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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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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