Summary

The article was written on the basis of frequently asked questions from companies which either wanted to start a new all-aluminium brazing production of heat exchangers or wanted to convert from copper and aluminium mechanical assembly design to all-aluminium brazed parts. The questions were grouped into three main categories: Equipment (emphasis on assembling process), Process (emphasis on different fluxes and fluxing methods) and Corrosion.

Specific production challenges are also presented, which are important not only to newcomers of all-aluminium brazed heat exchangers, but to established companies as well. These include typical brazing problems such as managing leaks and the basics of brazing copper to aluminium. These topics are discussed by their relevance to the brazing parameters and their role in successful brazing.

Content:

  1. Introduction (Part 1, issue July 2013)
  2. Equipment (Part 1, issue July 2013)
  3. Brazing process (in this issue)
  4. Brazing copper to aluminium (in September issue)
  5. Corrosion resistance (in September issue)
  6. Summary (in September issue)

3. Brazing Process

Brazing parameters

Success or failure of any controlled atmosphere brazing process is always connected with brazing parameters. These are:

Temperature: The brazed part should achieve a surface temperature between 590°C and 605°C and remain at that temperature range between 2 to 3.5 minutes. The temperature must be measured by thermocouples placed directly on the brazed parts. To obtain the above condition the furnace temperature controls must be set according to the size of the part. The usual maximum set value is in the range of 620°C. Note that the furnace set temperature will always be higher than the maximum temperature reached on the component.

Flux load and uniformity: The goal of fluxing is to achieve uniform flux coating with a load between 3 and 5 g/m2. For more difficult joints, for example tube to header joints, slightly higher flux loads are often used.

There are two major methods for fluxing: by spraying flux water suspension all over the assembled part and electrostatic fluxing where the dry powder is sprayed over the part in a process similar to powder painting. These methods are described in detail in [4]. Recently precoating with pure flux or mixtures which produce filler alloy as well, has become increasingly popular. Precoating with NOCOLOK® Sil Flux in particular is often used for air conditioning condensers and evaporators (MPE designs). Properties and challenges connected with this technology are described in [5]. The choice of fluxing method has big impact on the process machinery. The fact is that any of the above methods when properly conducted secure the required flux load and its uniformity. Therefore the decision about the fluxing choice should be based on a cost calculation. The calculation needs to take into account the following categories: media, maintenance, environment (cost of waste utilization), raw materials and consumables, labour and investment costs (depreciation). The result is always a function of local factors and conditions.

Fig. 3: Production steps for brazing line with standard wet fluxing and for NOCOLOK® Sil Flux

Fig. 3: Production steps for brazing line with standard wet fluxing and for NOCOLOK® Sil Flux

Furnace atmosphere: The brazing furnaces are delivered with various systems on nitrogen feeding nozzles. Therefore one of the most important questions is: ”What is the principle for setting the nitrogen flow through the brazing furnace?” This is shown in fig. 4.

Fig. 4: Schematic of continues brazing furnace with recommended nitrogen flow balance

Fig. 4: Schematic of continues brazing furnace with recommended nitrogen flow balance

Joint geometry: By joint geometry one should understand the gap size between the elements to be joined and also the shape of the joint. The gap size for at least one component clad with filler alloy should be no larger than 0.15 mm and it should be remembered that along the joint there must be at least one point of intimate contact between the joint elements. The shape of the joints should be designed in such a way that there are no preferential paths for the filler alloy to flow. This concept called “competing joints” is explained in details in [6].

Filler alloy availability: This parameter is best expressed by the question: ”How much of the clad alloy actually forms the joint?” It is a common belief that there is as much filler metal available as clad material is rolled on the base metal. This, however, is never the case! During the heating cycle there is always some diffusion of silicon from the filler alloy into the matrix which diminishes the overall volume of liquid formed at brazing temperature. Sometimes even with a thick clad layer, only a fraction of the filler volume flows to form joints. Such an extreme limitation of the available liquid filler metal is connected with a phenomenon called “Liquid Film Migration [LFM]”. It is a phenomenon of very rapid diffusion of silicon into the matrix alloy. It starts at temperatures below the brazing window. This creates a moving liquid interface, which sweeps from the clad/ core interface into the core of the material. In this way the volume of available clad is diminished – thus making filling the larger gaps much more difficult. The degree of LFM correlates with cold work induced to the base metal before brazing through forming, bending and stamping and also strongly depends on the alloy type of the part [7].

Fig. 5: Localized LFM on a manifold clad surface

Fig. 5: Localized LFM on a manifold clad surface

Cleanliness: A question often raised about cleanliness is: ”How do we determine if a part is clean enough for successful brazing?” The fact is that cleanliness is a parameter for which there is no practical quantitative measure. Therefore, it is rather controlled by experience and the so called “good industrial practice”. Quite often an examination of the parts either before or after brazing is not sufficient to determine that the parts were not clean enough. Optical microscopy of the brazed joint or an investigation by Scanning Electron Microscope, in most cases determines if the root cause of the failure was connected with cleanliness. Sometimes insufficient degreasing or binder removal can be the reason for lack of braze (see fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Lack of braze due to insufficient cleanliness of one of the joint surfaces

Fig. 6: Lack of braze due to insufficient cleanliness of one of the joint surfaces


References:

4. Hans W. Swidersky, “Aluminium Brazing with Non-Corrosive Fluxes – State of the Art and Trends in NO-COLOK® Flux Technology”, 6th International Confer-ence on Brazing, High Temperature Brazing and Dif-fusion Bonding (LÖT 2001), Aachen, Germany (May 2001)

5. Leszek Orman, Hans W. Swidersky, ”Interaction of NOCOLOK® Sil Flux with Aluminum Base Alloy at Various Conditions”, AFC- Holcroft 12th International Invitational Aluminum Brazing Seminar 2007

6. Ralph Woods “CAB Brazing Metallurgy”, AFC- Holcroft 12th International Invitational Aluminum Brazing Seminar 2007

7. Aad Wittebrood, “Microstructural Changes in Brazing Sheet due to Solid-Liquid Interaction” Corus Technology B. V., ISBN: 978-90-805661-6-3

Will be continued…

Summary

The article was written on the basis of frequently asked questions from companies which either wanted to start a new all-aluminium brazing production of heat exchangers or wanted to convert from copper and aluminium mechanical assembly design to all-aluminium brazed parts. The questions were grouped into three main categories: Equipment (emphasis on assembling process), Process (emphasis on different fluxes and fluxing methods) and Corrosion.

Specific production challenges are also presented, which are important not only to newcomers of all-aluminium brazed heat exchangers, but to established companies as well. These include typical brazing problems such as managing leaks and the basics of brazing copper to aluminium. These topics are discussed by their relevance to the brazing parameters and their role in successful brazing.

Content:

  1. Introduction (in this issue)
  2. Equipment (in this issue)
  3. Brazing process (in August issue)
  4. Brazing copper to aluminium (in September issue)
  5. Corrosion resistance (in September issue)
  6. Summary (in September issue)

1. Introduction

Brazing Furnace

Increasing environmental concern has identified the air conditioning and refrigeration industry as one of the contributors to the greenhouse effect and ozone depletion.

Accordingly to [1] 15% of all electricity consumption in the developed world is used by the air conditioning and refrigerator industry. Increasing the efficiency of these heat transfer systems has the positive impact of decreasing electricity consumption and therefore the overall emission of CO2. The advantages of all aluminium brazed condensers in an air conditioning system are well described in [2]. For example one such case study [3] allowed for saving about 2700 USD during 6 months. The above advantages are currently well recognized by both the air conditioning manufacturers and their end users. It is our observation that the majority of the companies in the HVAC industry which have started or are about to start production of aluminium brazed heat exchangers have only limited experience with aluminium brazing; therefore providing them with maximum possible technical assistance from the supplier side is of high importance.

This article was written on the basis of our contacts with such companies having an aim to offer some assistance to all newcomers and companies facing some troubles with their new type of production.

2. Equipment

In most cases, the first question from a company that wants to start a new aluminium brazing activity is: “What kind of furnace should I buy?”

It is a complex issue which mainly depends on size of the products, its diversity and overall planned production volume. The general principles for the choice of the brazing furnace are shown in Fig. 1. It should be pointed out that the furnace manufacturers will make a brazing furnace customized to particular requirements of a given client.

Fig. 1: Basic principles for brazing furnace choice

Fig. 1: Basic principles for brazing furnace choice

Assembling units

In many cases the companies which are starting production of all aluminium brazed heat exchangers have been producing copper brazed heat exchangers. Therefore the natural question is: ”Can I use the same equipment which is used for copper units?”

The straight forward answer is: No! Aluminium requires high precision for assembling (recommended gap size is 0.1 to 0.15mm), which is hardly ever achieved for brazing copper parts. Also one should remember that any copper contamination on aluminium can cause catastrophic brazing failures (holes).

The process of component assembly can be done on a simple manual stacker or on machines with varying degrees of automation through to fully automated units. The level of automation should be mainly determined by the planned production volume, but also other factors such as local labour costs should also be considered.

Basic requirements for a manual assembling unit:

  1. Cores must be assembled on a perfectly flat heavy steel plate
  2. After laying out the tubes and fins, the tubes must be pushed precisely into position determined by the slots in the headers.
  3. To secure the above requirement:
    1. movement of the pusher must be allowed only in one direction (no side or up movement),
    2. travel distance must be accurately controlled – e.g. by mechanical block on the pusher,
    3. it is useful to have a special distances between tubes to secure the right spacing for each header slot,
    4. the vertical alignment of the tubes must be secured either by steel plate or by hammering the tubes with a special pad.
  4. Threading the headers on the tubes should be done in one single action which does not allow for any side or vertical deflection of the headers.
  5. After threading the headers the fixtures should be assembled and the tube pusher released.

The process of the part assembly is invariably connected with fixtures; these are the steel elements which hold the parts together during brazing and then removed after brazing. The most frequently asked question is: ”What should be the design of the brazing frames/fixtures?”

Basically there are rigid and elastic designs which allow for some expansion when the core is heated. For larger cores elastic design is preferred. This type of fixture is reusable, also known as a permanent fixture and can go through the brazing cycle several hundred times. Apart from that we could use single usage fixtures, known as disposable fixtures and these include steel wire and steel bands. The multi-use fixtures must be made of stainless steel and in most cases the single use fixtures are usually made of ordinary low carbon steel.

Fig. 2: Example of rigid and elastic fixtures

Fig. 2: Example of rigid and elastic fixtures

When designing the length of the fixture (distance marked in red as Ls in fig. 2, one must remember thatthere is a difference in thermal expansion coefficient between aluminium and steel. To compensate for this, the following assumption is made: The length of the steel fixture at brazing temperature must be equal to the nominal width of the aluminium exchanger at brazing temperature. On this basis, an equation can be used describing the linear change of dimensions with temperature.

Ls(1 + αstΔt) = Lo(1 + αalΔt)

Where:
Ls – length of steel fixture,
αst – thermal expansion coefficient for the fixture material,
αal – thermal expansion coefficient for aluminium,
Δt – Increase of the part temperature during brazing,
Lo – Nominal width of the part.

As an example, for a part having width of 900 mm and nominal tube spacing of 8 mm, solving this equation and taking into account the fact that after assembly there must be some pressure exerted by the fixture on the part, the length of the fixture should be 907.5 mm and the fin height 8.08 mm. The longer steel fixture is compensated by the increased fin height. It also means that after assembly the part will have a slightly barrel-like shape (bowed out at the sides).

The question: ”What final checks are required for brazed parts?”is also connected to equipment purchases. All brazed parts must be checked for leak tightness. The most simple method is the so called “under water test”. In this case the part is pressurized with air and lowered into a water bath to look for bubbles. However some end users require more accurate and reliable methods. In the automotive industry it is common to check condensers for leaks with high pressure and extremely sensitive helium leak detection devices.

Each product should be accepted by the end user. In every case the scope of acceptance tests should be agreed to between the manufacturer and the end users. Typical tests include burst pressure, thermal cycling and of course standard ones for heat transfer efficiency and pressure drop. As a general rule it can be said that all aluminium parts should meet all the requirements applied to copper/brass parts.


References:

1. Hans W. Swidersky, “Brazed Aluminium Heat Ex-changers for the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industry”, APT Aluminium News, 1-2009

2. Bjørn Vestergaard, “Brazed Aluminium Heat Ex-changers – Ask for the inexpensive features”, Seminar “Aluminium Process-Technology for HVACR Industry” Vienna, March 21st-23rd, 2007

3. Case Study – Harris County Sheriff’s Building, “Carrier Turn to the Experts” 2006 Carrier Corporation 05/06 04-811-10206

Will be continued…

Case Study

A radiator core retrieved from service was examined for a suspected premature corrosion related failure.
Upon closer metallographic examination, no evidence of corrosion was found at the failed area.

33% tube core erosion in the failure area


Header: AA4343/ AA3005

Tube: AA4343/ AA3003
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It was concluded that the cause of the failure was in fact a mechanical failure occuring in the thinned wall area.

The following sequence of events proposes a rational explanation for the eroded tube area:

In service radiators are subject to internal pressure fluctuations and expansion and contraction due to heating and cooling. Mechanical failure was imminent and occured in the weakest part of the tube, the thinned down tube wall area adjacent to the tube to header joint.

Conclusions

Erosion of the base metal is undesirable since it reduces the wall thickness of the brazed component.
In addition Si penetration in the grain boundaries is known to increase the susceptibility to intergranular corrosion. Therefore proper filler metal management practices should be observed to prevent undesirable effects. One such factor easily controlled by the brazer is maximum peak brazing temperature.

Experimental

The effect of temperature on filler metal erosion was studied using an automotive radiator core.

610 ° for 2 minutes

610 °C for 2 minutes - no thinning of the tube core

625 °C for 2 minutes

625 °C for 2 minutes - significant erosion of the tube core

In this case, joining progresses initially as expected. The cladding layer on the tube melts and flows by capillary action to the fin to tube joint and a normal fillet forms. However, as the peak brazing temperature is allowed to rise beyond the recommended maximum (605 °C) the following occurs:

  • The fluidity of the filler metal at the tube to header joint is increased and some of the liquid filler metal is released and flows to the nearest tube to fin joints.
  • Excess filler metal at the tube to fin joints accelerates dissolution of the tube core adjacent to the fin, eroding the tubewall thickness.
  • The excess filler metal pool is then drawn by capillary action in between the fins, particularly where the finspacing is narrow. The fins are drawn together by the strong capillary forces, displacing the fin from its original fin to tube position.
  • As the fins move together, drawing the filler metal pool from its original position, the denuded area is significantly reduced in cross sectional thickness.
Catastrophic Failures

In some instances the extent of filler metal erosion is so severe that the entire thickness of the tube is consumed resulting in catastrophic failures.

More about this topic in our next issue.

NOCOLOK is a name synonymous with innovative aluminium brazing flux products and solutions. So it’s no surprise that Solvay Fluor is the first to provide a smart phone App for aluminium brazing. Comprehensive knowledge in pocketsize format for all users in the aluminium industry is now available free of charge in the App Store and the Android Market under the name NOCOLOK. A new video shows the advantages of the NOCOLOK App.

The new version 1.1 is now compatible with the iPad and uses the full resolution.

Get the NOCOLOK App for the iPhone and the iPad:
http://itunes.apple.com/de/app/nocolok/id474723690?mt=8&ls=1

Get the NOCOLOK App for Android Smartphones:
https://market.android.com/details?id=de.ahlersheinel.nocolok

First App of its kind worldwide:
NOCOLOK Flux brings aluminium brazing know-how to your mobile phone

The innovative producer of NOCOLOK Flux brazing flux, and world market leader Solvay Fluor, now bundles all the information on aluminium brazing in a smartphone App. The new NOCOLOK Flux-App puts all the information you need for your day-to-day business right where you need it – at your fingertips. This is another logical move in Solvay Fluor’s strategy of providing a full service on all aspects of aluminium brazing.

The App boasts a detailed product overview of all NOCOLOK fluxes and ancillary products, as well as their physical properties and GHS classifications. From brazing, soldering, powder and paint flux  coating to perfect corrosion protection: the App lists the packaging units, together with their weights, dimensions and a picture to simplify the selection of the required product.

But the real highlights of the application are the two calculators – which really help your day-to-day routines: the “Flux Slurry Calculator” calculates the amount of NOCOLOK Flux needed dependent on the number of litres required and the concentration of the slurry. The “Flux Load Calculator” calculates the surface of a heat exchanger and the amount of flux required for the brazing process. Additionally detailed answers on fundamental aspects and special features of aluminium brazing with NOCOLOK are provided at a touch by the “NOCOLOK Encyclopaedia”.

The free English-language iPhone-App (from iOS 4.0) is available now at the App Store for download. The Android version is available at Android Market.  The iPad version will be available shortly.

Just scan the QR code with your smartphone to get the NOCOLOK App:

OR Code for NOCOLOK App iOS

OR Code for NOCOLOK App Android

News from our Sponsor Solvay Fluor:

NOCOLOK® goes Smartphone!

NOCOLOK is a name synonymous with innovative products and solutions. No surprise then that Solvay Fluor is the first to provide a smartphone App for aluminium brazing. Comprehensive knowledge in a pocket-size format for all users in the aluminium industry is coming shortly. An absolute must-have for all smartphone users. The NOCOLOK App will be available for iOS and Android, providing a wealth of useful information all about brazing with NOCOLOK.

The App features a full listing of NOCOLOK products sorted according to application, comprehensive key data and the new GHS classifications. All NOCOLOK packaging units are clearly indicated with sizes and weights. The App comes complete with handy items, like a calculator for NOCOLOK quantities in various slurry concentrations and a tool to calculate heat exchanger surface areas with details of the required quantity of NOCOLOK in kg. And for those seeking more specifics, the NOCOLOK Encyclopedia presents information about aluminium brazing technology.

The NOCOLOK App is currently undergoing beta testing and will be presented soon.

We will inform you as soon as the App is available as a free download.

Calculator for Fluxload

A special program can calculate the surface area of aluminium heat exchangers.

This increase in efficiency means the same refrigerant capacity can be produced with smaller exchange surfaces at the condenser and evaporator, with an associated reduction in piping volume, i.e. a higher heat exchange efficiency means smaller systems and lower refrigerant charge. Important given that third generation HFC refrigerant blends such as R 410 A are much more expensive than R 22 which they are now replacing.

Greater reliability, easy recycling and lower weight Aluminum alloys offer high heat conductivity but also high resistance to corrosion. Brazed heat exchangers also boast higher mechanical resistance, especially in the fin connection, so that even incorrect handling or accidental collisions cause less deterioration with time. Moreover, microchannel heat exchangers are single-alloy system components which means easy and efficient recycling. And, although aluminum brazed heat exchangers have a similar performance to all copper units of similar size, they are about three times lighter.

Yorck heat exchanger

Brazing also offers the chance to change the design of heat exchangers by substituting round tubes with flat channels (microchannels) which offer improved heat transfer on both refrigerant and air sides for two reasons: better section/surface ratios, which affect the efficiency of heat exchange on the air and the refrigerant side; smaller surfaces in the air stream shadow where heat transfer is inefficient and lots of noise is generated. Brazed connections between fins and tubes are also rigid structures producing less mechanical noise in the presence of air turbulence.
More efficient heat exchange means lower air flows to exchange the desired heat, and microchannel technology already offers lower resistance to the air flow – flat is therefore better than round: reducing resistance by up to a factor of 3 under typical operating conditions (see figures below)!

Round Tubes – Air-Side Effects

Round Tubes – Air-Side Effects

Flat Tubes – Air-Side Effects

Flat Tubes – Air-Side Effects

One of the largest potentials to increase efficiency of heat exchangers lies within the heat-transfers: reducing condensing temperatures by 3 °K will improve overall system efficiency by approx. 10 % for a standard R 410 A air conditioning cycle. A minimization of the temperature difference between the air flows and the phase change temperatures of the refrigerants can be achieved by improving the heat transfer efficiency of the heat exchangers. Brazed microchannel heat exchangers have already proven that they are a cost effective solution for the utilization of this optimization potential – as well as boasting a number of other benefits (see below). Brazed microchannel heat exchangers have been the technology of choice in the automotive industry for the past 10 to 15 years, and are already making inroads into the stationary HVAC&R industry for the following convincing reasons.

Poor contacts between fins and tubes account for approximately 5 – 10 % of heat transfer resistance in a standard heat exchanger manufactured by mechanical or hydraulic expansion of the round tubes because this always leaves imperfect connections between the parts. The microscopic image shows the small gaps between fins and tubes responsible for contact resistance that reduces heat transfer performance.

Heat transfer

Fig. 1: Small gaps between fins and tubes reduce heat transfer performance in mechanically or hydraulically manufactured heat exchangers.

Brazed connections are much better because they metallurgically bond the fins and tubes in a single conductive material, eliminating all potential sources of contact resistance.

Heat transfer 2

Fig. 2 Excellant heat transfer performance because no gaps in brazed connections.