What is a Heat Exchanger and How does it Work?

heat exchanger

One of the basic premises of physics is that movement produces energy that manifests itself through heat. The intensity of labor matches the intensity of heat, which would create a significant problem in the manufacturing and research processes of all kinds. These problems can be avoided with the use of cutting-edge heat exchangers. 

Heat exchangers: what are they and how do they work?

This is a question that we will repeat throughout this article. The reason behind this repetition is the fact that the answer changes depending on several factors (like the situation, industry, and exchanger type). Here’s a brief rundown of what you need to know about heat exchangers.

What is a Heat Exchanger and Why Are They Necessary? 

The simple answer to the question – “What is a heat exchanger” is that it’s a device made to transfer heat from one medium to another. Before we head on to explain the specifics, it is important to try and explain why heat exchangers matter, to begin with. First of all, heat exchangers have an engineering application, which makes them indispensable in:

  • Refrigeration
  • Air conditioning processes
  • Power plants
  • Chemical processing systems
  • Manufacturing
  • Waste heat recovery units
  • Food processing
  • Automobile radiators

The list goes on and on.

The efficiency of the heat exchanger used will determine the performance and the efficiency of the process. For instance, when it comes to refrigeration, the quality and design of the heat exchanger will determine the energy-friendliness of the device. In the automotive industry, the ability of the vehicle to process heat will determine its bottom-line performance.

How Do Heat Exchangers Work

There are so many heat exchangers out there, each of them with its unique mechanism. This causes them to not only be difficult to explain but also makes heat exchanger repairs difficult. The simplest way to explain how heat exchangers work would be to explain the mechanics of a furnace. The furnace burns fossil fuels, hot gas heats the metal and the hot metal heats the air around it.

Depending on the efficiency of the furnace in question, it would have one or two heat exchangers.

The primary heat exchanger is the one closest to the burner in the furnace. As such, it absorbs the most heat and suffers the most stress.

A high-efficiency furnace would also have a secondary heat exchanger. This is where the heat travels after leaving the primary heat exchanger. In the second heat exchanger, the vapor condenses and turns into a liquid. For this reason, secondary heat exchangers are usually made from materials like stainless steel, coated steel, or fiberglass. Since these materials can withstand moisture, heat, and even acid.

Cooling Towers with Heath Exchangers

One of the best examples of heat exchangers can be seen in that of cooling towers.

This system is fairly simple and it is used to extract waste heat from a system in the simplest and cleanest manner. A cooling tower uses water to extract heat and ejects it into the atmosphere via evaporation.

These towers save both water and energy, as well as reduce pollution. Needless to say, these questions were never as relevant as they are today. For this reason, quality-engineered towers are the future of industrial manufacturing and various chemical industries.

From the managerial standpoint, some of the most sophisticated of such industrial cooling towers can be used to optimize output and minimize operating costs. Ine way of doing this is by keep the correct cooling tower temperature range.

Types of Heat Exchangers 

A heat exchanger always has the same purpose – transferring heat between two mediums (usually two fluids), but the way it operates depends on the type. Several major heat exchanger types are:

  • Shell-and-tube
  • Bare tube
  • Finned tube
  • Plate-and-frame
  • Spiral
  • Plate coil

Needless to say, shell-and-tube is the most common type (by far) for industrial purposes. In fields like agrochemical, pharmaceutical, as well as the food and drinks industry, secondary heat-transfer loops are far more common.

While the layout requirements for the bulk of these exchangers are the same, the variation between types may become an issue, once the exchanger needs to be integrated into the facility. We’ll talk more about these types and their subtle differences in the following section.

Industrial Heat Exchangers 

When talking about heat exchangers, what the majority of people are hinting at is their industrial purpose. As we’ve already mentioned, the most common are cooling tower heat exchangers. Needless to say, cooling towers are probably the first thing that one has in mind whenever the industrial application of heat exchangers is brought up.

These exchangers also come in many different shapes, sizes, and principles.

According to veterans behind a major industrial heat exchanger manufacturer, the factors that impact performance, longevity, and maintenance requirements. These are:

  • Knowledge of operating parameters
  • Codes and design specifications
  • Installation
  • Evaluation

In other words, the efficiency of any heat exchanger that the buyer decides to invest in will be determined early on in the process.

When it comes to the cost of these heat exchangers, they are usually priced either by their tonnage or horsepower. Moreover, the installation itself may depend on the location, as well as whether there’s a previous tower that needs to be replaced for a new one to be put in its place.

While understanding how a cooling tower works isn’t a prerequisite to successfully using it for one’s facility, it does make predictive maintenance much more accurate. As we’ve already mentioned, knowledge of operating parameters is one of the keys to using a cooling tower properly.

Wrap Up

In today’s world heat exchangers are much more common. At the moment, we’re facing both an energy and a pollution crisis. Needless to say, heat exchangers can help resolve both of these issues. At the same time, enterprises installing them need to understand what they’re getting into (longevity-, productiveness-, and maintenance-wise). In other words, this topic has never been more relevant.

Those interested in learning more about the actual implementation of industrial exchangers can contact us today to learn more about our cooling tower heat exchangers.


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