Vortex Tube Thaws Steam Connections on Bulk Liquid Sea Containers

Bulk container

Vortex Tube applications for cooling are many and a wide variety. Heating applications though, do tend to be a bit more elusive. That being said, I thought I would highlight a recent application where vortex tubes were used to thaw out steam lines that are used to heat up fluids in bulk sea containers.

We have all seen them running up and down the expressways, the large, bulk liquid containers that have the multi-modal capability to be on a ship, a train or a truck going down the road. I personally never thought about what the users of these tanks must do in order to get the liquid inside up to certain temperatures to allow the material inside to flow easily. I live in the Midwest area of the US, so we get really cold weather for only a few weeks during the year. In the Northern climates though, these bulk container users must have ways to thaw out the product before it can be used. To do this, these bulk containers are equipped with steam lines. Steam is used to heat the liquid inside to get it up to temperature. Once the steam is connected to the lines and circulating, all is well. But before they can get to that point, the steam connections on the tank are usually plugged with ice from condensate from previous use. The previous method was to simply snake a steam line up inside the heater lines to warm them up, but that presented a further problem. That same condensate ends up rolling out the pipe and dripping on the ground, re-freezing and creating a huge slip hazard.

 Steam connections

Above are the typical 1” BSP steam connections found on the bulk tanks.

In order to eliminate the slip hazard, the customer began looking for another method to supply a hot gas to these steam lines to thaw them out. In comes EXAIR with our Vortex Tube selection. The idea is to replace the mini steam line with the hot air output flow from a vortex tube to thaw out the connections. Since the customer has compressed air utility in plentiful supply on site, this makes for a very convenient way to warm up the pipes with a relatively “dry gas”. That being the dry compressed air supplied in the facility. The customer ended up using (2) model 3225 Vortex tubes with Cold Flow Mufflers, to provide the hot air for the steam connections. In fact, the diameter of the hot tube for the vortex tubes was the perfect size to simply slide up inside the steam pipes and hang there until the pipes were free of the problematic ice. There was still some small amount of liquid that re-froze from within the steam pipes, but it was certainly much more manageable than the mess the customer was dealing with previously.

Neal Raker, Application Engineer

Multi-tools, Adjustable Wrenches, and Vortex Tubes

I like tools and gadgets that can perform a variety of functions. From the Swiss Army Knife, to the multi-tools by Leatherman, Gerber, etc., I’m a sucker for anything that might offer me the chance to NOT dig through my toolbox for something that’s probably not there because it didn’t get put back the last time.

That’s why another of my favorite tools is the adjustable spanner…you may know it as the Crescent, or perhaps, the “all sixteenths,” wrench. Its popularity is cemented in American legend, as pioneering aviators Charles Lindbergh and Richard Byrd both famously included them in the scant provisions they took with them on their long flights across the Atlantic and to the North Pole, respectively. Remember, this was back when every single ounce of weight that someone took on a plane with them had to be carefully considered. Which, come to think of it, isn’t that much different than commercial flight luggage constraints today. But I digress.

Lindbergh took only "gasoline, sandwiches, a bottle of water, and a Crescent wrench and pliers" on his famous flight.
Lindbergh took only “gasoline, sandwiches, a bottle of water, and a Crescent wrench and pliers” on his famous flight.

One other thing this tool is sometimes called is the “Crescent hammer.” Dear reader, don’t do that to such a fine instrument. Seriously; go back to the toolbox that it came from…odds are, you’ve got a real hammer there. It will strike the handle end of the screwdriver that you intend to use as a chisel much squarer. While you’re there, get your safety glasses too. You’re welcome.

Now, it’s not always a problem to use things for applications other than what they were intended for…not always. In fact, I had the pleasure of helping someone do just that with a Vortex Tube recently. During the assembly of the electrical connectors they make, they put a small dab of sealant inside. When wire is inserted by the user, this sealant helps hold it in place, and protects the bare end from corrosion. They were, however, putting more than they needed into the connectors, and were looking for a way to quickly heat the piece, which would thin out the sealant and produce an even coating inside, allowing the rest to be recovered and reused.

They were already familiar with EXAIR products, since they’re a big user of our Safety Air Guns. The caller had found our Vortex Tubes in his copy of our catalog, and was wondering if he could use the hot air flow for this. He knew what temperature he needed to reach, but didn’t have a feel for how much (or little) air flow would be needed to do the job. This was no problem, since our Model 3930 Cooling Kit comes with a Medium Vortex Tube and ten different Generators, which allows for a range of hot flows from 2 to 32 SCFM (56 to 906 SLPM), and temperatures from 96° to 261°F (35° to 127°C).


If you’ve got an application that you want to use a Vortex Tube for – be it cold or hot air that you’re after – give us a call. Oh, and I was just kidding about the screwdriver; I know you have a chisel, and, like mine, it’s somewhere. Somewhere…

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Web: www.EXAIR.com
Twitter: twitter.com/EXAIR_RB
Facebook: www.facebook.com/exair