Discovery of The Vortex Tube

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 CoolersCabinet 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.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Max Refrigeration vs. Max Cold Temp Vortex Tubes

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.

Cold Fraction
EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

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.

Vortex Tube Hot Valve Adjustment

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.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Adjustable Spot Cooler Removes Tackiness from Plastic Tubes

Black PVC Tube

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.

How the Adjustable Spot Cooler Works

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.

3925 Adjustable Spot Cooler

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.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

Photo: Black tube by NIMR LondonCC License 2.0

Vortex Tubes can be Customized to Suit Your Application

Vortex tube

EXAIR’s Vortex 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.

How A Vortex Tube Works

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.

HT3240

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.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

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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Generators for the EXAIR Vortex Tubes

Vortex generator

The EXAIR Vortex Tubes use compressed air to generate cold air down to -50 deg. F (-46 deg. C) without any moving parts, freon, or electricity.  By design, it will produce hot air at one end and cold air at the other.  EXAIR offers different cooling capacities ranging from 135 BTU/hr (34 Kcal/hr) to 10,200 BTU/hr (2,570 Kcal/hr).  This cooling phenomenon begins by spinning the air at a high rate of speed inside the Vortex Tube.  The “separation” of temperatures starts at the generator.  In this blog, I will discuss the features of the generator and how our design allows for an efficient way to cool and heat the air flows.

Vortex Family

EXAIR stocks three different sizes of the Vortex Tubes; small, medium, and large.  Each Vortex Tube will use a generator to define the cooling capacity and compressed air usage.  When compressed air enters the Vortex Tube, it will have to pass through the generator first.  The generators are engineered with vane openings to initiate the spinning of the air and to control the amount of air that can pass through it.  As an example, for a medium-sized Vortex Tube, a model 10-R generator will only allow 10 SCFM (283 SLPM) of air at 100 PSIG (6.9 Bar).  While in that same size body, a model 40-R generator will allow 40 SCFM (1,133 SLPM) of air at 100 PSIG (6.9 Bar) to be used.  Precision in the design of the generators is what sets EXAIR apart with efficiency and effectiveness in cooling.

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

EXAIR created a chart to show the temperature drop for the cold end and temperature rise for the hot end, relative to the incoming compressed air temperature.  Across the top of the chart, we have Cold Fraction and along the side, we have the inlet air pressure.  The Cold Fraction is the percentage of the inlet air that will blow out the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  This is adjustable with a Hot Exhaust Air Valve at the hot end.

As you can see from the chart, the temperature difference changes as the Cold Fraction and inlet air pressure changes.  You may notice that it is independent of the size of the generator.  So, no matter which size Vortex Tube or generator is used, the temperature drop and rise will follow the chart above.  But just remember, cooling capacity is different than cooling temperature.  At the same settings, a larger generator will give you more mass of air to cool faster.

Now, let’s look inside the Vortex Tube (reference photo above).  As the compressed air passes through the generator, the change in pressure will create a powerful vortex.  This spinning vortex will travel toward one end of the tube where there is an air control valve, or Hot Air Exhaust Valve.  This valve can be adjusted to increase or decrease the amount of hot air that leaves the Vortex Tube.  The remaining part of the air is redirected toward the opposite end as the cold flow, or Cold Fraction.

Now, what separates EXAIR Vortex Tubes from our competitors are the three different styles of generators and two different materials for each size.  These generators are engineered to optimize the compressed air usage across the entire Cold Fraction chart above.  With temperatures above 125 oF (52 oC), EXAIR offers a brass generator for the Vortex Tubes.  The same precision design is applied but for higher ambient temperatures.  With the wide range of Vortex Tubes and generators, we can tackle many types of cooling applications.

If you would like to discuss your cooling requirement with an Application Engineer at EXAIR, we will be happy to help.  This unique phenomenon to generate cold air with no moving, freon, or electricity could be a great product to use in your application.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Applying a Vortex Tube and Adjusting Temperature

Throughout my tenure with EXAIR there are may days where I have tested different operating pressure, volumetric flow rates, back pressures, lengths of discharge tubing, generator compression, and even some new inquiries with cold air distribution all on a vortex tube.  These all spawn from great conversations with existing customers or potential customers on different ways to apply and applications for vortex tubes.

Many of the conversations start in the same spot… How exactly does this vortex tube work, and how do I get the most out of it?  Well, the answer is never the same as every application has some variation.  I like to start with a good idea of the area, temperatures, and features of exactly what we are trying to cool down.  The next step is learning how fast this needs to be done.  That all helps determine whether we are going to be looking at a small, medium, or large vortex tube and which cooling capacity to choose.   After determining these factors the explanation on how to adjust the vortex tube to meet the needs of the application begins.

This video below is a great example of how a vortex tube is adjusted and what the effects of the cold fraction have and just how easy it is to adjust.  This adjustment combined with varying the air pressure gives great versatility within a single vortex tube.

The table below showcases the test points that we have cataloged for performance values.  As the video illustrates, by adjusting the cold fraction lower, meaning less volumetric flow of air is coming out of the cold side and more is exhausting out the hot side, the colder the temperature gets.

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

This chart helps to determine the best case scenario of performance for the vortex tube.  Then the discussion leads to delivery of the cold or hot air onto the target.  That is where the material covered in these two blogs, Blog 1, Blog 2 comes into play and we get to start using some math.  (Yes I realize the blogs are from 2016, the good news is the math hasn’t changed and Thermodynamics hasn’t either.)  This then leads to a final decision on which model of vortex tube will best suit the application or maybe if a different products such as a Super Air Amplifier (See Tyler Daniel’s Air Amplifier Cooling Video here.)is all that is needed.

Where this all boils down to is, if you have any questions on how to apply a vortex tube or other spot cooling product, please contact us.  When we get to discuss applications that get extremely detailed it makes us appreciate all the testing and experience we have gained over the years.  Also, it helps to build on those experiences because no two applications are exactly the same.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF