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A new dimension to design

Leading-edge technologies are transforming the way building services engineers work with the use of 3D printing in manufacturing and the application of Phase Change Materials, writes Sam Whitfield

It began with Monodraught’s R&D team exploring new design techniques that would enable them to speed up the design process – as the company focuses heavily on R&D and is already using 3D modelling, we decided to complement it with the latest 3D printing technology.

3D printing gave us the ability to bypass the traditional ‘prototype’ lead times from suppliers – rather than waiting several weeks for component samples or fabrications, we were able to 3D-print the designs ourselves within hours, either to scale or full size.

This enabled us to use a physical component rather than the usual computer renders to review designs.

Design issues were identified quickly and iterations of designs evolved through the speed of the 3D printing process.

The rotating mechanism within the Monodraught Cool-Phase air handling unit was redesigned and operating in the test centre just days after the drawings left the design office, simply because we didn’t have to fabricate the parts.

Early in the development process, we printed a modular design for a thermal battery component for Cool-Phase system.

The battery component was separated into three modules, each comprised of six components – this was achieved by using just three reversible symmetrical parts. It was only through 3D printing that the design concept was able to be proved.

These experiences with 3D modelling and printing, and the modular approach to component design and production, has helped to reduce Monodraught’s component count by around 70 per cent, which also reduces the assembly time.

The modular design concept has streamlined its installation process, enabling the company to now install a Cool-Phase system in a third of the time.

Monodraught also uses Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for the in-house testing of products, because part of the challenge of working with new technologies is justifying them and ensuring that customers’ questions can be answered.

Inefficiency weakness

One of the weaknesses specifiers have identified in many of today’s air handling units is a general inefficiency in airflow components, which are often fabricated from sheet metal, having 900 angles that are not efficient in terms of air movement and system energy use.

The combination of 3D modelling, CFD and the injection moulding processes Monodraught is using to manufacture Cool-Phase has enabled the company to accurately design the geometry of the airflow components.

The company was therefore able to design complex sweeps that optimise the flow of air, creating a far more capable system that is as effective and efficient as possible.

As a result of the work it has done, the Cool-Phase fan is operating with far less power, which means it is also operating much more quietly and is a more energy-efficient system.

Even more impressive, and something that has surpassed the expectations of everyone involved in the development, is the fan’s power usage during typical daytime operation, which ranges between 7 and 20 Watts – and Monodraught has the data to prove it.

Almost every component in the Monodraught Cool-Phase system has been 3D-modelled at some stage.

At one end of the scale, Monodraught downloaded 3D files from fastener manufacturers to assess how its products would integrate with theirs, and at the other end Monodraught 3D printed the entire Cool-Phase unit as a 20:1 scale model part-way through development, to preview the design.

This now means that Monodraught sales and technical staff want scale models to help them present Cool-Phase to potential customers, architects and consultants.

Initially, components created with 3D print technology were used to speed up development and now it is rewarding to discover that many of those same components have also improved efficiency and reduced energy consumption to a point where the Monodraught Cool-Phase system can maintain temperatures within the comfort zone, while radically reducing energy consumption by up to 90 per cent compared with conventional cooling systems.

Monodraught’s decision to apply 3D modelling and printing in the development of Cool-Phase has put it in the fortunate position where it is ahead of its manufacturers. The firm is now examining ways to maintain acceptable lead times.

Sam Whitfield is commercial product engineer at Monodraught

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