One of the challenges in working on commercial and industrial HVAC installations and retrofits is the unique elements in the systems between buildings. Some of these building owners are interested in testing out different looks, options, and features in the HVAC system components.
It is one thing to be able to have a visual concept of these unique configurations of HVAC components, or even to create the components through CAD/CAM or other types of software programs, but it is quite another to actually manufacture the part or component.
Today, thanks to advances in 3D printing, creating a part or system component that is unique and designed for a specific application and HVAC system is no longer just wishful thinking. Large scale 3D printers, or even smaller printers that can make 3-dimensional models, are now available at a relatively modest price range for the larger and more innovative HVAC companies.
How It Works
Originally, 3D printing was only for small, relatively simple types of shapes and components when first introduced in the mid-1980s. It was also incredibly costly, so it was rarely used outside of a few specialized types of applications.
Now, there are 3D printers that print using cement, metals, alloys, and polymers, allowing for a much wider range of production. While the natural consideration may be the metals and alloys are the best option for the production of 3D components for the HVAC industry, this is not always the case.
All 3D printing requires specialized software. This software not only captures the final physical dimension and form of the final part or component, but it is able to deconstruct the design into the micrometer thickness of each layer, which is then produced by the printer to create the final shape. In other words, the part is built extremely thin layer by extremely thin layer.
The University of Maryland Heat Exchanger
Using this technology, the University of Maryland, with the US Department of Energy and 3D Systems, has created a heat exchanger for HVAC systems used in both commercial and residential systems. It is made up of 200-micrometer walls that offer maximum surface area, providing the ideal surface for heat exchange.
The prototype heat exchanger is twenty percent more effective and also twenty percent lighter than a traditional heat exchanger. It is also made as a single, continuous process, so there are no joints or welded areas, so there is less risk of any type of pressure or fluid leak in the component. It has been designed to function as a condenser as well as an evaporator, and it can also be used with heat pumps.
Other Applications to Follow
Other parts and components for HVAC systems are also available to the industry. New training programs are in development to use 3D technology to teach new HVAC technicians.
The technology can also be used to create models of systems that use the specific materials required, allowing for a better understanding of the integration of the HVAC systems within the buildings based on actual physical representation and not just computer models.