Vortex Tubes: What, Why, Where?

The most common questions about Vortex Tubes are “How long have they been around?” and “How do they work?”. These questions are simple enough and answering someone how long Vortex Tubes have been around is the easy answer, Vortex Tubes have been around since 1928 with what may seem as an accidental existence by the developer George Ranque.

As to how they work, these are a phenomenon of physics and the theoretical math behind them has yet to be proven and set in stone. They have been called various names such as “Maxwell’s Demon” which posited that a demon was splitting the hot and cold air molecules prior to leaving the Vortex Tube.  They have also been referred to as  the “Ranque Vortex Tube”, “Hilsch Tube”, and the “Ranque-Hilsch Tube” which highlight some of the prominent people in developing vortex tubes. 

WHAT: EXAIR defines a Vortex Tube within our catalog as “a low cost, reliable, maintenance free solution to a variety of industrial spot cooling problems. Using an ordinary supply of compressed air as a power source, vortex tubes create two streams of air, one hot and one cold, with no moving parts.”

The scope of Vortex Tubes include being able to produce temperatures from -50 degrees to 260 degrees Fahrenheit with flow rates from 1 to 150 SCFM and refrigeration up to 10,200 Btu/hr. Temperatures, flows and cooling power can be easily adjusted with the control valve located on the “hot” end of the tube.

WHY: EXAIRs’ Vortex Tubes offer low cost and reliable solutions primarily for product cooling and sometimes heating. Constructed of stainless steel, our vortex tubes are resistant to corrosion and oxidation providing for years of reliable maintenance-free operation. Vortex tubes operate with a source of compressed air with no moving parts or electricity.

EXAIR offers two series of vortex tubes. The 32XX series is “Maximum Refrigeration (cooling) and is typically used for process cooling, part cooling or chamber cooling. The 34XX series provide lowest cold temperatures at low cold airflow and typically used in cooling lab samples and circuit testing.

EXAIR offers a cooling kit with interchangeable generators that are easily changed so you can experiment and find what temperature and airflow works best for your application.

WHERE: There are many uses for EXAIR Vortex Tubes including but not limited to cooling electronics, machining operations, CCTV cameras, soldered parts, gas samples, heat seals, environmental chambers, ultrasonic weld horns, welds and setting hot melts.

The history of EXAIR Vortex Tubes and the variety of uses has derived new products designed for specific applications like our Spot Coolers and Cabinet Coolers. These items can be found in our catalog or at www.EXAIR.com.

If you have any questions regarding these products or any products that EXAIR offers I hope to hear from you.

Eric Kuhnash
Application Engineer
E-mail: EricKuhnash@exair.com
Twitter: Twitter: @EXAIR_EK

A Cold Winter’s Chill and Vortex Tubes

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.

 Vortex tubes use a source of compressed air to create a hot and cold stream of air coming out on opposite ends of the device. This means that not only can the vortex tube be used for cooling but also heating applications. In one case a vortex tube was used to heat up an adhesive before it was sealed to get a better adhesion. Although the vortex tube can be used for heating purposes those applications are few and far between as usually a heating element or other heating source is more applicable.
Vortex tubes are quickly adjustable, just as the winds of Breckenridge can change from being a breeze to almost blowing you off of the mountain. Weather in the mountains is always varying and so are EXAIR’s Vortex Tubes.

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
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Georges J Ranque: Father of the Vortex Tube

Georges J. Ranque is known as the inventor and father of the Ranque-Hilsch Vortex tube. The vortex tube is device that takes a compressed gas and generates hot and cold streams from a source of compressed gas. George accidentally discovered the phenomenon on accident while studying physics at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris France. Ranque was looking was performing an experiment on a vortex-based pump to vacuum up iron fittings; during the experiment he noticed that warm air was being expelled out of one side and cold air out of the other when he inserted a cone into one end of the vortex. In 1931 Ranque filed for a patent for the vortex tube and two years later presented a paper on it.

Georges vortex tube was all but lost and forgot about until 1945 when the German physicist Rudolph Hilsch published a paper on the device. This paper became widely read and exposed the vortex tube to the industrial manufacturing environment. This paper revived what was thought to be lost and led the vortex tube into what we see today.

How an EXAIR Vortex Tube operates

During World War 2 Georges Ranque started to develop different steels that would be used in military aviation efforts. He later went on to work at Aubert et Duval Steelworks as the Director of Metallurgical Laboratory. While at Duval he would continue to developing alloys for the aviation industry.

Interestingly, in 1972 he went on to publish a book on the search for the Philosophers Stone, a mythological chemical substance that Alchemist’s thought could be used to turn base metals into Gold. The following year in 1973 he passed away in his home just outside of Paris.

Here at EXAIR we have expanded the uses of Ranque’s original vortex tubes for various different cooling uses. The vortex tube can be found in our Cold Guns, Spot Coolers, and Cabinet Coolers. In many cases EXAIR’s spot coolers and cold guns have been used to replace coolant in simple milling and grinding applications. Also, EXAIR’s Cabinet Coolers have been keeping control cabinets from overheating for many decades. 

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
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How it Works: Theory Behind the Vortex Tube

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.

EXAIR’s Vortex Tube uses compressed air as the supply and contains no moving parts to create a cold and hot stream of air from either end of the device. Using the valve located on the hot stream the vortex tube can achieve temperatures as low as -50°F (-46°C) and temperatures as high as 260°F (127°C).

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.

At EXAIR we have harnessed many uses of vortex tubes for your cooling needs. Both our Cabinet Coolers and our Adjustable Spot Coolers utilize the vortex tube to either cool down an overheated cabinet or provide spot cooling for many different applications including to replace a messy coolant system for small grinding and machining applications.              

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
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