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What Is Thermal Engineering?

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  • Written By: E.A. Sanker
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2014
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Thermal engineering is a broad field of engineering that encompasses technologies dealing with heating and cooling systems, transfer of heat, and fluid mechanics. Instruments that control temperature are essential in many areas, including the electric power industry; the automobile industry; and the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) industry. The principles of thermal engineering are also crucial to the operation of vehicles and other machines.

Heat transfer is a major concern within the field of thermal engineering. The transfer of energy, in the form of heat, across different physical regions is heat transger. When an area of high temperature is next to an area of lower temperature, heat naturally flows from the higher-temperature region to the lower-temperature region. This principle, known as conduction, is used in many thermal engineering settings to increase or decrease the temperature of a system. Insulation, for example, minimizes the conduction of heat and keeps temperature regions relatively distinct.

The heating and cooling of liquids is important in many industrial settings, and constitutes another branch of thermal engineering. An engineer in this field must also understand fluid dynamics. Coolant, a cooling substance, is used to reduce the temperature of processes and prevent overheating. Boiling is another method used to create vapor which may be condensed in refining a chemical product. The study of these processes helps thermal engineers determine the optimal regulation of temperature in each case.

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Thermal engineering has applications outside industrial plants as well. An example is the HVAC industry, which deals with refrigeration, ventilation, and temperature regulation within buildings. An office building in a hot, humid climate may need more ventilation and air conditioning to promote cooling than the same building in a cold climate. Commercial establishments such as restaurants may require extensive refrigeration systems for the storage of food. All of these technical considerations would be within the realm of thermal engineering.

On a smaller scale, vehicles such as cars use thermal engineering in their everyday function. The heating and cooling of the car is controlled by thermal management systems integrated into the design. Heat transfer, fluid dynamics, and other principles of thermal engineering are at work in cooling the engine and maintaining oil flow.

Thermal engineering is important to the design of almost any machine. Mechanical elements and electric circuits generate heat during operation, and the buildup of heat can often threaten the device. Cooling mechanisms, usually fans or liquid circulators, are added to compensate and help regulate the machine’s internal temperature. Devices that use this principle include computers and car batteries.

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