The first internal combustion engines could only achieve single-digit thermal efficiencies. Nearly 150 years later, the most extreme technologies are pushing the limits of what was previously thought possible. Today, these engines are achieving over 50% thermal efficiency.
Despite these breakthroughs, there are still frequent small incremental improvements; specifically with the increased processing power around the digitization of the internal combustion engine and design.
Efficiency is increasingly on the minds of engineers, manufacturers, and end-users. This is a universal truth regardless of industry and product. As efficiency continues to be prioritized, new approaches to achieving goals will be utilized.
One area of AHU (air handling unit) design that has not yet been completely optimized is impeller design. Impellers have to be strong and light, but they also have to be capable of being manufactured efficiently.
There is a trade-off between operational efficiency and manufacturing efficiency.
Impellers are commonly made of either welded steel, aluminum, or of composite materials. Traditional metal manufacturing and forming techniques have limited the geometries and in turn, possible efficiencies of metal impellers.
What could increase the efficiency of metal impellers in the future?
1. Lighter, stronger, more workable alloys
2. Manufacturing equipment that allows for the automated manufacturing of metal impellers with more complex geometries
With the advent of new 3D printing and other plastic part manufacturing technologies, new things that were only once dreamed of will be possible. Materials can be impregnated with carbon fiber or other materials for increased strength, the size of parts is very big, not small like it used to be, and the balancing of design complexity with manufacturing cost goes out the window.
There is also the elimination of needing to make a large batch of parts, which means the impellers of the future can be designed and manufactured for one-off applications.
Looking to the Future of Operational Energy
What does the future hold? Maybe AI-based generative design as seen in some concept car designs? New shapes that don’t make sense to the human eye but are stronger, lighter, and more efficient than human-designed impellers. Generative design software can take into account not only efficiency but also factors including noise, pressure fluctuations, and structural integrity to come up with optimal designs.
The next 10-20 years will bring a wide array of innovations in the field of AHU and increasing efficiency. Mainstream is doing its part to lead the way. Contact us to learn more.