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What Does a Thermal Engineer Do?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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A thermal engineer is a specialist who uses knowledge of thermodynamics to design and build systems that transfer heat or energy. A strong knowledge of fluid dynamics is often needed by these engineers because liquids and gases are commonly the media through which heat is transferred. Within the field of thermal engineering, there are a number of other specialized fields. Thermal engineers may work with very small systems, such as those within electronics or very large systems, such as those in buildings or vehicles. Additionally, this engineer may be expected to design or build systems that transfer heat into or out of other forms of energy.

One common responsibility of a thermal engineer is designing systems for heating and cooling. These systems can be small, such as those found in computers or electronics, or large, such as those found in buildings or aircraft. Fluids or gases are often used to move heat around the system so that it remains at optimal temperature.

A good understanding of thermodynamics, the study of how heat moves through a system, is essential to a thermal engineer. Different fluids, liquids, and solid materials transfer heat in different ways. When designing or building heat transfer systems, engineers take into account the various materials used. Experiments and simulations often give these engineers a great deal of information about the way heat will move through the finished system.

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The duties of a thermal engineer can involve the actual design and construction of these systems, or they can be more theoretical in nature. Computer models and simulations are often used in thermodynamics to predict how a system will respond to changes in temperature, whether the changes are created by external sources or by internal processes. An engineer may be employed in order to provide analysis and advice in the development of complex systems.

It is also possible for a thermal engineer to work with the transference of heat to or from other types of energy. Heat, motion, electrical activity and chemical change can be transformed into one another which may be desirable or an effect that needs to be counteracted by an engineer. An engineer may design ways to move the heat away from the mechanical parts of a machine so that the heat generated from the motion of the machine does not damage it. Electrical energy can also be generated from an increase in a system’s temperature, which, depending on the nature of the system, may need to be harnessed or countered.

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