Vortex-tube cabinet cooling systems have been solving problems associated with overheated electronic control systems for decades. Cabinet coolers provide advantages for everyone involved in the purchasing cycle — engineers, maintenance and plant personnel and purchasing agents. Paired with a source of clean compressed air and a water/dirt filter separator, vortex-tube coolers provide a long-lasting cooling alternative.

Vortex tubes, which are the foundation of these coolers, use compressed air to provide cold air into an enclosure.

Benefits and Considerations

Engineers benefit from the materials, cooling capacities, installation options and minimal space requirements offered by vortex-tube cabinet cooler systems. Available in materials of construction include aluminum to type 303 and 316 stainless steel. In addition, CE and UL certifications are provided by reputable manufacturers.

These multiple materials present themselves in a number of NEMA integrities.

  • Dust-tight, oil-tight cabinet coolers rated to NEMA 12 (IP54) are suited for general industrial environments where liquids or corrosives are not           present.
  • Dust-tight, oil-tight and splash resistant cabinet coolers rated to  NEMA 4 (IP66) can be used for indoor/outdoor service.
  • NEMA 4X (IP66) rated cabinet coolers offer the same protection as NEMA 4 but are constructed of stainless steel for food service and corrosive environments.

Cooling Capacities

Selecting the right cooling capacity is an important factor in maintaining the efficiency of the plant and the efficient operation of a cabinet cooler system. Vortex-tube cabinet cooler systems come in a range of cooling capacities (275 to 5,600 BTU/hr), which gives an engineer the option to specify the best option for an electronic enclosure’s cooling needs.

Choosing as large a cooler as possible is a common practice, but it is not recommended. This practice could result in the use of more compressed air than is necessary, putting an unnecessary load on a compressor. It also can large and quick temperature swings internally, removing the benefits of stabilizing humidity inside the cabinet. Seek a manufacturer with a large variety of cooling capacities to eliminate inefficiencies and other related problems.

Vortex-tube-based cabinet coolers allow engineers to benefit from installation flexibility in circumstances such as space restraints or enclosure location. Vortex-tube-based cabinet coolers are a suitable choice because they overcome the restraints found in coolant-based air conditioners or heat exchangers. The coolers require a small amount of space upon the enclosure, generally no more than a 2” diameter hole in the cabinet. They can be mounted on the top or side of the cabinet and, in the case of NEMA 12 rated coolers, can be mounted in any orientation (upright, sideways or upside down). When dealing with high temperature, remote or dirty locations, a vortex-tube cooler is a suitable choice. They can handle ambient temperatures up to 200°F (93°C) and require little to no maintenance attention. They are not affected by the surrounding environment because they rely upon a compressed air source to provide cooling.

Installation and Maintenance

Maintenance and plant personnel benefit vortex-tube-based cabinet coolers.

Installing a vortex-tube cabinet cooler is as simple as using an existing electrical knockout in a cabinet or creating a hole in the cabinet. Total installation time is estimated at one hour, but it can be done in less time in most cases. It is not necessary to create a large opening in the side of the enclosure as it can be with coolant-based or heat exchanger products. Coolant-based air conditioners also require a user to sit them upright for several hours after arrival at the facility to allow the internal fluids and oils to settle back in to their reservoirs in order to prevent damage during startup. Vortex-tube coolers can be installed the moment they arrive at the plant.

Another benefit of vortex-tube-based coolers is the low maintenance required for operation. Servicing such as changing air intake filters regularly, maintaining coolant levels or leak checks are not required. Because vortex-tube coolers rely upon the compressed air source to provide cooling, they are not affected by the ambient air conditions like a dirty environment that will clog intake filters. Coolant is not involved, which eliminates the need to keep levels in check or discover coolant leaks. Coolant-based air conditioners have a variety of moving parts which will wear out. Compressed air coolers do not have moving parts and, when a clean source of air is provided, eliminate failure due to wear. The typical recommendation for incoming compressed air filtration is a simple 5 micron water/dirt filter separator.

Vortex-tube cooling systems create a positive purge on the cabinet when they are in the cooling cycle of operation. This keeps out dirt and dust from the surrounding environment. Some manufacturers offer vortex-tube coolers that provide a continuous positive purge, allowing a small amount of air to enter the cabinet even while the cooler is not pushing cold air into the enclosure. See the illustration for an explanation of how a standard compressed air cooler works.

In conclusion, purchasing personnel always like a low-cost alternative to consider as a solution, and compressed-air driven coolers fit that profile. Many of the people within a manufacturing environment will benefit from choosing a quality vortex-tube-based cabinet cooler system. Benefits such as flexibility, durability, low maintenance and low cost make cabinet coolers a viable choice when considering cooling options.