Simulation Nation

Effective Airflow and Energy Management in Buildings

Posted by Martin Cregg on Jan 30, 2018 9:00:00 AM


The Hagerman Simulation team is dedicated to helping our customers save money on their energy usage in different kinds of facilities by performing airflow studies. In this article, I’m going to provide examples of projects we have completed and address a common question we receive from Facility Managers.

The Technology

Before we get into specifics, let’s make sure we all understand the technology that allows us to do air flow studies. The technology is based on CFD or computational fluid dynamics, and in layman’s terms, that is the study of fluid (things like air and water) and temperature and the interaction with surrounding objects.

news-2018-sim-bldg-1.jpgHVAC System Showing Airflow Velocity

I sometimes refer to CFD as Color for Dummies. Most people intuitively recognize that red is bad and blue is good, or red is hot and blue is cold. If we look at this image of the HVAC system we can see that the red areas represent high-velocity airflow regions and the bluer areas are indicative of lower velocity airflow regions. The results help people without a CFD background understand what’s going on and provide powerful visualizations and messaging that relates directly to the way facilities are managed from an airflow distribution, temperature and energy standpoint.

Tangible Benefits

Using CFD we can help in a number of key areas including overall building performance, safety, quality and equipment efficiency - and these are all key drivers for facility managers. HVAC systems are responsible for approximately 40 percent of a total building’s energy use, and so if we make our HVAC systems distribute air in a desirable fashion we can help reduce energy costs significantly. Controlling the flow of air also helps with other important aspects, such as indoor air quality (IAQ), humidity levels, temperature and pressure balancing.

The Process

One question we are commonly asked is: How do you specifically help organizations understand airflow in facilities and what is the process? The answer to this varies depending on the needs of the company we’re working with. However, the deliverable always includes recommendations that will deliver improvements in the critical areas being considered; whether that’s energy reduction costs, pollution control, temperature balancing, pressure equalization, etc. The process we follow is tried and tested:


Facility Assessment Process

Starting with a 3D representation (a CAD model) of your facility we use CFD to virtually simulate airflow and thermal patterns. Once we gain an understanding of what is currently happening, we can modify the 3D facility CAD model and assess different “what-if” scenarios. These what-ifs can involve everything from changing the existing HVAC system to just erecting PVC curtains to help minimize cross-flows. Remember, this is all done virtually prior to any physical installation.


In the image above the lines represent airflow from different ducts throughout the facility.

The specific issues critical to each facility vary widely depending on its function. In discussions with a corrugated paper manufacturer, we heard that employees were quitting because they were too hot. In an automotive plant, machines were overheating and affecting product quality. In a tire manufacturing facility, airborne chemicals were propagating into office areas.

We recently worked with a global tire manufacturer and made change recommendations for one of their manufacturing facilities in Mexico. This involved only slight changes to the existing HVAC system, relocating key machines and the use of localized air and PVC curtains. This resulted in energy savings of around $400K per year!

Next Steps

I hope this snapshot has provided you with some information about our facility airflow consulting capabilities and we look forward to discussing with you more specifics about how we can help optimize airflow and temperature distribution in your facilities - with the result of reducing your energy costs.

Topics: Simulation, AEC

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