The traditional air-conditioning system is, in many ways, a rather unheralded invention. Despite the many intricacies and technological expertise required in their manufacture, air-conditioners are often taken for granted today by consumers. This is somewhat unfair really, as the air-conditioning system is a true marvel of ingenuity and was actually listed amongst the top ten greatest mechanical engineering achievements of the 20th century by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in a survey conducted in the year 2000.
To trace the roots of air-conditioning, it is necessary to travel back to China in the second century AD. It is there that an inventor by the name of Ding Huane created a manually powered rotary fan. Move forward hundreds of years to the 18th century and the concept of air cooling remained a fascination to many scientists and inventors. In 1758, the great Benjamin Franklin conducted experiments involving the evaporation of alcohol to achieve freezing temperatures.
The First Modern System
Despite these early theoretical advances, it was not until 1902 that the very first modern air-conditioner was produced. An engineer, Willis Haviland Carrier, borrowing from the concepts of mechanical refrigeration of years past, created a system which sent air through coils which were filled with cold water. This not only cooled the ambient temperature, but also succeeded in removing moisture from the air, thereby helping to control humidity too. Bearing his name, the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America continued to develop its technological processes. In 1933, the company produced a system which featured a belt-driven condenser unit, associated blower and evaporator coil.
The fundamental principles of the 1933 model produced by Carrier are still utilised by the modern air-conditioning systems of today, although many advances have obviously been made since those early days. The addition of components such as two-stage scroll compressors and advanced electronic sensors, in addition to rapid progression in vapour compression, means that modern-day air-conditioners are much more energy-efficient. Indeed, the need to protect the environment has become a driving force in the production of more energy-efficient models, with the air-conditioning industry striving to meet strict targets laid down by national and international energy commissions.
The adoption of smart technology has become a key factor in the continuing bid to increase the energy-efficiency of today’s air-conditioners. Thermostats have been developed which can be adjusted off-site by the user via a computer or smartphone. Many manufacturers are also looking at integrating their systems with the national grid. This will enable the regulation of individual air-conditioning units dependent on location and changing weather patterns.
It is obvious that air-conditioning has come a long way since the invention of the first modern system by Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902. Whereas once it was considered to be a luxury, now in many places it is a necessity. With technology continuing to progress at such a rapid pace, the future of the air-conditioning industry is bright.