3D printing has made its way into almost every sector and now began to do the same with the heating and cooling industry. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems provide us with indoor and vehicle cooling and heating. When an HVAC system stops working in a people centric area, where personal comfort is paramount, there will be a demand to fix it fast. 3D printing can be an ideal solution for static part development and replacement. 3D printed products are usually stronger, more durable, and cost efficient than ordinary parts which can make HVAC systems, as a whole, last longer and require less maintenance. Now, companies engaging in innovative efforts to 3D print HVAC systems are eligible for federal and state R&D tax credits.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Technological in nature
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.

Haier Creates First 3D Printed HVAC System

The Haier Group is a Chinese multinational corporation that sells consumer electronics and home appliances. In 2015, it produced a fully functional air conditioner made from 3D printing technology. Haier’s product comes fully programmed and just needs to be installed, unlike other 3D printed products that usually require some sort of assembly. It even has an LCD display that is 3D printed as well.

Being 3D printed allows the system to be customized by consumers. People can choose the color, style, performance, and structures that come with the model. Words, photos, and logos can be added to its design. This would allow consumers to match an HVAC system to a room’s décor and style.

United Technologies: Carrier

Carrier, owned by parent company United Technologies, is a world leader in HVAC systems. It is constantly innovating new ways to supply air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration solutions. At the same time, United Technologies continues with noteworthy investments into 3D printing technology. The corporation’s research center in Connecticut plans to invest $75 million to create an Addictive Manufacturing Center of Excellence to promote these efforts.

One Brick that can Cool a House without Electricity

Emerging Objects, a California based company, recently developed the Cool Brick, which is a 3D printed porous block. The material soaks up water like a sponge, while it also permits air to pass through freely. In essence, water evaporates from the pores of the block and then cools the surrounding air. Consumers can purchase many blocks and stack them to create a bigger unit. It has the potential to replace electrical AC units and better control temperature in a room or house based on air flow regulation. This is a promising development that can be applicable to many settings.

3D Printed AC Units in Airplanes

Since 2012, Airbus has been investigating ways to build planes from large 3D printers. Unfortunately, the cost of creating complete planes is astronomical, so Airbus is looking to make smaller 3D printed components that can be integrated into current plane designs. In 2013, it released its Airbus A380, which was the first commercial plane to incorporate 3D printed components.

Airbus has also been designing a new model of the Airbus Eurofighter Typhoon, a military jet. This jet will incorporate 3D printed non-structural parts in its air conditioning unit. It is speculated that similar 3D printed parts can be incorporated into developing more efficient and effective AC units in commercial planes.

3D Printed Heat Exchanger Development

3D printing can create products with longer life spans that are a lot stronger and efficient than original models. The University of Maryland, along with 3D Systems and the US Department of Energy, produced a heat exchanger that is 20% lighter and more efficient than heat exchangers currently in the market. The prototype is unique because it includes 200 micrometer thin walls that withstand extensive pressure, allowing air, liquid, or gas at various temperatures to pass through.

The University of Maryland is promoting the development of heat exchangers via 3D printing because the process permits researchers to build non-conventional and varying shapes that will undoubtedly increase heat exchanger efficiency. Efficiency optimization is made possible by 3D printing a single, continuous piece. This means the design is more resistant to pressure and leakage. Another advantage of 3D printing in such a way is that there is less waste material as a byproduct. This has evident benefits in reducing production expenses for manufacturers and diminishing an environmental footprint.

University of Maryland’s heat exchanger prototype has the potential to be an evaporator and condenser. It will be applicable to both commercial and residential AC and heating pump systems, regardless of size and other requirements. Efforts are shared by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, 3D Systems, Luvata, International Copper Association, Wieland, and Heat Transfer Technologies. It is estimated that such prototypes will help reduce the nearly 7 quads of energy annually used for heating, ventilation, AC, and refrigeration in the nation.

Benefits of 3D Printed Heat Exchangers

Due to the research efforts and development led by University of Maryland, various companies are engaging in R&D of 3D printed heat exchangers. The benefits of pursuing this method are in fact plentiful. First, 3D printing increases manufacturing efficiency. This is true for any industry engaging in 3D printing efforts, but more so in HVAC systems development because of the ability to produce a heat exchanger in one continuous piece. This is very important for the industry because heat exchangers are known for experiencing leakages. Building an exchanger with only one piece limits the possibility of leakages from occurring.

Secondly, since the walls are built thinner, according to University of Maryland’s experiments, this thinness makes it more sustainable against higher pressures while being more resistant to leaks. The fact there is a lesser possibility of leakage means that corrosion is also deterred. Corrosion is inherent in traditional models, which require extensive maintenance and sometimes the inability to replace parts. Now, with 3D printing, these worries and expenses may be completely eliminated. A lack of corrosion also ensures the machine will last longer and be more efficient.

Finally, 3D printing heat exchangers allows unlimited possibilities for customization in design, shape, size, geometry, and color. This was evidenced with China’s Haier products, and will only become more prevalent as American companies begin pursuing 3D printing of HVAC systems.

Feasibility of 3D Printed Heat Exchangers

One concern with developing 3D printed heating products is the material that would be used. 3D printing with metal is expensive, and that is the primary material used in traditional HVAC systems. However, employing plastic to produce heat exchangers is risky because of its poor thermal conductivity capabilities. University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Mechanical Engineering is seeking to develop 3D printed heat exchangers from plastic polymers that are blended with filler materials, such as graphene or ceramic. In so doing, they can potentially increase heat exchange capabilities.

The above-mentioned efforts can be beneficial in helping to efficiently cool power plants. Water consumption currently used to cool power plants puts strains on our environment and natural water supply. The other option is to engage in air-cooling of power plants. However, this is an expensive and even less efficient process than a water-based cooling system. 3D printing heat exchangers would eliminate the issues faced with traditional methods in cooling power plants and thus benefit consumers, manufacturers, and the environment.

Conclusion

The use of 3D printing in the HVAC industry is still in the beginning stages. Regardless, 3D printed products are made without seams and with more durable materials. This would be beneficial for the HVAC industry since 3D printed units can potentially prevent leakages and produce higher quality, longer life systems. Companies engaging in research and development of 3D printing HVAC units are now eligible for federal and state R&D tax credits.

 


Madison Khazzam and Chloe Margulis of R&D Tax Savers write about 3D printing applications in the HVAC industry.

 

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