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Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364

Applied Thermal Engineering

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/apthermeng

Research paper

Numerical study of the air inlet angle inuence on the aireside

performance of plate-n heat exchangers
Zhiying Liu a, Hui Li a, *, Lin Shi a, Yangjun Zhang b
a
Key Laboratory for Thermal Sciences and Power Engineering of the Ministry of Education, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
b
State Key Laboratory of Automotive Safety and Energy, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

h i g h l i g h t s g r a p h i c a l a b s t r a c t

 Heat transfer coefcient and pressure

drop increase as inlet angle
increasing.
 The pressure drop increases much
larger than heat transfer coefcient.
 The effects of inlet angles in hori-
zontal and longitudinal plane are
different.
 Increase ratios are dened to
compare the effects of different n
parameters.
 The prediction model agrees well
with the simulation results.

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Numerical work is performed to study the effect of air inlet angle on heat transfer coefcient and
Received 11 March 2015 pressure drop of the plate-n heat exchangers. Two special air inlet angles which are in the horizontal
Accepted 13 June 2015 plane and in the longitudinal plane are simulated on 7 n channel meshes with different n parameters.
Available online 23 June 2015
The numerical results show that the different ow elds of the two special air inlet angles cause different
effects on heat transfer coefcient and pressure drop. When the air inlet angle is in the horizontal plane,
Keywords:
the air inlet angle effect is strongly related with the entrance region ow ied. When the air inlet angle is
Plate-n heat exchanger
in the longitudinal plane, the air inlet angle effect is related with the whole n channel ow eld because
Air inlet angle
Numerical
the vortex size is much larger and comparable to the n length. The effects of the two angles have
Prediction model different variation laws, which are greatly inuenced by n parameters. Finally, a prediction model is
established to calculate the heat transfer coefcient and pressure drop of an arbitrary inlet angle. The
comparison of prediction results and simulation results for 5 air inlet angles shows good agreement. The
maximum prediction error is within 10%.

1. Introduction automotive radiators, the air inlet direction is very complex due to
the fan rotation and the geometric restrictions . The air-
There is a widespread application that the entrance air ow conditioning evaporators and condensers are usually closed to
direction is non-orthogonal to the heat exchanger surface. In the fan so that the air ow direction is also non-orthogonal.
Furthermore, an air-cooled condenser described by Kroger  is
arranged obliquely to save land area. X.P.DU et al.  have studied
* Corresponding author.
the cross-ow nned oval-tube heat exchangers and shown that
E-mail address: hui-li@mail.tsinghua.edu.cn (H. Li). the entrance air ow direction has an important effect on the heat

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2015.06.032
Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364 357

transfer and pressure drop characteristics. Previous work was made

to experimentally study the effect of air ow direction on straight
and off-set strip ns. However, the pressure drop measurement
may be disturbed by the ow deector which is used to control the
entrance air ow direction and the ow distribution in the n
channel is hard to measure in the experiment.
The CFD has been used for various types of studies on heat ex-
changers  . Beale and Steven  simulated the laminar ow
and the heat transfer in an offset-n heat exchanger surface
assuming the fully developed ow and the constant wall temper-
ature. The numerical friction coefcients agreed well with the
experimental data. Muzychka  analyzed the ow friction and
heat transfer in low Reynolds number ow heat exchangers for
three typical congurations. The predictions for the offset strip n
agreed well with experimental data within 20%. Guo et al. 
studied the inuence of geometrical factors on thermal-hydraulic
characteristics for high-pressure-direction type steel offset strip Fig. 1. A diagram of the entrance air ow non-orthogonal to the heat exchanger
ns using the CFD and Taguchi method. Furthermore, many re- surface.

searches has shown that the three-dimensional simulation had

good agreement with the experimental results [11e17]. The good
minimum free ow area as mentioned previously, the ux is used as
agreement proves that CFD is an effective tool for studying the ow
the air frontal velocity instead of U to retain consistency. The
and heat transfer of heat exchangers.
characteristic velocity is calculated as,
In the current work, the heat transfer and pressure drop char-
acteristics and ow distribution inside the n channel of different um ux =s (7)
air inlet direction are studied with CFD. Based on the numerical
results, a correction model is established to consider the effect of Before studying a general case, two special cases are discussed
the air inlet angle for existing correlations . as follows.

2. Simulation details (1) The air inlet angle is in the horizontal plane, uz 0, namely g
equals to zero. The air inlet angle a is named the horizontal
2.1. Parameter denition angle.

Usually the air entrance ow is orthogonal to the heat exchanger As Fig. 2(a) shown, the air ow direction is changed by the plain
surface when investigating the heat transfer and pressure drop n which causing a windward side and a leeward side at the two
characteristics for the plate n heat exchangers . Supposing the sides of the n. The far upstream u1 can be decomposed into u1x and
air frontal velocity is u0, the Reynolds number is dened as, u1y,

Re um Dh =n (1) u21 u21x u21y (8)

um u0 =s (2) 
tan a u1y u1x (9)
.
s Afree Afrontal (3)

where s is the ratio of the core minimum free-ow area Afree to the
frontal area Afrontal, um is the maximum average velocity in the core,
Dh is the hydraulic diameter.
However, the ow and heat transfer may greatly change when
the air ow is non-orthogonal to the heat exchanger surface. Fig. 1
shows a general situation of the entrance air ow direction non-
orthogonal to the heat exchanger surface. The x axis represents
the n length direction, the y axis represents the n spacing di-
rection, and the z axis represents the n height direction. The air
ow velocity U can be expressed by three perpendicular velocity
components ux, uy, and uz as follows,

uz U sin g (6)

where a is the angle between ux and the projection of U in xy

plane, g is the angle between U and its projection in xy plane.
Since the characteristic velocity is dened by air ow rate and the Fig. 2. Schematic diagrams of the special air inlet angles.
358 Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364

The increase ratios of the heat transfer coefcient and the static
pressure drop are calculated to study the inuence of the horizontal
angle as follows,

ha  h0
Kh;a (10)
h0

DPs a  DPs 0
Kp;a (11)
DPs 0

where (h)0 is the air-side heat transfer coefcient at air inlet angle
of 0 , and (DPs)0 is the static pressure drop at air inlet angle of 0

(2) The air inlet angle is in the longitudinal plane, uy 0, namely

Fig. 3. Mesh and boundary conditions.
a equals to zero. As Fig. 2(a) shown, the air inlet angle b is
named the longitudinal angle.
 
vv vv vv vp vtxy vtyy vtzy
Like case (1), the air inlet angle b is dened as, r u v w  (17)
vx vy vz vy vx vy vz
tan b u1z =u1x (12)  
vw vw vw vp vtxz vtyz vtzz
The heat transfer coefcient and the static pressure drop in- r u v w  (18)
vx vy vz vz vx vy vz
crease ratios are calculated as follows,
Energy equation
hb  h0
Kh;b (13) !
h0 vT vT vT l v2 T v2 T v2 T
u v w (19)
vx vy vz rcp vx2 vy2 vz2
DPs b  DPs 0
Kp;b (14) Heat conduction equation in the solid domain
DPs 0
v2 T v2 T v2 T
0 (20)
vx2 vy2 vz2

2.2. Governing equations

Several approximations are made in the numerical simulations 2.3. Mesh and boundary conditions
as follows.
Three-dimensional numerical work is performed for 7 meshes
(1) Flow is assumed to be incompressible and steady. with different n parameters to study the air inlet angle effect. The
(2) Air property is constant and the tube inner wall temperature detailed information of the cases is listed in Table 1. The air frontal
is xed. velocity is 8e16 m/s and the air inlet angle is 0 e80 . As the ow is
(3) Thermal radiation, nature convection, and gravity force are periodic in the n height and n spacing directions, a 2  2 n
neglected. channel is used as the calculation domain. Hexahedral mesh is used
to ensure the simulation accuracy. Xie et al.  compared ve
The governing equations in the uid domain are expressed as turbulence models with experimental data. These models are the
follows, Continuity equation RNG k  model, the standard k  model, the Reynolds Stress
model, the SST k  u model, and the v2f model. The results show
vu vv vw that all the turbulence models provide similar results except for the
0 (15)
vx vy vz SST k  u model. The two k  turbulence models are in approx-
imate agreement with the experimental data. Thus the standard
Momentum equations
k  turbulence model is used for the simulations. The model
  constants are set to the default values of FLUENT software package.
vu vu vu vp vtxx vtyx vtzx
r u v w  (16) Fig. 3 shows the hexahedral mesh used for the simulation, the
vx vy vz vx vx vy vz
n channel part is between the inlet section and exit section. The
boundary layer mesh is rened to decrease the near-wall

Table 1
Geometry parameters of the n channels.

Mesh No. Fin spacing [mm] Fin thickness [mm] Fin height [mm] Tube height [mm] Fin length [mm]

1# 2.0 0.2 9.5 4.0 60

2# 2.5 0.2 9.5 4.0 60
3# 3.0 0.2 9.5 4.0 60
4# 3.5 0.2 9.5 4.0 60
5# 2.5 0.2 8.0 4.0 60
6# 2.5 0.2 12 4.0 60
7# 2.5 0.2 15 4.0 60
Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364 359

Table 2
Detailed information of each simulation case group.

Group no. Mesh no. ux [m/s] a [ ] b [ ]

1# 2# 6, 8, 12, 16 0, 20, 40, 50, 60, 70, 75, 80 0
2# 1#e4#, 6# 8 0, 20, 40, 50, 60, 70, 75, 80 0
3# 2# 6, 8, 12, 16 0 0, 20, 40, 50, 60, 70
4# 2#, 4#e7# 8 0 0, 20, 40, 50, 60, 70
5# 2# 8 0, 40, 60, 70 0, 40, 50, 60, 70

temperature gradients. The number of grids is two million to four difference at different air velocities. Thus the ow eld, heat
million depending on the channel size, the mesh quality is over 0.8. transfer, and pressure drop of different air inlet angles and n pa-
Mesh independence was studied on the n channel 2# with a rameters are discussed when air frontal velocity is xed at 8 m/s.
coarse mesh with one million grids, a normal mesh with two
million grids, and a ne mesh with four million grids. The differ-
ence between the normal mesh and the ne mesh is within 3% 3.1. Flow eld
while the difference between the coarse mesh and the ne mesh is
more than 10%. Fig. 5 shows the ow elds of the middle horizontal plane at a of
Velocity inlet, pressure outlet, and two pairs of periodic 0 , 40 , 60 , and 70 while the air frontal velocity is 8 m/s and b is
boundaries are used in the simulations. The air inlet temperature is xed at 0 . When a is nonzero, the air ow is askew to the plain n
25  C. The tube inner wall temperature is xed at 80  C. The inlet with a vortex near the leeward side. As the ow is choked by the
settings can be classied into ve groups as shown in Table 2 for vortex, the windward-side air velocity is larger than the average
different purposes. The rst four groups are used to study the in- velocity at the entrance. After owing through the vortex, the
uence of n parameters, air frontal velocity, and air inlet angle on windward side air velocity is still larger than the leeward side. The
Kh and Kp. The last group is for model verication. air velocity nally becomes uniform under the inuence of the n
walls after owing for some distance. As the horizontal angle a
increases, the vortex size and its inuence region become much
3. Results and discussion larger. However, when a further increases, the ow becomes uni-
form faster because the vortex heavily blocks the air ow.
The results of case 1# and 3# show that the ow elds of Fig. 6 shows the ow elds of the middle vertical plane at b of 0 ,
different air frontal velocities are broadly similar. The increase ra- 40 , 60 , and 70 while the air frontal velocity is 8 m/s and a is xed
tios are used to discuss the variation of heat transfer coefcient and at 0 . When the longitudinal angle b is nonzero, the air ow is
pressure drop when air inlet angle is nonzero. Fig. 4 shows that the askew to the tube with a vortex near the leeward side. As the n
heat transfer and pressure drop increase ratios have a little and tube height are much larger than the n spacing and n

Fig. 4. The increase ratios of heat transfer coefcient and pressure drop at different air velocities (fp 2.5 mm, fh 9.5 mm, a 0 ~ 80 , b 0 ~ 70 ).
360 Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364

The n local heat transfer coefcient is compared at different air

inlet angles as the n area is the main contribution to the heat
transfer. Fig. 7 shows the local heat transfer coefcient of the n
windward and leeward sides at a of 0 e70 while the air frontal
velocity is 8 m/s and b is xed at 0 . The air inlet angle effect on heat
transfer is mainly in the entrance region. In the windward side, the
near-wall air velocity increases with air inlet angle increasing, thus
the local heat transfer coefcient increases in the entrance region.
In the leeward side, though the near wall air velocity is much small
due to the vortex, the local heat transfer coefcient is also larger
Fig. 5. Flow eld of the middle horizontal plane at the air frontal velocity of 8 m/s, a of than fully developed region because of the vortex. However, the
0 , 40 , 60 , 70 , and b xed at 0 . near-wall temperature difference is very small, thus the heat
transfer rate of the n leeward side is not enhanced in the vortex
region.
Fig. 8 shows the local heat transfer coefcient of the n at b of
0 e70 while the air frontal velocity is 8 m/s and a is xed at 0 . As
the windward and leeward sides are in the tube, the vortex is
parallel to the n. The local heat transfer coefcient decreases in
the vortex region and increases above the vortex, because the near-
wall air velocity is very small in the vortex region and much larger
above the vortex.
Fig. 9 compares the increase ratio of average heat transfer co-
efcient at different air frontal velocities and n parameters. The
increase ratio Kh,a is larger than Kh,b due to the different local heat
transfer distribution of n and tube walls. When a is variable and b
is xed, the increase ratio Ka increases with n spacing increasing.
The n height has little effect on Ka. When b is variable and a is
Fig. 6. Flow eld of the middle longitudinal plane at the air frontal velocity of 8 m/s, b xed, the increase ratio Kb increases with n spacing increasing and
of 0 , 40 , 60 , 70 , and a xed at 0 . n height decreasing.

3.3. Pressure drop

thickness, the vortex length is comparable to the n length. Thus
the ow may be always non-uniform. The trailing vortex size also
Fig. 10 shows the pressure drop components in one ow passage
increases under the inuence of the non-uniform ow. When b is
of a plate-n heat exchanger . Here the subscripts 1, 2, 3, and 4
more than 70 , the ow becomes unstable and the trailing vortex
represent locations far upstream, passage entrance, passage exit,
starts shedding.
and far downstream, respectively. As the air ow enters the

Fig. 7. Local heat transfer coefcient in the n windward and leeward sides at the air frontal velocity of 8 m/s, a of 0 e70 , and b xed at 0 .
Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364 361

Fig. 8. Local heat transfer coefcient in the n surface at the air frontal velocity of 8 m/s, b of 0 e70 , and a xed at 0 .

passage, it contracts due to the free-ow area decrease. DP12 is the 4L ru2m
pressure drop at the core entrance due to ow separation and the DPcore zf (22)
Dh 2
sudden contraction. DP23 is the pressure drop in the core. DP34 is
the pressure rise at the core exit due to the free-ow area increase. where f is the friction factor, L is the ow length, Dh is the hydraulic
diameter, r is the air density, um is the velocity calculated by the
minimum ow area in the core.
DPcore DP12 DP23  DP34 (21) When air ow direction is non-orthogonal, total pressure drop
increases because the vortex chokes the air ow in the entrance
Usually, the core frictional pressure drop DP23 is a dominating
region and change the velocity distribution in the n channel.
term, the total core pressure drop can be approximated as,
Fig. 11 shows the static and total pressure components along the
ow length in the middle horizontal plane when air inlet angle is in
the horizontal plane. As the n spacing is very small, the vortex size
is much smaller than the n length, the inuence of air inlet angle
can be divided into three regions. In the vortex region, pressure
decreases rapidly and then increases gradually. In a partial region
after the vortex, the total pressure near the windward side is larger
than leeward side due to the air velocity non-uniformity. As the air
ow becomes uniform, the total pressure near the leeward and
windward sides is almost the same.
For the special case (1), the total pressure at the far upstream
and downstream can be expressed as,

1 1  
Pt1 a Ps1 a ru21 Ps1 a r u21x u21y (23)
2 2

1 1  
Pt4 a Ps4 a ru24 Ps4 a r u24x 0 (24)
2 2

Fig. 9. Air-side heat transfer coefcient vs. air inlet angle of different n parameters
(ux 8 m/s). Fig. 10. Pressure drop components in the passages of a plate-n heat exchanger.
362 Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364

where the subscripts t, s, and a represent total pressure, static

pressure, and air inlet angle. When owing through the n channel,
u4x equals to u1x because of mass continuity, while u4y is zero. The
total pressure drop is,

1 2
DPt a Pt4 a  Pt1 a Ps1 a  Ps4 a ru
2 1y
1
DPs a ru1x tan a2 (25)
2
Since the maximum velocity um is usually used as the charac-
teristic velocity in the heat exchanger design, the total pressure
drop can be expressed by a function of um as,

1 2 2
DPt a DPs a rs um tan2 a (26)
Fig. 11. Pressure components of three lines in the middle horizontal plane of the n 2
channel when air ow is non-orthogonal.
Likewise, for the special case (2), the total pressure drop can be
expressed as,

1
DPt b DPs b rs2 u2m tan2 b (27)
2
Thus the total pressure drop is larger than the static pressure
drop when air direction is non-orthogonal to the heat exchanger
surface. Fig. 12 compares the total and static pressure drop increase
ratio varying with a and b at different n parameters. When a is
variable from 0 to 80 and b is xed, the Ksp,a increases rst and
then decreases, and the change is within 20%. The Ksp,a increases
with n spacing increasing. When b is variable from 0 to 70 and a
is xed, the Ksp,b signicantly increase with b and n height
increasing. However, the n spacing has little inuence on Ksp,b. The
total pressure drop increase ratio is much larger because of the
dynamic pressure loss when air ow direction is non-orthogonal.
The Ktp,a increases with n spacing increasing while n height
has little inuence on Ktp,a. The Ktp,b increases with n height
increasing and decreases with n spacing increasing.

Fig. 12. The pressure drop increase ratios vs. air inlet angle of different n parameters. Fig. 13. Flow elds on the cross sections in the n channel (fp 2.5 mm, fh 9.5 mm,
(ux 8 m/s). ux 8 m/s).
Z. Liu et al. / Applied Thermal Engineering 89 (2015) 356e364 363

Table 3
Comparison of prediction and simulation results.

(0,0) 79.80 87.91 87.90 e e e e e e

(40,40) 91.11 104.40 157.80 92.03 105.85 159.02 1.01% 1.39% 0.77%
(40,60) 98.10 130.60 271.10 96.93 136.75 276.62 1.29% 5.89% 3.50%
(60,40) 101.03 113.20 253.60 104.87 111.23 251.10 4.22% 1.88% 1.58%
(70,50) 113.56 129.90 470.00 120.78 121.68 460.35 7.92% 7.87% 6.12%
(70,70) 129.71 170.00 742.50 128.55 175.38 745.45 1.27% 5.15% 1.87%

3.4. Prediction model for general situations air inlet angle increasing, while the static pressure drop increases
rst and then decreases. The increase ratios Kh,a and Ktp,a increase
For a general situation, both a and b are nonzero, the non- with n spacing increasing and are little affected by n height.
orthogonal air velocity U can be decomposed into three perpen- However, the total pressure drop increase is much larger than heat
dicular velocity components ux, uy, and uz in a three-dimensional transfer. The static pressure drop increase ratios Ksp,a is very small
Cartesian coordinate system. The inuence of air inlet angle on and can be neglected compared with the total pressure drop.
heat transfer is related to the near-wall air velocity of the n and When the air inlet angle is in the longitudinal plane, the vortex
tube wall. As show in Fig. 13(a) and (b), the inlet angle a mainly length is much larger because the n height is much larger than n
causes velocity non-uniformity along the y direction in the spacing. The heat transfer coefcient increase ratio Kh,b increases
entrance region, while inlet angle b mainly causes velocity non- with n spacing increasing and n height decreasing. The static
uniformity along the x direction in the whole n channel. The pressure drop increase ratio Kp,b increases with n height
ow eld in Fig. 13(c) can be regarded as a duplicate effect of the increasing and is little affected by n spacing.
ow elds in Fig. 13(a) and (b). The total pressure drop increase is A prediction model is established to predict the heat transfer
mainly due to the dynamic pressure loss of the velocity compo- coefcient and pressure drop when both the horizontal angle a and
nents uy and uz. Thus it is applicable to assume that the effect of the the longitudinal angle b are nonzero. The comparison of prediction
air inlet angle (both a and b are nonzero) can be regarded as a results and simulation results for 7 pairs of a and b shows good
combination of the effects in the two special cases (a s 0, b 0, and agreement. The maximum error is less than 10%.
a 0, b s 0). Thus the heat transfer coefcient and pressure drop
can be calculated as follows, Acknowledgements
 
hab 1 Kh;a Kh;b \$h0 (28)
This work was supported by the State Key Program of the Na-
  tional Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 51236004)
DPs ab 1 Ksp;a Ksp;b \$DPs 0 (29) and Science Fund for Creative Research Groups (No. 51321002).

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a: horizontal angle ( )
Nomenclature b: longitudinal angle ( )
l: thermal conductivity (W/mK)
cp: thermal capacity (J/kgK) n: kinematic viscosity (m2/s)
Dh: hydraulic diameter (m) r: air density (kg/m3)