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What are thermal fluid systems?

Industrial Drying

Thermal fluid heating systems, sometimes referred to as “hot oil” systems, are a type of industrial system where a specialised heat transfer fluid is recirculated via a pump by way of a fired heat exchanger and is used in a diverse range of industrial applications. Thermal fluid systems are designed to provide heat input required for specific production processes.

There are multiple heat transfer fluids used in thermal fluid systems and the type used depends on the requirement of each system and the application it serves. Among the most common thermal fluids in use are water, oil and glycol. While water is the most inexpensive of the available heat transfer fluids, it is limited by its freezing and boiling points. Synthetic oils and glycols are often deployed where a broader temperature range is required by the system. By heating these dedicated fluids and transferring them, energy is indirectly provided to particular steps in a productive process to generate the precise operating temperature that is required.

Leading lubricant manufacturers provide a wide range of heat transfer oils designed for different types of thermal fluid system and their associated equipment to help them function at optimum and remain in peak condition.

What are the advantages of thermal fluid systems?

Perhaps the key benefit offered by a thermal fluid system is that they require exceptionally low pressure to pump the selected liquid throughout the system. Furthermore, if designed properly, the systems can also efficiently and reliably produce heat to the highest temperatures required. They are also exceptionally simple to maintain, as the pump and burner are the only essential components that require routine maintenance to retain maximum performance and prevent system downtime.

Experts in thermal fluid systems understand the importance of system design and component selection, but also that using air-cooled high-temperature centrifugal pumps featuring a mechanical seal as well as bellows-sealed control and isolation valves will ensure minimal maintenance.

There are many other operational benefits of using a thermal fluid system for enterprises. Such systems involve zero corrosion, high efficiency, accurate temperature control, and absolutely no risk of damage caused by freezing when a plant or other facility is shut down.
Applications for thermal fluid heating systems

As a rule, the size of a system will always be shaped by the fuel type being recirculated. Systems may run on natural gas or a liquid fuel, however there are also electric thermal fluid systems and those powered by solid fuels such as coal and wood waste.

The size of a thermal fluid system can differ greatly. For instance, an electric thermal fluid system can start from around 100 kilowatts to over 1 megawatt, while oil or gas-fired thermal fluid systems start from 500,000Btu per hour to over 100 million Btu per hour. Thermal fluid systems running on solid fuel start from ten million to more than 150 million Btu per hour.

Leading thermal fluid systems specialists consult on a wide range of applications including operations in the hydrocarbon, petrochemical, and offshore industries.

There are multiple offshore applications for thermal fluid heating systems. These include tank, fuel and cargo heating, heat tracing, reactors, edible oils, and dedicated heat exchangers.

Thermal fluid systems also serve a wide range of equipment, including heating press platens like plywood and OSB presses, plastic and rubber moulding presses and laminating presses, along with circuit board presses. Additionally, they are also utilised for heating petrochemical, chemical and other types of process equipment; for example, reactors, evaporators, heat exchangers and dryers.

While thermal fluid experts can design and engineer customised solutions to meet an operation’s specific requirements for any indirect heating application, lubricant specialists can be called upon for the ideal heat transfer fluid for all types of system.

What are the common components of thermal fluid systems?

Like all mechanical systems, thermal fluid systems are comprised of a diverse range of parts and components. Systems specialists will typically supply a comprehensive catalogue of components and replacement parts to ensure equipment can be adequately maintained and repaired whenever necessary.

Such components include, but are not limited to, heat recovery systems, electric hot oil heaters, fuel-fired thermal fluid heating equipment, thermal fluid and hot oil filtering systems, valves, pumps, tanks and controls, along with cooling and heating loops. Additionally, replacement parts required for hot oil pumps, burners, valves and controls are also offered.
Many companies delivering support for thermal fluid systems will also provide annual inspections, engineering and start-up consultations and field service. In-house engineers and designers can supply a system to customers that can answer specific process requirements exactly in terms of temperature, thermal fluid flow and capacity.

To sum up, due their outstanding dependability and benefits like low pressure pumpability and precise temperature control, these systems continue to serve an extensive range of operations across multiple industries, helping them achieve exact temperatures required in key processes.

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