How 3D printing technology can put an end to the office air con wars

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It’s an argument that has played out in almost every workplace: the air conditioning is either too hot or too cold. Thermal discomfort commonly tops the list of complaints by workers. In commercial buildings, air conditioning issues feature in the top three complaints by tenants.

But a new innovation might just put an end to the temperature wars. And because this breakthrough is also eco-friendly, it could just turn the HVAC industry on its head!

From invention to innovation

Traditional ductwork systems have remained largely unchanged for decades. But a group of innovative thinkers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and architecture firm BVN have used their inventiveness to change the status quo.

They created Systems Reef 2 (SR2), a 3D printed air diffusion system that is a unique alternative to conventional ductwork. The buzz it has generated is two-fold.

Firstly, it distributes air more effectively. Or as the project’s chief investigator, Associate Professor Tim Schork from the School of Architecture at UTS put it: “There is a more consistent air temperature and flow and nobody needs to sit under the cold draught of a high-powered vent.”

That consistency is achieved through the duct’s aerodynamic shape – designed with thousands of pores to optimise airflow and boost performance.

Secondly, unlike typical air diffusers which are made predominantly of metal, the SR2 is made from recycled plastic waste, reducing embodied carbon by 90%. In other words, it’s a viable low-carbon alternative to steel. Or as the project team describe it, “building the future with the waste of today”.

Also, the system is light-weight, clicks together with rubber gaskets and reduces onsite labour by more than 50%.

Is it really as good as it sounds?

The proof is in the pudding. The research team replaced the tertiary duct and diffusers with SR2 in a 100sqm zone of BVN’s Sydney studio. Here is what it achieved: 70% overall reduction in cross-section of the duct, and 30% reduction in the length of elements compared to conventional ductwork because of SR2’s shape and efficiencies. Also, operating energy dropped by 10%.

The researchers determined that 75% of the 1km of ductwork in the studio could be replaced by SR2 and save more than 90% in CO2 emissions associated with producing materials.

In essence, a 3D printed air diffusion system made of recycled materials means significant savings in labour and material costs, tighter tolerances and increased performance.

What does this technology mean for the HVAC industry?

The brains behind SR2 say the HVAC air dispersion system would suit any open plan office space. More testing is needed and certification but they’re certain it will redefine the ecology of building services and offices in the future.

Co-chief investigator and BVN Co-CEO, Ninotschka Titchkosky says: “There’s a spotlight on the construction industry and the contribution it makes to climate change.

“We need to start thinking differently, and everyone’s got a role to play in that.”

Until then…

Until SR2 gets off the ground, the best road to improving air flow efficiency is commercial air conditioning maintenance. Professionally cleaned air ducts will boost your HVAC’s efficiency, improve air quality and prolong the life of your system.

Clogged and dirty ducts can force your HVAC to worker harder than it should and you’ll notice the impact in the energy bill.

Ausmech Air specialises in all commercial air conditioning services and maintenance. Ask us  what can be done make your system more energy efficient.

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