The Evolution of Temperature Control Technology Helped Shape the World around Us
Temperature control has been essential for creating products and supporting technologies we rely on in our everyday lives. “The need for temperature control can cross into your day in so many ways—from the thickness of the shampoo you use every morning, to the phone in your pocket, or even a medical test like a PET scan,” says Philip Preston, president of PolyScience.
Take plastic products, for example. “Every piece of plastic that you touch is injection molded, meaning it is heated until it reaches a liquid state, then it is injected into a mold, and has to be chilled,” says Preston.
The automotive and electronics industries also rely on temperature control, especially for “extremely high precision applications like electrical discharge machining and metal cutting,” he says. These processes create heat, and a chiller that tracks room temperature is necessary to ensure the equipment and the parts being cut do not expand or contract with changing temperatures.
Laser applications also require chillers. “Lasers generate heat energy at the mirrors and focusing range, and they require a chiller providing good temperature control to keep it from getting excessively hot,” explains Preston. He notes that some of our greatest scientific discoveries were achieved with instrumentation requiring temperature control. “Without liquid temperature control, we wouldn’t have DNA amplification or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology, which has allowed us to map the human genome.” It has also been essential in countless areas of medical research—“finding ways to help people cure disease,” and in the field of criminology.
Developing Innovative Solutions to Support a Multitude of Applications
For these, and so many other applications that rely on chillers, the costs of malfunction are enormous. In many cases, the entire process grinds to a halt when a chiller is offline, resulting in lost productivity and revenue. In an effort to prevent costly downtime, Preston and his team wanted to address the specific challenges people encountered with chillers. Instead of discovering design or quality flaws, they found there were several ways to optimize the user experience, and prevent malfunction due to improper maintenance. Relying on user feedback, the team set out to develop a chiller that addressed these common challenges, and combined excellent thermal stability and ease-of-use. A three-year journey of innovation culminated with the launch of the PolyScience DuraChill® line. Here, we take an in-depth look at some of the challenges discovered in the process, and the innovative solutions developed to overcome them.
Automating Routine Maintenance
A chiller’s air movement system is a key factor for heat removal. The PolyScience team determined that 22 percent of service returns were related to dirty condensors or obstructed air filters—which can contribute to power or beam instability for laser applications, for example—and can increase operating costs as a compressor and circulating fan must run longer to achieve the same temperature setpoint. This presented an opportunity for a design improvement that could dramatically reduce the number of service returns and associated downtime for customers as well as operating costs.
“There’s been a tremendous evolution of the product range to make them more environmentally friendly than ever before”
Since routine maintenance can fall to the wayside in busy labs, PolyScience created an automated solution with the patented self-changing air filter. The technology consists of a roller cartridge system that rolls a new filter into place at specific intervals. The operator simply inserts a cartridge, and programs the unit to change the filter at a specified interval, which may be tailored to match throughput. The chiller displays a notification when a new cartridge is required. Automating this process eliminates the need to document and keep up with filter changes, and keeps operations running smoothly.
Improving the Environment—Inside and Out
Noisy working environments are taxing on personnel, and have implications for safety. Not surprisingly, the common theme of noise reduction emerged from customer feedback. A noisy chiller is the result of poorly insulated or low-quality compressors, circulating fans, pumps, and valves. The team developed the patented WhisperCool noise reduction system, which optimizes fan speed based on the cooling demand. A 20 percent reduction in fan speed translates to a 50 percent reduction in operating noise, which translates into much quieter operation. At 62 dB, the chiller is no louder than the average office setting.
“Additionally, there’s been a tremendous evolution of the product range to make them more environmentally friendly than ever before,” adds Preston. Refrigerant gases have a high global warming potential. “The reduction of the amount of refrigerant gas necessary is having a significant impact, and I think we’re going to see this trend toward higher accuracies, more features, and a reduced environmental footprint. We are working on migrating from hydrofluorocarbon gases to natural refrigerants in an effort to mitigate greenhouse effects and also increase equipment performance.”
In addition to refrigerant gases, algaecides and other commonly used chemicals associated with chillers have environmental implications. To prevent biological contaminants like algae from insulating heat transfer surfaces, users had to maneuver float valves and add various chemicals, such as copper-containing algaecides. PolyScience engineers developed an ultraviolet (UV) biological growth inhibitor light sterilization system as an environmentally-conscious alternative to harmful chemicals. A high-efficiency light-emitting diode can significantly reduce biological contaminants in the UV- range, ensuring effective heat transfer.
An Improved User Experience, Across All Industries
“Liquid temperature control equipment has been around for quite some time,” notes Preston. “It has continuously evolved to provide a higher degree of precision,” and part of that evolution is the incorporation of “user-centric features, that give you a better result,” he explains.
Previously, when a chiller appeared to be malfunctioning, the operator was often left to navigate an LCD display, locate an error code, and then locate the manual required to interpret it. Often, the interpretation was vague, and a technician was required to inspect the chiller and determine if it could be repaired on the spot or if it had to be returned for service. In the latter circumstance, the process was interrupted for several days while the chiller was shipped out for service.
Integrating a self-diagnostic process and full-color touchscreen display provides users with actionable information pertaining to malfunction. Rather than digging up the manual to interpret a cryptic error code, one can simply glance at the touchscreen for more information. Using a temperature-correction algorithm, the diagnostic system effectively triages problems for service returns, an on-site technician, or the operator.
Embracing the Challenge
Chillers are ubiquitous, often operating “as an essential component and accessory to numerous processes,” explains Preston. Such a vital piece of equipment needs to be reliable, while simultaneously evolving to deliver better performance and functionality. Philip Preston and the PolyScience team understand the importance of temperature control, and turned customer insights into an opportunity to develop innovative solutions.