Strictly speaking, the helical baffle is the internal structure of a heat exchanger. The helical baffle can be seen on the most commonly applied heat exchanger: the shell and tube heat exchanger. A heat exchanger that incorporates the helical baffle comes with several benefits such as reduced pressure drop, minimized vibration, higher heat transfer performance and more. The heat exchangers that employ the helical baffle are also known as helical heat exchangers. With the helical baffle within the device, the heat exchanger can be sized down and provide more surface area for effective heat transfer.
Generally speaking, a heat exchanger is a type of machine which transfers heat from one medium to another. The medium that a heat exchanger works with is usually liquid or air. For example, a hydraulic oil cooler is a type of heat exchanger that removes heat from the hot oil inside the system with either cold water or air. The exchange of heat can also go the other way around. A swimming pool heat exchanger uses a boiler or a solar heated water circuit to heat the water in the pool. Based on the end application of a heat exchanger, the internal structure of the device can be rather different from type to type.
Not every type of heat exchanger has the helical baffle as the main approach to conduct the heat. That being said, there is always an exchanger material inside the device to separate the mediums. The hydraulic oil cooler has the cool air or water pass through a core to cool down the oil while a shell and tube heat exchanger has tubes as the exchanger material that separates fluids. These types of heat exchangers have their own way to exchange heat inside the device and they are classified accordingly.
Helical heat exchangers have the helical baffle inside the machine that exchanges the heat. This type of heat exchanger is a cylindrical device with hollow lumen within. The cylinder contains two pathways for two mediums to pass through. Each of the paths has its own inlet and outlet on two ends of the heat exchanger. The helical baffle separates the paths into two helical coils where the cool fluid and hot fluid pass respectively. The hot fluid flows through a tube which coils inside the cylinder to which another cool fluid runs in the opposite direction through the other coiled tube.
The helical heat exchanger is called shell and tube heat exchanger because the shell refers to the cylindrical device and the tube refers to the tubes that the fluids pass through. As the two fluids pass through their pathway which is divided by the helical baffle, the hot fluid cools down and the cool fluid heats up. During the exchanging process, these two fluids do not come into actual contact, nor do they mix with each other. Rather, it is the helical baffle that does the heat exchange in between the two fluids.
The plate type heat exchanger is a heat exchanger that has a similar working principle to the shell and tube heat exchanger. The only difference between the plate heat exchanger and the shell and tube heat exchanger is that the former one uses a series of stacked plates instead of coiled tubes. The plates are stacked in a parallel fashion inside the device so that the fluids can flow between the channels formed by the plates. The inlets and outlets are often opened at the corners of the plates. The hot fluid and cool fluid are divided on the two sides of a plate. This way, the heat exchange areas are larger. The plate heat exchangers usually have a compact size which makes them applicable for use with refrigerants in a fridge or a freezer.
In the chemical industry, the helical heat exchanger is used to boost the mixing rate and speed up the chemical reaction between substances. They can also be used in the general food industry to heat up and cool down large batches of food products. Helical heat exchangers in our daily life serve as the cooling and heating elements in air conditioners and heaters.
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