature, the cold air will be at -1°F.

Vortex Tube Charts
Vortex Tube Performance Tables

The 3200 series of Vortex Tubes are for use in the 50-80% Cold Fraction range, and the model 3400 series is designed for use in the 20-50% Cold Fraction ranges, to maximize the performance of each.

In summary, the selection of the Vortex Tube that best meets the application needs is based on the desired cold air flow rate, and the temperature of air desired. Once these are known, using the tables can provide the information needed to select the best option.

For those applications where we are unsure what will work best, we offer the EXAIR Cooling Kits, that include a Vortex Tube (small, medium, or large) and an array of Generators, to allow the configuration of the full range of Vortex Tubes within each size family.

  • Model 3908 – Small Vortex Tube Cooling Kit – build models 3202, 3204, 3208, and 3402, 3404, 3408
  • Model 3930 – Medium Vortex Tube Cooling Kit – build models 3210, 3215, 3225, 3230, 3240, and 3410, 3415, 3425, 3430, 3440
  • Model 3998 – Large Vortex Tube Cooling Kit – build models 3250, 3275, 3298, 3299, and models 3450, 3475, 3498, 3499

3930

If you have questions about Vortex Tubes or any of the 16 different EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product lines, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
Send me an email
Find us on the Web 
Like us on Facebook
Twitter: @EXAIR_BB

Vortex Tube Cold Fractions – An Explanation

Vortex Tube Family

At EXAIR we’ve been a pioneer in the compressed air market for the past 34 years.  We’ve brought engineered nozzles to the market which reduce compressed air consumption while maintaining performance, laminar flow Air Knives, pneumatic conveyors, atomizing nozzles, air-assisted static eliminators, and a slew of other products.  One of these “other” products is our Vortex Tube, which we manufacture in various sizes while also using as a basis for our Cold Guns, Adjustable Spot Coolers, Mini Coolers, and Cabinet Coolers – all of which are built on the same Vortex Tube technology.

Theory of operation for an EXAIR Vortex Tube

The principle behind a Vortex Tube is rooted in the Ranque-Hilsch effect which takes place inside of the tube.  As a compressed air source is fed into the Vortex Tube, the air flows through a generator and begins to spin down the length of the tube, “hugging” the ID of the tube.  When this spinning air contacts a deliberate obstruction at the end of the tube, it is forced to reverse directions, which requires a change in diameter to the vortex.  The original vortex must decrease in diameter, and in order to do so, it must give off energy.  This energy is shed in the form of heat, and a portion of the incoming air is directed out of the tube with a drastically reduced temperature via what is called the “cold end”.  Another portion of the air escapes through the “hot end” of the tube, resulting in a cold airflow at one end, and a hot airflow at the other end of the tube.

Small, but powerful, Vortex Tubes really are a marvel of engineering.  And, like most useful developments in engineering, Vortex Tube technology begs the question “How can we control and use this phenomena?”  And, “What are the effects of changing the amount of air which escapes via the cold end and the hot end of the tube?”

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

These answers are found in the understanding of what is called a cold fraction.  A cold fraction is the percentage of incoming air which will exhaust through the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  If the cold fraction is 80%, we will see 80% of the incoming airflow exhaust via the cold end of the tube.  The remaining airflow (20%) will exhaust via the hot end of the tube.

For example, setting a model 3210 Vortex Tube (which has a compressed air flow of 10 SCFM @ 100 PSIG) to an 80% cold fraction will result in 8 SCFM of air exhausting via the cold end, and 2 SCFM of air exhausting through the hot end of the Vortex Tube.  If we change this cold fraction to 60%, 6 SCFM will exhaust through the cold end and 4 SCFM will exhaust through the hot end.

But what does this mean?

Essentially, this means that we can vary the flow, and temperature, of the air from the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  The chart above shows temperature drop and rise, relative to the incoming compressed air temperature.  As we decrease the cold fraction, we decrease the volume of air which exhausts via the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  But, we also further decrease the outlet temperature.

This translates to an ability to provide extremely low temperature air.  And the lower the temperature, the lower the flow.

Red box shows the temperature drop in degrees F when an EXAIR Vortex Tube is operated at 100 PSIG with an 80% cold fraction.

With this in mind, the best use of a Vortex Tube is with a setup that produces a low outlet temperature with good cold air volume.  Our calculations, testing, and years of experience have found that a cold fraction of ~80% can easily provide the best of both worlds.  Operating at 100 PSIG, we will see a temperature drop of 54°F, with 80% of the incoming air exiting the tube on the cold end (see red circle in chart above).  For a compressed air supply with a temperature of 74°F-84°F (common compressed air temperatures), we will produce an output flow with a temperature between 20°F and 30°F – freezing cold air!

With a high volume and low temperature air available at an 80% cold fraction, most applications are well suited for this type of setup.  When you order a Vortex Tube from EXAIR we will ship it preset to ~80% cold fraction, allowing you to immediately install it right of the box.

The cold air from an EXAIR Vortex Tube is effective to easily spot cool a variety of components from PCB soldering joints to CNC mills, and even complete electrical control panels.  Contact an Application Engineer with application specific questions or to further discuss cold fractions.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE