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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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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One Item Generates 1/4 Ton of Refrigeration and Fits in the Palm of your Hand

One of the most powerful, peculiar and perplexing products in the EXAIR catalog is the Vortex Tube. The medium sized vortex tube can generate up to a ¼ ton of refrigeration and still fit into the palm of your hand. It can generate cold temperatures that are 129° Fahrenheit below the input compressed air temperature, without any moving parts. It provides effective cooling on a wide variety of industrial systems like electrical cabinets, cutting tools, grinding operations, setting hot melt glue and a number of other cooling processes.

The Vortex Tube is used in Cabinet Cooler Systems, Cold Guns, Mini Coolers and Adjustable Spot Coolers to utilize compressed air to create cold air for your application needs. The Vortex Tube uses a Ranque-Hilsch tube to create the cooling effect. This principle has been used since 1927 to generate hot and cold flows from a source of compressed air. For more information on the physics behind how the Vortex Tube operates, visit here.

Our units are designed to operate at inlet pressures between 20-120 PSIG. The vortex tube comes in three different sizes, small, medium and large. The small unit will use between 2 and 8 SCFM of compressed air when fed with 100 PSIG of compressed air. It can be used with pressures much lower, but the change in temperature will not be as great. Below is a chart listing the temperature drops and rises of the vortex tubes with respect to supply pressure and cold fraction.

Vortex Tube Performance Data
The Cold Fraction performance chart shows temperature drops and rises for a Vortex Tube.

To use Vortex Tubes intelligently, cold fraction needs to be defined. A cold fraction is the ratio of cold air flow to total air flow through the inlet of the Vortex Tube. This cold fraction is adjustable on the Vortex Tubes and Adjustable Spot Coolers, but it is preset on the Cabinet Cooler Systems and Cold Guns. Adjusting the cold fraction changes 2 variables with the Vortex Tube. First, it changes the amount of cold flow from the Vortex Tube. Second, lowering the cold fraction also lowers the cold air temperature. Flow and temperature will both determine the heat transfer of the system.  For tool cooling operations, a very high cold fraction is used.  If you have a tool that may be operating above 150 or 200° Fahrenheit, it will cool faster with more air flow at a higher temperature than air at sub-zero temperatures. For applications where the final temperatures are very low, below freezing or sub zero, lower cold fractions can be used.

Find the blog next week to find out about what the addition of generators affects on a Vortex Tube.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer