Both industrial refrigeration and air-conditioning are based on the same mechanism: a fluid, generally water or air, is cooled by evaporation of another fluid, called the refrigerant. The refrigerant circuit, comprising the compressor, evaporator, condenser and expansion device, is an integral part of both systems.
Nonetheless, there are substantial differences between refrigeration and air-conditioning systems, for example as regards the components, the design methods, the commercial or industrial structures where they’re installed and their operation, such as to justify the existence of two distinct market sectors.
Air-conditioning is that process used to create and maintain certain temperature, relative humidity and air purity conditions in indoor spaces. This process is typically applied to maintain a level of personal comfort.
It’s also used in industrial applications to ensure correct operation of equipment or machinery that need to operate in specific environmental conditions or alternatively to be able to carry out certain industrial processes, such as welding, which produce considerable amounts of heat that needs to be disposed of in some manner.
An air-conditioning system must be effective regardless of outside climatic conditions and involves control over four fundamental variables: air temperature, humidity, movement and quality.
The distinction between industrial and personal comfort applications is not always clear cut. Industrial air-conditioning usually requires better precision as regards temperature and humidity control. Some application also demand a high degree of filtering and removal of contaminants.
Comfort air-conditioning on the other hand, as well as needing to satisfy personal temperature-humidity requirements, also involves other fields such as architectural design, weather forecasting, energy consumption and sound emissions to recreate the ideal conditions for human psychophysiological well-being.
The main process underlying air-conditioning is the exchange of heat and water vapour between the indoor and outdoor environments and the people inside the air-conditioned space.
These differ significantly in terms of size, complexity and cooling capacity, which may range from several hundred watts into the megawatts, components and in general which of the main air-conditioning functions are implemented, i.e.:
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