3D Printing Creates Better Heat Exchangers

April 19, 2016

New design is 20% more efficient than traditional models.

Think 3D printing is just a fad? Your building could soon be powered by mechanical systems that are fabricated using this new technology. The University of Maryland, through a partnership with 3D Systems and the DOE’s Building Technologies Office, is using 3D printing to create heat exchangers. This next-generation device weighs 20% less, performs 20% more efficiently and can be manufactured more quickly compared to current designs.

Manufacturers have relied on tube-fin heat exchangers for decades. Alternative designs have been proposed, but the complexity has made it difficult to commercialize them economically with traditional processes. However, a complicated design costs no more than a simple one when using 3D printing.

3D Systems’ direct metal printing process allowed researchers to use unconventional, variable shapes that increase the heat exchanger’s efficiency. University of Maryland researchers were also able to speed up the design process, needing weeks rather than months to generate a prototype. This efficiency enabled the team to test new designs earlier and more frequently.

Because the heat exchanger can now be printed in a single, continuous piece, the exchanger’s design will have better resistance against pressure or leakage. This singular fabrication with proven materials also ensures very little waste material is generated.

The University of Maryland’s new 1kW miniaturized air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger prototype paves the way for new designs that will help reduce the nearly 7 quads of energy used annually for HVACR in the U.S. A 10kW prototype will also be fabricated and both prototypes will be tested and demonstrated in a 3-ton heat pump. The research team expects the new heat exchangers will be in commercial production within five years.

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