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Air conditioning is an essential part of the 21st century. We could hardly live without the device for changing the thermal space. However, for most of human history, humans have lived without air conditioning.
In the past, houses were built with thicker walls that were much more resistant to external thermal changes. The invention of air conditioning changed the design of homes and infrastructures to a large extent.
However, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, after the American Industrial Revolution had developed strongly, mills began to experience temperature-related problems, particularly paper mills.
The lithography and printing company Sackett & Wilhelms had problems with their multi-color printing process. Differences in humidity caused the paper to expand and contract slightly, resulting in variances in the layers of the ink, resulting in excess waste and scrap. Moisture was the problem in their facility and they needed help solving it.
Sackett & Wilhelms reached out to consulting engineer Walter Timmis, who then enlisted the services of J. Irvine Lyle, who runs a company called Buffalo Forge’s New York Office. Buffalo Forge was a supplier of forges, fans, and hot air heaters – and they also employed brilliant engineers who developed custom solutions for customers.
One of these engineers was Willis Carrier.
Lyle hired Carrier to develop a system for Sackett & Wilhelms to control the humidity in their Brooklyn manufacturing facility in 1902.
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Carrier got to work and finally came up with a solution that laid the foundation for a modern air conditioning system. He developed a system that replaced steam with cold water flowing through heating coils. This would ultimately equalize the temperature on the surface of the coils and in turn lower a given air temperature to the desired dew point. By controlling this temperature and thereby reaching the desired dew point, Carrier was literally able to remove moisture from the air.
His design was first installed in the facility this summer along with a system of fans, heaters, ducts and pipes to move air and control temperature. Water was sucked in for the cooling system, which is supposed to maintain the humidity in the system 55% all the year long. In summer, the system had the same cooling effect as with overmelting 100,000 pounds ice cream every day. Carrier’s invention had worked.
Realizing the potential of this first machine and invention, Carrier continued to develop tools around the concept of controlling humidity and temperatures in factories and buildings for the next five years.
To complement Carrier’s initial coil designs, he also devised a counterintuitive method of drying air by passing it through a jet of water and using that spray to condense more water in the air. Soon after this idea, Carrier also realized that by heating this water spray he could control the dew point of the air and thus guarantee a certain level of humidity in a building.
By 1907, Carrier had reached the top management level at Buffalo Forge. At that point, the company had successfully implemented its air conditioning systems in factories around the world. So they started an air conditioning company: The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America. The company was officially founded in 1909 and continued to grow in the years that followed.
Source: Wikimedia / Carrier
Carrier’s work on air conditioning culminated in one of the most prolific documents ever written on the subject. With the title “Rational Psychrometric Formulas” Carrier presented the document to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in late 1911. His diagrams presented in this document were the first to accurately correlate temperature and humidity in the construction of air conditioning systems.
Years passed and Carrier was still the world leader in air conditioning. They sold machines to malt houses, confectionery factories, breweries, meat packing plants, shipbuilders, and food suppliers. The list went on forever. Carrier Air Conditioning had become the leader in this new air conditioning industry and the world was forever changed.
However, it was 1914 and the First World War had only just begun. The economies were on the up and Buffalo Forge called for the discontinuation of Carrier Air Conditioning. Determined to move forward, Lyle and Carrier formed a new company in 1915, Carrier Engineering Corporation.
The new company has started signing contracts for the cooling of buildings on the left and right. In 1918 they brought air conditioning to the Atlas utility substations, which resulted in a more stable power grid and a safer work environment. They helped cool ammunition factories that were vital to the war effort. Air conditioning changed the way modern manufacturing took place.
In May 1922, Carrier reinvented air conditioning with the centrifugal refrigerator or cooler.
Chillers work to extract heat from the liquid through a vapor compression cycle. This liquid, which contains the absorbed heat, is then pumped through a heat exchanger to cool equipment or air. It is this system of using a refrigerant liquid such as water that is still present in modern air conditioning systems. This system also made A / C systems more secure, and meant that they would eventually be scaled down to sizes that were suitable for household purposes and smaller uses such as households and cars.
In 1924 this centrifugal system was introduced en masse in cinemas in the USA. For many at the time, these theaters became places where people could relax and cool off from the heat. Cinemas became a place of comfort, a place to meet in large part thanks to Carrier A / C technology.
The growth continued and in 1926 the 21 floors The Milam Building in San Antonio, Texas was the first skyscraper to have basement-to-roof air conditioning during its construction. Air conditioning had spread through American society and spread all over the world.
The rest of the A / C development is history. The technology of the machines changed and more and more buildings around the world were cooled and heated with Carrier machines. You can cool pretty much anything and everything these days using some type of Carrier A / C machine. And that’s the story of how Willis Carrier invented air conditioning, started a company, and changed the way we interact with engineering around the world.