Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of flying out to meet my friend in Colorado Springs and ski the weekend at Breckenridge. As an avid skier Breckenridge has been one of the resorts I have been wanting to ski since I started skiing out west. The weather was amazing and I couldn’t ask for better; the Saturday blue skies and cool breeze followed up by a Sunday of snow fall. The Trip was a dream come true. Breckenridge is specifically known for having high winds that howl across the peaks that stand at a max of 12,998 ft. above sea level. These chilling winds would freeze just about anyone if you aren’t dressed prepared for them as they blow right in your face on the lift. As I was sitting on the lift with these cold winds blowing in my face it brought to mind EXAIR’s Vortex Tubes, Cold Guns, and Cabinet Coolers.
EXAIR’s Vortex Tubes and similar products provide everything from a cool blast of air to a frigid breeze to cool off various parts and products. In a lot of smaller milling and grinding applications the Cold Gun has been used as a replacement to costly coolant-based alternatives. Vortex tubes have been used in cooling applications since 1945 and assist in everything from stress testing electronics to cooling down plastic parts during ultrasonic welding.
If you have any questions or want more information on how we use our vortex tubes to improve 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.
Cody Biehle Application Engineer EXAIR Corporation Visit us on the Web Follow me on Twitter Like us on Facebook
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 Coolers, Cabinet 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.
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.
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.
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.
A manufacturing plant contacted EXAIR to help them with a “sticky” situation. This company extruded PVC tubes that would be used as fuel lines on small engines. Plasticizers are typically used to add flexibility to plastic materials. For the PVC material above, a plasticizer was added to make it softer and more elastic. The issue that they saw was the outer surface of the tubes were tacky from the plasticizer and heat which made it difficult to handle in packaging the tubes.
This company extruded many different diameters, but they wanted to target their most difficult size, the smallest tube. The dimensions were given as 0.187″ (4.7mm) O.D. by .0934″ (2.4mm) I.D., and the feed rate was close to 4 feet/min (1.2 meter/min). The problem area that they explained was at the end of the production line where the extruded tubes were cut by a blade cutter into 12” (305mm) lengths. The tubes would then fall into a collection bin for batch processing. Since the collection bin was setup at a slight upward angle, they wanted the tubes to gather toward one end of the bin. Since the tubes were still hot and sticking to each other, the operators had to individually handle each tube which was counterproductive and time-consuming. After our discussions, I suggested that cold air could harden the PVC tube enough by removing heat and help to “set” the platicizer. Since they manufactured different sizes and feed rates, we needed to have adjustability as well in our cold air device.
One of our most versatile spot cooling instruments is the EXAIR Adjustable Spot Cooler. This system uses the Vortex Tube technology to convert compressed air into a cold air stream without any moving parts, refrigerants, or motors. The Adjustable Spot Cooler is a low-cost, reliable, maintenance-free way to give spot cooling for a myriad of industrial applications. For this customer, this product gave them the versatility that they were needing.
EXAIR stocks these units with either a single or dual point hose kit, a magnetic base, a filter separator, and two additional generators. The control valve at the end of the unit adjusts the output temperature down to -30 oF (-34 oC) with a turn of a knob. The generators are specifically engineered to control the amount of compressed air that is used. Both types of controls will allow this customer to “dial in” the correct cooling capacity for the operation. The filter separator included with the system will clean the compressed air to keep the unit and the product free of dirt and debris. The magnetic base which this customer really liked makes the Adjustable Spot Cooler portable for use in different areas.
I recommended the model 3925 Adjustable Spot Cooler because it had the dual point hose kit to blow cold air on both sides of the tubes. Since this company had different tube diameters and thicknesses, adjustability was very critical. If the tubes got too cold, cracks could occur from the blade cutting machine; and, if the tubes were too warm, the tackiness on the surface of the tube would remain. Once they installed the Adjustable Spot Cooler, this company was able to increase their packaging line for the different size PVC tubes. Now the operators could reach into the collection bin and grab many aligned tubes instead of individually separating and sorting.
If you have a “sticky” situation, the EXAIR Adjustable Spot Cooler may be a product for you. The company above was able to have their tubes slide together in the collection bin. Many applications could be improved by adding cold air. And, if you have a similar situation, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to discuss a solution.
What is a vortex tube and how does it work? A vortex tube is a device used to separate compressed air into a cold and hot stream of air; but the main question that many people have theorized is how does this device work.
In 1928 George Ranque, a French physics student stumbled upon this phenomenon on accident while he was performing experiments on a vortex type pump. During the experiment George noticed that hot air was being exhausted from one side and the other side was producing cold air. Eventually the device was forgotten about until 1945 when the German physicist, Rudolph Hilsch published a paper describing the device, eventually causing it to gain popularity and find applications in the industrial world.
The diagram bellow is one of the widely accepted explanations for the vortex tube phenomenon.
When the vortex tube is supplied with compressed air the air flow is directed into the generator that causes spin into a spiraling vortex at around 1,000,000 rpm. This spinning vortex flows down the neck of the hot tube denoted in the diagram as red. The control valve located on the end of the hot tube allows a fraction of the hot air to escape and what does not escape reverses direction and travels back down the tube in a second vortex denoted in blue. Inside of the low-pressure area of the larger outer warm air vortex, the inner vortex loses heat as it flows back to the front of the vortex and as it exits the vortex expels cold air.
The phenomenon is theorized to occur because both the hot and cold streams rotate at the same velocity and direction. This means that a particle of air in the inner vortex makes a complete revolution in the same time that a particle in the outer vortex takes to make a complete revolution. This effect is known as the principle of conservation of momentum and is the main driving force behind the vortex tube. In order for the system to stay in equilibrium air particles lose energy, in the form of heat, as they move from the outer stream to the inner stream, creating the cold air vortex that gets expelled.
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 EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.
Cody Biehle Application Engineer EXAIR Corporation Visit us on the Web Follow me on Twitter Like us on Facebook
EXAIR’sVortex Tubes are a low-cost, reliable, and maintenance-free solution to a variety of industrial spot cooling problems. With just an ordinary supply of compressed air, the Vortex Tube produces two streams of air: one hot and one cold. This is achieved without any moving parts or refrigerants!!
The Vortex Tube is capable of achieving a temperature drop/rise from your compressed air supply ranging from -50°F to +260°F (-46°C to +127°C). Flow rates range from 1-150 SCFM (28-4,248 SLPM) and refrigeration of up to 10,200 Btu/hr. With all Vortex Tubes constructed of stainless steel, they’re resistant to corrosion and oxidation ensuring you years of reliable, maintenance-free operation.
In addition to providing a range of different Vortex Tubes available to ship same-day from stock, EXAIR also has a few options available for cases where a stock Vortex Tube may not be the right solution. The standard Vortex Tube is suitable for use in environments with ambient temperatures up to 125°F (52°C) due to the plastic generator and Buna o-rings. For more extreme environments and ambient temperatures up to 200°F (93°C), we install a brass generator and replace the Buna o-rings with Viton seals.
All standard Vortex Tubes are adjustable. A small valve is located at the hot air exhaust end of the tube. Using a flat-tipped screwdriver, you can adjust the amount of air that is permitted to exhaust from the hot end. As more air is allowed to escape, the temperature at the cold end of the tube drops even further. The volume of air at the cold end as the temperature drops will also decrease. The percentage of air exhausting from the cold end relative to the total air consumption is referred to as the cold fraction percentage. Lower cold fractions will produce lower temperatures, but there won’t be as much volume. Finding the proper setting for your Vortex Tube can take some adjusting.
As we all know, if there’s a knob to turn, button to press, or adjustment that can be made an operator is inevitably going to tinker with it. Day shift will blame the night shift, night shift blames the day shift, and it can present a problem when the Vortex Tube has been specifically tested and set to achieve the desired cold fraction. If you know the cold fraction you need, but would prefer to prevent it from being able to be adjusted, EXAIR can install a precisely drilled hot plug to set the cold fraction percentage to your specifications and eliminate any potential for it to be changed.
If you’d still prefer to keep the adjustability, but don’t have the capabilities to measure and set it yourself, we can also set any Vortex Tube to the desired cold fraction with the adjustable valve and send it to you ready to be installed. We’ll provide you with a special model number so you can rest assured that any time you need another it’ll come set to your specification.
At EXAIR, we’re committed to providing you with the best solution possible for your application. Sometimes that isn’t going to be achievable with a standard stock product. Just because you don’t see it in the catalog or on our website, doesn’t mean we can’t do it. If you have a unique application and would like more information on getting a special Vortex Tube, contact an Application Engineer today.
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:
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:
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: