WASHINGTON — The University of Maryland, through a partnership with 3D Systems and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Building Technologies Office, has used 3D printing to prototype a new heat exchanger. This next-generation heat exchanger weighs 20 percent less, is 20 percent more efficient, and can be manufactured much quicker, compared to current designs.

There were several advantages 3D printing offered University of Maryland researchers when it came time to time to prototype their innovative designs for a better performing heat exchanger.


For decades, manufacturers have been using a type of heat exchanger known as tube-fin, without any significant changes. While new, high performing designs existed, companies had struggled to commercialize them — they were too complex to be economically manufactured with traditional processes.

But unlike traditional manufacturing, 3D printing a complex design costs no more than 3D printing a simple one. 3D Systems’ direct metal printing process allowed researchers to use non-conventional, variable shapes that increase the heat exchanger’s efficiency.

University of Maryland researchers were also able to speed up their design process thanks to 3D printing. Typically, the manufacturing process for a prototype of a unique and high performing design can take months; by using 3D printing, researchers completed the process in weeks. This efficiency enabled researchers to test their new designs earlier and more frequently during the project.


The University of Maryland team optimized their heat exchanger design so it could be printed in a single, continuous piece. As a result, prototypes are increasingly resistant to pressure or leakage, resulting in improved performance and reliability — and ultimately, a more efficient system for heating and cooling.

Because the heat exchanger is being printed as a single piece with proven materials, this ensures very little waste material is generated — saving money for manufacturers, while reducing their environmental footprint.


The heat exchanger, which acts as both an evaporator and a condenser, can be used in commercial and residential air conditioning or heat pump systems of varying sizes. The University of Maryland’s new 1 kilowatt (kW) miniaturized air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger prototype paves the way for new designs that will help reduce the amount of energy that is used annually for HVAC in the United States.

In addition to the 1 kW model, a 10 kW prototype will also be fabricated as part of the current project. Both prototypes will be tested and demonstrated in a 3-ton heat pump. The University of Maryland research team expects the new heat exchangers will be in commercial production within five years.

More information is available here.

Publication date: 4/18/2016