A Century of Chiller Technology

A convergence of technologies had to occur to make the modern, high-efficiency centrifugal chiller a reality. To appreciate the technology fully, we must go back in history and understand the origins of the air conditioning and refrigeration industry. Along the way, we will find an important diversion in aerospace and the critically important centrifugal compressor. Ultimately, we will find that the modern chiller is a testament to advanced technology that was developed in multiple fields.

Some of the first advances in and applications of modern industrial refrigeration were in the United States. In May 1922, Willis Carrier revealed the “Centrifugal Refrigeration Machine” – a very early incarnation of what we now call a chiller [1]. The first installation went to a Philadelphia candy manufacturer; it’s interesting to know that the birth of modern refrigeration and air conditioning started on a large scale. Back in those days, economy of scale enabled the technology to be developed. It was not until a decade later that the core technology began to be adopted into compact units that could be used in smaller businesses such as boutique shops. It took several more decades for smaller residential air conditioners to take off commercially.

Shown in the photograph below is Carrier’s first centrifugal chiller in his New Jersey factory [1].

First Centrifugal Chiller
Photo from [1]
The size of this machine is evident, as is the fact that its design, at the time, necessitated components be spread out in space for assembly and maintenance. By modern standards, the same footprint space could be used to accommodate a modern chiller with over 500 refrigeration tons in capacity. By comparison the original design has less than 100 refrigeration tons of capacity.

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It’s Rocket Science – and it’s Dangerous!

Rockets have always fascinated us and to this day a rocket launch is still a global news event worth watching. The sheer noise, power and sight after you hear that “…3-2-1, Lift off!” leave us in awe. A masterpiece of engineering, the recent historic manned SpaceX Falcon 9 launch was no exception. Or was it?

The beginnings

From the outside, a rocket does not look especially advanced – a mere ‘stick’ with a big flame shooting out at one end. The principal concept is simple, too, but the inner workings of a modern liquid-fuel rocket are highly complex.

The first rockets are believed to have existed in China, around 1200. The invention of gunpowder was crucial to the development of these primitive rockets, which were fireworks initially and then weapons. Multistage so-called ‘fire arrows’ were documented during the early Ming Dynasty (Figure 1). The designs were based on bamboo sticks – still a little way off a Falcon 9.

Figure 1: The oldest known depiction of multistage rocket arrows, from 14th-century China. The top arrow reads ‘fire arrow’, the middle ‘dragon-shaped arrow frame’, and the bottom’complete fire arrow’. Source

With the rise of gunpowder, this crude rocket technology spread throughout the Middle East and Europe.

The next rocketry milestone came in the 1780s, when the Indian military developed Mysorean rockets with iron castings and successfully deployed them against the British East India Company. Read More

Modeling a Ground Source Heat Pump

Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) are one of the fastest growing applications of renewable energy in the world, with annual increase of 10% in about 30 countries over the past 15 years.  Its main advantage is that it uses normal ground or ground water temperatures to provide heating, cooling and domestic hot water for residential and commercial buildings. GSHP’s are proving to be one of the most reliable and cost-effective heating/cooling systems that are currently available on the market and have the potential of becoming the heating system of choice to many future consumers, because of its capacity for providing a variety of services such as heat generation, hot water, humidity control, and air cooling. Additionally,  they have the potential to reduce primary energy consumption, and subsequently provide lower carbon emissions, as well as operate more quietly and have a longer life span than traditional HVAC systems. The costs associated with GSHP systems are gradually decreasing every year due to successive technological improvements, which makes them more appealing to new consumers.

The basic purpose of a GSHP is to transfer heat from the ground (or a body of water) to the inside of a building. The heat pump’s process can be reversed, in which case it will extract heat from the building and release it into the ground. Thus, the ground is the main heat source and sink. During winter, the ground will provide the heat whereas in the summer it will absorb the heat.

A GSHP comes in two basic configurations: ground-coupled (closed-loop) and groundwater (open loop) systems, which are installed horizontally and vertically, or in wells and lakes. The type chosen depends upon various factors such as the soil and rock type at the installation, the heating and cooling load required, the land available as well as the availability of a water well, or the feasibility of creating one. Figure 1 shows the diagrams of these systems.

Two Basic Configurations
Figure 1. Two Basic Configurations of GSHP Systems. SOURCE: [1]
In the ground-coupled system (Figure 1a), a closed loop of pipe, placed either horizontally (1 to 2 m deep) or vertically (50 to 100 m deep), is placed in the ground and a water-antifreeze solution is circulated through the plastic pipes to either collect heat from the ground in the winter or reject heat to the ground in the summer. The open loop system (Figure 1b), runs groundwater or lake water directly in the heat exchanger and then discharges it into another well, stream, lake, or on the ground depending upon local laws. Between the two, ground-coupled (closed loop) GSHP’s are more popular because they are very adaptable.
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Charles Parsons and His Contribution to Engineering

Welcome to this special edition of the SoftInWay blog! While we at SoftInWay are known for helpful articles about designing various machines, retrofitting, and rotordynamics, we believe it is also important to examine the lives of some of the men and women behind these great machines.

The compound steam turbine is one of the greatest inventions, not just in turbomachinery but around the world. Once it was introduced to the marine industry, the steam turbine exploded in popularity as a means of allowing ships to travel faster and farther than ever before. It would go on to become a critical part in the naval arms race that preceded the First World War. The steam turbine not only revolutionized marine and naval propulsion, it became one of the best ways to generate electricity. After its inception, the steam turbine became one of the best ways to reliably generate power on a large scale, and make electricity the regular utility that it is today. But who invented the modern steam turbine?

Sir Charles Parsons
Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Sir Charles Algernon Parsons, (1854 – 1931), is the inventor of the modern steam turbine. The work he undertook in his life had a massive impact on the world, continuing the legacy of James Watt by bringing steam technology into the modern era. Born on June 13th 1854 into an Anglo-Irish family, Sir Charles Parsons was born into a well-respected family with roots in County Offaly, Ireland. In fact the town now known as Birr was then known as Parsonstown, from the early 1600’s through to 1899. Parsons was the sixth son of the 3rd Earl of Rosse, and had a family lineage that had made great strides in the areas of military, political, and physical science. The family’s castle in Birr, which is still owned by the Parsons family and is the permanent residence of the 7th Earl of Rosse, was a rendezvous for men of science during the childhood of Sir Charles. Suffice it to say, there was no better place for a future-engineer to grow up. He alongside his brothers would receive private tutorship from Sir Robert Ball and Dr Johnstone Stoney, famous Irish astronomer and physicist, respectively. Read More

Engineering Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder

Today, landspeeders we look at!


Landspeeders belong to the “repulsorlift” transport class, like the podracers we looked at last year, and travel above a world’s surface (up to 2 meters) without contact (very useful on swampy lands like Dagobah). Landspeeders are the successors to the hanno speeder which was mainly used as a racing vehicle with many Tatooine natives still using them to race in the Boona Eve Classic today.

Luke Skywalkers Soro Suub Corporation X-34 landspeeder
Figure 1:  Luke Skywalker’s Soro Suub Corporation X-34 landspeeder from the 1977 film – Note, the Soro Suub Corporation was your main go-to landspeeder designer and manufacturer before and during the reign of the Galactic Empire even though it specialized mostly in mineral processing. Image source

Landspeeders are found in both civilian and military applications but due to intergalactic ITAR regulations we will only cover the civil aspect here with a focus on the most famous of them all. If you want to know more about our experience working with military, defense and governmental organizations (whether you area part of the Empire, Rebels, Resistance or Separatists) feel free to contact us.

The Famous X-34

Luke Skywalker’s X-34, with its 6 selectable hover heights, features an engine consisting of 3 air-cooled thrust gas turbines able to reach a top speed of about 155 mph. The side engines are also used for steering although it is not obvious whether this steering is achieved by varying their thrust to be asymmetric or through vectoring of their exhaust. With the X-34 total length being 3.4 meters it helps us estimate the overall dimensions of its engines which are, each, roughly 80 cm long by 30 cm wide. Read More

Micro Turbines in Maritime Transportation

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Hello! Or should I say, welcome aboard! In this edition of micro gas turbines in transportation, we’re going to be looking at micro gas turbines in the marine world. Marine transportation presents its own set of unique challenges not seen in other forms of transportation; although some of the common challenges and hurdles will be seen here too. If you haven’t read the other entries, or the introduction, I highly recommend you do so here.

Out of all the different vehicles and forms of transportation that will be covered in this series, the boat as we know it is one of the oldest ways of getting about. From rowing to sailing to paddle wheels and engines, the boat has a long history of carrying every kind of good and being imaginable. Much like the topic of turbines, marine transportation can take up oceans of information; in fact you might say that it’s a whale of a topic.

Whale Whale Whale
Whale, here we are with another pun. I hope it brightens your day at least! Image courtesy of The Georgia Aquarium

This blog will specifically cover a brief history of motorized marine transportation, where/how micro turbines can be used, and the inherent advantages and disadvantages. Let’s get started!

A Brief History of Engines in Marine Transportation

Steamboats became popular in the 19th Century when the Industrial Revolution was in its early stages. Steam engines like the ones designed by James Watt were used to propel everything from small riverboats like the ones that went up and down the Missouri river, to oceangoing steamships. The engines typically drove a propeller or “screw” or a large paddle wheel like what is commonly seen on a watermill. Different steam engines in different configurations dominated marine transportation throughout the 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century, large expansion engines began to be utilized for oceangoing ships like the Olympic-class ocean liners as well as warships. Read More

Turbomachinery System and Component Training: Something for Everyone!

Mechanical engineering is an ever-changing field, and we want to be there to help engineers stay ahead of the curve, even while they are flattening it. In that spirit, we wanted to share with you our different training options that are available now. Whether you are looking to brush up on the fundamentals, or evaluate a software platform, this is a great time to train and explore the latest and greatest in turbomachinery engineering.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Private Corporate Trainings Online

First and foremost, the best most comprehensive training you can get from SoftInWay is a private session with one of SoftInWay’s lead engineers and your team. Why is this the best training option? A couple of reasons:

  • Courses are entirely customizable: The scope of these private training courses is tailored to your specific needs. Are you looking to learn the fundamentals? Or perhaps you want to expand your team’s R&D capabilities when it comes to turbomachinery, rotor dynamics, and 1D thermal systems? Whatever the application, we’ll work with you to develop a course curriculum which brings the most value to you and your team.
  • One-on-one consultation with our expert engineers on individual projects and challenges. Our engineering expertise ranges from flowpath design on a turbomachine, to rotor dynamics, as well as secondary flows/multiphase flows, and other all-encompassing projects such as liquid rocket engine design.
  • ll registrants get a 1-month license of the relevant AxSTREAM modules. During the class, users will be familiarized with the ins and outs of AxSTREAM, and be able to make use of AxSTREAM’s capabilities for 1 month afterwards.

The class can be as long or as short as you need and scheduled around you and your team. Read More

An Introduction to Shock Waves

When you think of shock waves, I would wager that you picture a supersonic jet zooming past overhead. Or maybe you have experienced the famous (or infamous) “sonic boom” that accompanies shock waves attached to airplane engines. The engineering challenges associated with the often-troublesome behavior of shock waves is present in all scales, from carefully designing the bodywork of the aforementioned fighter jets, to the equally intricate details of flow passages and blade design in turbomachinery. The first step in taking into account the effect of shock waves is to understand what they are. In this post we will be reviewing a short introduction into what shock waves are and a few applications where they might be relevant.

Figure 1: Schlieren image showing the shock waves of a supersonic jet
Figure 1: Schlieren image showing the shock waves of a supersonic jet. Source

What are shock waves?

Shockwaves are non-isentropic pressure perturbations of finite amplitude and from the second law of thermodynamics we can say that shockwaves only form when the Mach number of the flow is larger than 1. We can distinguish between normal shocks and oblique shocks. In normal shocks, total temperature is constant across the shock, total pressure decreases and static temperature and pressure both increase. Across oblique shocks, flow direction changes in addition to pressure rise and velocity decrease. Read More

Cooling Methods in Turbine Blades

Turbine components are placed right after the combustor and are therefore, subject to the highest temperatures in an engine. The turbine blades are directly in the line of fire (so to speak) of these incredibly high temperatures. Higher temperatures yield higher cycle efficiencies, meaning that the limit on efficiency for a cycle is determined by turbine materials. The current state of the art materials can only give so much heat resistance capacity, which makes blade cooling essential. In this post we’ll be taking a look at the various cooling methods that exist for turbine blades, and the tools to design them.

Figure 1: High pressure turbine guide vane with cooling holes
Figure 1: High pressure turbine guide vane with cooling holes. Source

How important is cooling to the efficiency of gas turbine engines?

In a word, very.  Let’s look at an example to better explain.  Our fictitious engine without cooling has an overall pressure ratio of 40 where the maximum allowable turbine entry temperature (TET) is at 1498 K, yielding a thermal efficiency of 33%. When compared to a turbine with cooling, TET can be increased to 1850 K, yielding a thermal efficiency of 38%. This is an 8% increase in efficiency via the addition of cooling. In order to achieve good thermal efficiency in our cycles, turbine components must be cooled!

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Basics of Steam Turbine Design

Steam turbines account for more than half of the world’s electricity production in power plants around the world and will continue to be the dominant force in electricity power generation for the foreseeable future. The enhancement of steam turbine efficiency is increasingly important as the urgency to reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere is a problem at the forefront of power production. Increasing efficiency in steam turbines, and other components of power plants, will help meet the growing demands for electricity worldwide while reducing harmful greenhouse emissions.

Figure 1 Steam Turbine with Long Last-Stage Blades
Figure 1. Steam Turbine with Long Last-Stage Blades. Source

Steam turbines are used in coal-fired, nuclear, geothermal, natural gas-fired, and solar thermal power plants. Also steam turbines are increasingly needed to stabilize fluctuating power demands from solar and wind power stations as renewable energy sources grow worldwide. The current emphasis on steam turbine development is for increasing efficiency, mainly by increasing steam turbine capacity, as well as increasing operational availability, which translates to rapid start up and shut down procedures.  Read More