Nanotechnology Is Creating Improved Products
By Judith Koetzsch
“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent van Gogh
By bringing small things together, bigger and better things can be created. That fact is being proven by the implementation of a new technology in the manufacturing environment − nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is an advanced manufacturing technology which offers revolutionary properties and benefits. These include: the ability to repel water, dirt and oil; resistance against many organic solvents and chemicals; and reliability of usage in alternating temperature cycle services.
Nanotechnology and Enclosure Climate Control One field where nanotechnology is being implemented and sparking great enthusiasm is enclosure climate control. The use of this technology has been shown to not only protect equipment, but also to improve the energy efficiency of climate control products.
Rittal, the first enclosure climate control product manufacturer to use nanotechnology, is applying RiNano, a standard coating developed through nanotechnology, to all of the condensers of its TopTherm Plus cooling units. The company is seeing outstanding performance results in its air conditioners both in terms of how long the units run at the highest possible levels and the cooling output generated during that time.
RiNano protects air conditioner coils from harsh environmental conditions such as oil, dirt and dust found in disparate industries like automotive, manufacturing, processing plants, metal-cutting or food and beverage. Because the RiNano coating repels substances that can hamper performance, the air conditioners are free to perform their duties without abatement.
Layers of dust on the outer air circuit surfaces of air conditioners, especially on the condenser, can diminish effectiveness by 30 to 50 percent due to the dust’s insulating effect. RiNano coatings can prevent dust and dirt build-up because of the water, dirt and oil repelling properties created through the nanotechnology process. RiNano is resistant to filiform (underfilm) corrosion, which can develop under some coatings. Air conditioning units with RiNano-coated condenser coils are helping provide long-lasting, consistent-cooling performance as shown by the following examples from the automotive industry.
Audi, maker of automotive brake disks, was looking for a more efficient way of cooling its electrical components in enclosures. Extreme conditions in the plant have consistently included: aluminum cast dust, high ambient temperatures, oil-laden air and resultantly a high power loss in enclosures. At the Audi plant dozens of 5,100 BTU air conditioners are used to cool down a larger number of industrial cabinets containing power supply components and process controls. The use of air conditioners with RiNano-coated condenser coils has helped Audi to improve the efficiency of its air conditioners and has reduced maintenance tremendously. The cooling units operate nonstop, around the clock and never go on standby. Prior to the installation of cooling units with the protective coatings, condensers of air conditioner units were routinely covered with dirt and oily residue after only five days of operation and the use and replacement of filter mats was necessary on a weekly basis.
By utilizing RiNano protective coatings created through the process of nanotechnology, the condensers in the Audi plant are remaining cleaner longer, eliminating the need for weekly replacements of filter mats. As the application in the Audi plant shows, heat exchangers of the coated units displayed no signs of dirt after five months of operation in contrast to a standard unit with a three-day old filter. The cumulative results of using nanotechnology in these climate-control units has been guaranteed operational performance, increased energy efficiency, significantly reduced maintenance costs and increased equipment availability.
“Given the dusty environment here, changing filters used to be a weekly chore for the production workers, while the RiNano units did not require any service during the entire test period,” says Dietmar Vielwerth, maintenance manager at the Audi plant. By virtually eliminating cooler failures due to maintenance issues, Audi also avoided another problem. “Among the most dangerous consequences of cooler failures is the necessity to open up an overheated enclosure and expose the electronics to the ambient air,” states Audi/Ingolstadt process engineer Konrad Mayer. “The subsequent penetration of dust particles can compromise the system’s reliability and create unpredictability and the threat of further failures in the near future.” Another facility that has tested RiNano protective coatings on enclosure climate control units is Volkswagen gear box plant, which operates in harsh environmental conditions, also is showing outstanding success with the use of RiNano-coated condenser coils on the air conditioners that are cooling electrical components in enclosures.
The benefits of utilizing nanotechnology with air conditioners is that the coils exposed to ambient air stay cleaner longer with less maintenance and higher energy efficiency due to clean heat exchangers. While Rittal has already made the nanocoating a standard for their TopTherm air conditioner and chiller line, it is expected that nanotechnology will be used as a standard in this industry in the future because of its numerous benefits. In its ongoing efforts to improve products and better the environment, Rittal is continuing to invest in nanotechnology research and development activities in cooperation with universities and scientific institutes both in the United States and abroad.
Nanotechnology Process Nanotechnology is often perceived as a process primarily concerned with making things smaller. While micro-technologies have been concentrating on making macro-scale devices smaller, nanotechnology is more focused on improving current products of scale or creating new and improved products from the bottom up.
Climate control units in industrial settings are just one example in this evolving technology. To protect air conditioners with a RiNano coating, the condenser coils are first cleaned so they are free from dirt, dust and grease. After they are cleaned, they are dipped into the RiNano coating, which is then burned into the coil. RiNano coatings are designed to reliably adhere to various substrates such as metals, minerals and glass. On the basis of a thin dry film thickness, protection of components such as the air conditioner condenser coils is assured. This process makes the surface plainer and harder with no cracks, thus no underfilm contamination. Dirt cannot stick to it and it is more resistant against condensation.
Nanoparticles arrange themselves intelligently during application. The bonding components gather at the surface to be coated, while the anti-adhesive components migrate to the air. This produces an ultra thin, glass-like layer which bonds homogeneously to the original surface and guarantees extreme durability. The surface formed is a landscape of peaks and valleys of nanoscale dimensions. The properties of this surface are comparable to the surface of a lotus plant, where water simply forms beads and runs off.
Other Applications In addition to the enclosure climate-control industry, nanotechnology is being utilized for other industry applications as well. Companies are working with the knowledge of nanoscale technology to improve existing products and are developing new products and systems, too.
Examples of progress in various industries where nanotechnology has been used include the production of nanoclay particles in the plastics industry, improved delivery mechanisms for pharmaceuticals, nanocarbon particles for improved steels and improved petrochemical industry catalysts.
Additional examples of improved products are anti-fingerprint and anti-microbial finishes for all types of stainless steel enclosures, including wallmount, freestanding and HMI cabinets, and an anti-graffiti finish for outdoor enclosures. The anti-fingerprint coating will make fingerprints less visible and they can easily be wiped off with a dry cloth. The ultra-fine nano composite material that is used will not visibly change the appearance of the surface. The same applies to the anti-graffiti finish, which is ideal for traffic control and telecommunications enclosures.
The anti-microbial finish prevents the development of microbes such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. By using this nanotechnology process, microbes can be removed from a surface with simple cleaning. Such a microbial finish would be ideal for markets such as food and beverage, pharmaceutical and healthcare.
Nanotechnology is proving to be much like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) which was developed by DuPont in the early 1950s under the trade name Teflon®. PTFE is typically thought of as a coating for kitchen skillets in the food industry. Its usage, however, has expanded over the years to include application to various other industries and products, including bearings, bushings and major components of industrial, aeronautical and electronic equipment.
The Future of Nanotechnology Much like nature’s creations, products that are designed and developed through nanotechnology promote high-energy efficiency, high-performance operation without waste and the ability to compensate for most obstacles.
Nanotechnology allows us to produce improved designs of existing products, as well as new and better products. Rittal is continuing to explore new ways to improve existing products for its customers. This technology is being used in a variety of markets, including petrochemical, aerospace, automotive and in industries where high hygienic standards are needed such as food and beverage, healthcare and pharmaceutical. The technology is being driven by government and professional associations such as the IEEE Nanotechnology Council. It will almost certainly be a standard in many industrial fields in the near future.
Judith Koetzsch is Product Manager for Climate Control Products for Rittal Corp., Springfield, Ohio. Koetzsch has been with Rittal for seven years, working in international product management climate control for Rittal GmbH & KG in Germany until her move to the U.S. in September 2006. Her experience includes new product development, product application training, product marketing and project management.