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Title:
HEAT EXCHANGER TUBE ASSEMBLY AND METHOD OF MAKING THE SAME
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2015/120261
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A tube assembly for use in a heat exchanger includes a flat section with broad and flat opposing tube sides. Fin structures are bonded to the broad and flat tube sides in the flat section, and side sheets are bonded to the opposite ends of the fin structures. The flat section of the tube is located between cylindrical end sections adapted to be inserted into grommets. The construction of the tube assembly provides a stiff structure to survive insertion and removal of tube assemblies to and from a heat exchanger, for example, a radiator for heavy duty equipment.

Inventors:
OURADNIK, Zachary (2435 Bittersweet Court, Racine, WI, 53402, US)
MANTRI, Girish (9427 S. Southwood Court, Franklin, WI, 53132, US)
MERKLEIN, Brian (3464 Lake Drive, Hartford, WI, 53027, US)
LINDELL, Eric (2631 Wild Berry Avenue, Waterford, WI, 53185, US)
KIS, John (1195 224th Avenue, Kansasville, WI, 53139, US)
DAVIS, Keith (5505 Deerfield Road, Mt. Pleasant, WI, 53406, US)
MCGREGOR, Michael (2811 Chatham Street, Racine, WI, 53402, US)
HUGHES, Gregory (1500 Dekoven Avenue, Avenue, US)
Application Number:
US2015/014805
Publication Date:
August 13, 2015
Filing Date:
February 06, 2015
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
MODINE MANUFACTURING COMPANY (1500 Dekoven Avenue, Racine, WI, 53403-2552, US)
International Classes:
F28F1/02
Foreign References:
US20030131981A12003-07-17
US5099576A1992-03-31
US20050092444A12005-05-05
US4570704A1986-02-18
US20100043230A12010-02-25
US5105877A1992-04-21
US20140182829A12014-07-03
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BERGNACH, Michael (Modine Manufacturing Company, 1500 Dekoven AvenueRacine, WI, 53403-2552, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
We claim:

1. A tube assembly for a heat exchanger, comprising: a tube having a flat section comprising first and second spaced apart, broad tube sides joined by opposing, spaced apart, narrow tube sides, a first cylindrical section at a first lengthwise end of the tube, and a second cylindrical section at a second lengthwise end of the tube, the flat section being arranged between the first and second cylindrical sections; a first fin structure comprising a first plurality of wave crests and troughs connected by flanks; a second fin structure comprising a second plurality of wave crests and troughs connected by flanks; and first and second generally planar side sheets, wherein the wave troughs of the first fin structure are joined to the first broad tube side, the wave crests of the first fin are joined to a face of the first generally planar side sheet, the wave troughs of the second fin structure are joined to the second broad tube side, and the wave crests of the second fin are joined to a face of the second generally planar side sheet.

2. The tube assembly of claim 1, wherein the flat section further comprises one or more spaced apart webs arranged between the narrow tube sides to join the broad tube sides.

3. The tube assembly of claim 1, wherein the tube comprises: a first tube part comprising the flat section; a second tube part comprising the first cylindrical section, the second tube part being joined to a first end of the first tube part; and a third tube part comprising the second cylindrical section, the third tube part being joined to a second end of the first tube part.

4. The tube assembly of claim 3, wherein the first tube part is formed by extruding an aluminum alloy.

5. The tube assembly of claim 1, wherein the first and second spaced apart, broad tube sides have a first material thickness, the first and second generally planar side sheets have a second material thickness, and the first material thickness is at least twice the second material thickness.

6. A tube assembly for a heat exchanger, comprising: a first tube assembly end part comprising a cylindrical section, a flat tube section, and a transition section between the cylindrical section and the flat tube section; a second tube assembly end part comprising a cylindrical section, a flat tube section, and a transition section between the cylindrical section and the flat tube section; and a tube assembly central part arranged between the first and second tube assembly end parts and comprising two broad and flat, spaced apart parallel sides joined by two spaced apart narrow sides, wherein a first end of the tube assembly central part is joined to the flat tube section of the first tube assembly end part and a second end of the tube assembly central part is joined to the flat tube section of the second tube assembly end part.

7. The tube assembly of claim 6, wherein the first tube assembly end part, the second tube assembly end part, and the tube assembly central part are joined by brazing.

8. The tube assembly of claim 6, wherein the tube assembly central part further comprises one or more spaced apart webs arranged between the spaced apart narrow sides to join the broad and flat tube sides.

9. The tube assembly of claim 6, wherein the flat tube sections of the first and second tube assembly end parts each comprise two spaced apart, broad and flat sides, the intersections of each of the transition sections with said broad and flat sides defining a curvilinear path.

10. The tube assembly of claim 6, wherein the broad and flat, spaced apart parallel sides of the tube assembly central part have a first wall thickness, and the flat tube section of at least one of the first and second tube assembly end parts has a second wall thickness that is greater than the first wall thickness.

11. The tube assembly of claim 6, wherein the tube assembly central part is partially received into the first and second tube assembly end parts.

12. The tube assembly of claim 11, wherein the first end of the tube assembly central part extends to the transition section of the first tube assembly end part.

13. The tube assembly of claim 12, wherein the second end of the tube assembly central part extends at least partially into the transition section of the second tube assembly end part.

14. A method of making a heat exchanger tube assembly, comprising the steps of: reducing a diameter of a round tube in a first section of the round tube; flattening a second section of the round tube adjacent to the first section to define two spaced apart, broad and flat sides in the second section; and joining the second section to an end of a flat tube.

15. The method of claim 14, further comprising the step of forming the flat tube by extruding an aluminum alloy through a forming die.

16. The method of claim 14, wherein joining the second section to an end of a flat tube comprises: inserting an end of the flat tube into the second section of the round tube; heating the flat tube and round tube to a brazing temperature to melt a braze alloy provided at the insertion point; and cooling the flat tube and round tube to form a solidified braze joint between the flat tube and the second section.

17. The method of claim 16, further comprising joining a first and second corrugated fin structure to opposing broad and flat sides of the flat tube.

18. The method of claim 17, wherein the steps of joining the second section to the flat tube and joining the corrugated fins to the flat tube are performed using a single brazing operation.

19. The method of claim 14, wherein the step of reducing a diameter of the round tube includes at least partially forming a transition region between the first and second sections.

20. The method of claim 19, wherein flattening the second section includes defining curvilinear intersections between the transition region and the broad and flat sides in the second region.

Description:
HEAT EXCHANGER TUBE ASSEMBLY AND METHOD OF

MAKING THE SAME

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] The present application claims priority to U.S. Application No. 14/175,004, filed February 7, 2014, the entire contents of which are hereby incorporated by reference.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0002] The present invention generally relates to tubes, and to fin and tube assemblies for heat exchangers, and to methods for making the same.

BACKGROUND

[0003] Large scale heat exchangers incorporating discrete, individually replaceable tube assemblies having a tube to convey a first fluid, and secondary heat transfer surface area for a second fluid transferring heat to or from the first fluid, are well known. As an example, heat exchangers of this type functioning as heavy duty equipment radiators to transfer waste heat from engine coolant to air have been described in US patent no.

3,391,732 to Murray, and US patent no. 4,236,577 to Neudeck. The tube assemblies used in these heat exchangers have a central finned section for heat exchange, and un-finned cylindrical end sections for insertion into sealing grommets.

[0004] Heat exchanger tube assemblies of the kind described above are typically constructed of copper, with the extended air-side surfaces in the finned region being soldered to the tube. Copper provides the advantages of high thermal conductivity, easy manufacturability, and good strength and durability. However, the steadily increasing price of copper has led to a demand for alternate, lower cost materials.

[0005] Aluminum has replaced copper as the preferred material of construction in other heat exchangers (automobile and commercial radiators, for example), but has not successfully replaced copper in heavy duty heat exchangers of this kind. Aluminum has substantially lower strength than copper, leading to durability concerns. This is especially problematic in applications where individual tube assemblies need to be removed and inserted in the field, as damage is likely to occur during such handling. Furthermore, the bonding of aluminum components requires substantially higher temperatures than the soldering of copper, leading to manufacturing difficulties. Thus, there is still room for improvement.

SUMMARY

[0006] According to an embodiment of the invention, a tube assembly for a heat exchanger includes a tube having a flat section with spaced apart broad tube sides joined by opposing narrow tube sides. The tube assembly further includes two fin structures, each having wave crests and troughs connected by flanks, and two generally planar side sheets. Wave troughs of one fin structure are joined to one of the broad tube sides, and wave crests of that fin structure are joined to a face of one of the side sheets. Wave troughs of the other fin structure are joined to the other broad tube side, and wave crests of that fin structure are joined to a face of the other side sheet.

[0007] In some embodiments the tube includes cylindrical sections at the lengthwise ends of the tube, with the flat section arranged between the cylindrical sections. In some embodiments the tube, the fin structures, and the side sheets are joined by braze joints, and in some embodiments they are formed of one or more aluminum alloys. According to some embodiments the thickness of the broad tube sides is at least twice the thickness of the side sheets.

[0008] According to another embodiment of the invention, a tube assembly for a heat exchanger includes a fluid flow conduit extending in a lengthwise direction over at least a portion of the tube assembly. The fluid flow conduit has a major dimension and minor dimension, both perpendicular to the lengthwise direction, the minor dimension being substantially smaller than the major dimension. A continuous tube wall surrounds the flow conduit. Two generally planar side sheets are spaced equidistantly from the continuous tube wall in the minor dimension direction, and are connected to the tube wall by thin webs.

[0009] In some such embodiments the continuous tube wall defines a tube wall centroidal moment of inertia with respect to an axis in the major dimension direction. In some embodiments the centroidal moment of inertia of the tube assembly with respect to that axis is at least five times the tube wall centroidal moment of inertia, and in some embodiments at least ten times. [0010] In some embodiments a first cylindrical tube section is joined to the continuous tube wall at a first end of the flow conduit, and a second cylindrical tube section is joined to the continuous tube wall at a second end of the flow conduit. In some such embodiments the outer perimeter defined by the continuous tube wall is greater than the outer perimeter of at least one of the cylindrical tube sections.

[0011] According to another embodiment of the invention, a method of making a heat exchanger tube assembly includes providing a tube, first and second corrugated fin structures, and first and second generally planar side sheets. The first corrugated fin structure is arranged between the first side sheet and a first broad and flat side of the tube, and the second corrugated fin structure is arranged between the second side sheet and a second broad and flat side of the tube. A compressive force is applied to opposing sides of the side sheets to place crests and troughs of the fin structures into contact with the side sheets and the broad and flat sides, and braze joints are created between the first fin structure and the first side sheet, the first fin structure and the first broad and flat side, the second fin structure and the second side sheet, and the second fin structure and the second broad and flat side.

[0012] In some such embodiments, the tube, fin structures, and side sheets are elevated in temperature in a vacuum environment to create the braze joints. In other environments they are elevated in temperature in a controlled inert gas environment. In some embodiments providing the tube, fin structures, and side sheets includes providing a material coated with a braze filler metal.

[0013] In some embodiments the compressive force is transmitted through a first separator sheet adjacent to the first side sheet, and through a second separator sheet adjacent to the second side sheet. In some such embodiments the separator sheets have a coefficient of thermal expansion that is generally matched to that of the tube, side sheets, and fin structures. In some embodiments the first separator sheet is one of several separator sheets adjacent to the first side sheet.

[0014] According to another embodiment of the invention, a method of making heat exchanger tube assemblies includes providing several tubes, several corrugated fin structures, and several generally planar side sheets. Each of the tubes is arranged between pairs of the corrugated fin structures, and each of the corrugated fin structures is arranged between one of the tubes and one of the side sheets. The tubes, corrugated fin structures, and side sheets are arranged into a stack. Separator sheets are arranged between adjacent pairs of the side sheets, and adjacent to the side sheets at the outermost ends of the stack. A compressive load is applied to the stack in the stacking direction. Braze joints are created at the points of contact between the corrugated fin structures and the tubes, and between the corrugated fin structures and the side sheets, and the brazed tube assemblies are removed from the separator sheets.

[0015] In some such embodiments, the tubes, fin structures, and side sheets are elevated in temperature in a vacuum environment to create the braze joints. In other environments they are elevated in temperature in a controlled inert gas environment. In some embodiments providing the tubes, fin structures, and side sheets includes providing a material coated with a braze filler metal.

[0016] According to another embodiment of the invention, a tube for a heat exchanger includes a first cylindrical section extending from a first end of the tube, a second cylindrical section extending from a second end of the tube, and a flat section located between the ends and having two broad and flat, spaced apart parallel sides joined by two relatively short sides. Transition regions are located between each of the cylindrical sections and the flat section. The intersections of the transition regions and each of the broad and flat sides of the tube define curvilinear paths.

[0017] In some such embodiments the two relatively short sides are arcuate in profile. In some embodiments each of the curvilinear paths includes an apex located at a center plane of the tube, and in some such embodiments an arcuate path segment is located at the apex.

[0018] In some embodiments the transition region adjacent to one of the cylindrical sections extends over a length that is at least equal to the diameter of that section. In some embodiments the outer perimeter of the flat section of the tube is greater than the outer perimeter of at least one of the cylindrical sections, and in some embodiments is at least twenty- five percent greater.

[0019] In some embodiments the flat tube section defines a tube major dimension between outermost points of the two relatively short sides, and the curvilinear paths are each longer than the tube major dimension. In some embodiments the tube is made from an aluminum alloy.

[0020] According to another embodiment of the invention, a heat exchanger tube is formed from a round tube by reducing a diameter of the round tube in a first section of the round tube, and flattening a second section adjacent to the first section to define two spaced apart, broad and flat sides in the second section. In some embodiments the first sections terminates at an end of the tube. In some embodiments the second section is flattened after reducing the diameter of the first section.

[0021] In some embodiments the diameter of the first section is reduced by a swaging operation. In some embodiments the second section is flattened by impacting that section in a stamping die. In some embodiments the tube is made from an aluminum alloy.

[0022] In some embodiments a mandrel is inserted into the tube prior to flattening the second section, and is removed from the tube after flattening the second section.

[0023] In some embodiments, the diameter of a third section of the round tube is reduced, the third section being adjacent to the second section. In some such

embodiments the third section terminates at a second end of the tube. In some embodiments the second section is flattened after reducing the diameter of the third section.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0024] FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a heat exchanger tube assembly according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0025] FIG. 2 is an elevation view of the heat exchanger tube assembly of FIG. 1. [0026] FIG. 3 is a detail view of the portion of FIG. 2 bounded by the line III-III. [0027] FIG. 4 is a plan view of the heat exchanger tube assembly of FIG. 1.

FIG. 5 is an exploded perspective view of the heat exchanger tube assembly of [0029] FIG. 6 is an elevation view of a stack of heat exchanger tube assemblies being made according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0030] FIG. 7 is a plan view of certain components of the stack of FIG. 6.

[0031] FIG. 8 is a perspective view of a heat exchanger tube according to an embodiment of the invention.

[0032] FIG. 9 is a partial perspective view of a prior art heat exchanger tube.

[0033] FIG. 10 is a partial section view along the lines X-X of FIG. 8.

[0034] FIG. 11 is a section view along the lines XI-XI of FIG. 8.

[0035] FIG. 12 is a partial perspective view of the partially formed tube of FIG. 8.

[0036] FIGs. 13A and B are diagrammatic views of a forming operation to produce the tube of FIG. 8.

[0037] FIG. 14 is a perspective view of a heat exchanger tube assembly according to another embodiment of the invention.

[0038] FIG. 15 is an exploded perspective view of the heat exchanger tube assembly of FIG. 14.

[0039] FIG. 16 is a partial cross-sectional view taken along the lines XVI-XVI of FIG. 14.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0040] Before any embodiments of the invention are explained in detail, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of construction and the arrangement of components set forth in the following description or illustrated in the accompanying drawings. The invention is capable of other embodiments and of being practiced or of being carried out in various ways. Also, it is to be understood that the phraseology and terminology used herein is for the purpose of description and should not be regarded as limiting. The use of "including," "comprising," or "having" and variations thereof herein is meant to encompass the items listed thereafter and equivalents thereof as well as additional items. Unless specified or limited otherwise, the terms "mounted," "connected," "supported," and "coupled" and variations thereof are used broadly and encompass both direct and indirect mountings, connections, supports, and couplings. Further, "connected" and "coupled" are not restricted to physical or mechanical connections or couplings.

[0041] A heat exchanger tube assembly 1 according to an embodiment of the invention is shown in FIGs. 1-5. Such a tube assembly 1 can be used as one of many individual tubes of a heat exchanger, for example a radiator, in large heavy duty equipment such as an excavator, mining truck, gen-set, etc. It should be understood, however, that the tube assembly 1 can be used in heat exchangers of various types and sizes.

[0042] The tube assembly 1 includes a tube 2 extending from a first end 7 to a second end 8. The tube 2 defines a fluid flow conduit whereby a fluid (by way of example, engine coolant) can be transported through the tube assembly 1. As one example, the tube assembly 1 can be used in an engine coolant radiator in order to reject waste heat from a flow of engine coolant as that flow of engine coolant flow through the tube 2 from one of the ends 7, 8 to the other of the ends 7, 8.

[0043] The tube 2 includes a flat section 3 located between the ends 7, 8. The flat portion 3 (best described with reference to FIG. 11) includes first and second parallel, broad and flat sides 12. The broad and flat sides 12 are spaced apart from one another, and are joined by two opposing, spaced apart, narrow tube sides 15. While the narrow tube sides 15 are shown as being arcuate in profile in the exemplary embodiment, in other embodiments the narrow tube sides 15 can be straight, or they can be of some other profile shape. The two broad and flat sides 12 and the two narrow sides 15 together define a continuous tube wall 25 of the fluid flow conduit, with an open spaces defined interior to the continuous tube wall 25 in order to allow for the flow of a fluid through the tube 2. While none are shown in the exemplary embodiment, it can be preferable in some cases to provide surface enhancement or flow turbulation features within the flow conduit in order to enhance the rate of heat transfer between a fluid passing through the tube 2 and the tube wall 25. [0044] Continuing with reference to FIG. 11, the flat section 3 of the tube 2 has a tube minor dimension, dl, defined as the distance between the outward-facing surfaces of the two broad and flat sides 12, and a tube major dimension, d2, defined as the distance between outermost points of the two narrow sides 15. In some highly preferable embodiments the major dimension, d2, is several times greater than the minor dimension, dl . As an example, the major dimension of the exemplary embodiment is nine times greater than the minor dimension.

[0045] The tube assembly 1 further includes two convoluted fin structures 10 arranged along the flat section 3. The fin structures 10 include multiple flanks 16 connected in alternating fashion by crests 18 and troughs 17 so that each of the fin structures 10 is of an approximately sinusoidal shape (best seen in FIG. 3). The fin structures 10 can be of a plain type, as shown in FIG. 3, or they can include additional features to increase heat transfer, structural strength, durability, or combinations of the above. By way of example, in some embodiments the fin structures 10 can include louvers, bumps, slits, lances, or other features that are known to improve heat transfer and/or structural rigidity of the flanks 16. In other embodiments, an edge hem can be provided at one or both of the ends of a fin structure 10 adjacent the narrow tube sides 15. Such an edge hem can be especially beneficial in providing resistance to damage that may be caused by impingement of rocks or other debris.

[0046] Thin side sheets 11 are also included in the tube assembly 1. These side sheets 11 are parallel to the opposing broad and flat sides 12 of the tube 2, and are spaced equidistantly therefrom on either side by the fin structures 10. Accordingly, the flanks 16, crests 18, and troughs 17 of the fin structures 11 provide a plurality of thin webs to space the side sheets 11 from the continuous tube wall 25. The side sheets 11 are generally planar, but can include features such as, for example, bent edges in order to provide increased stiffness and/or to aid in assembly.

[0047] The spaces between the flanks 16 provide flow channels for a fluid to be placed in heat transfer relation with the fluid passing through the tube 2, so that heat can be exchanged between the two fluids. As an example, ambient air can be directed through the flow channels in order to cool engine jacket coolant passing through the tube 2. It should be understood, however, that various other fluids can be placed in heat transfer relation using the tube assembly 1. Each of the flow channels between the flanks 16 is further defined by one of the troughs 17 and crests 18, and by one of the flat sides 12 of the tube 2 and the generally planar side sheets 11. By fully bounding the flow channels in this manner, the fluid passing through those channels is prevented from prematurely exiting the channels, thus improving the ability to transfer heat.

[0048] The tube 2, fin structures 10, and side sheets 11 are preferably bonded together to form a monolithic structure in order to provide both good thermal contact between the fluids to be placed in heat transfer relation, and good structural integrity. While a variety of materials can be used to construct the tube assembly 1 , in highly preferable

embodiments the tube 2, fin structures 10, and side sheets 11 are formed from metals having a high thermal conductivity, such as aluminum, copper, and the like. The components can be bonded together to form the tube assembly 1 by a variety of processes including brazing, soldering, gluing, etc.

[0049] In order to promote good heat transfer between the fluids, it can be

advantageous for the fin structures 10 and the side sheets 11 to extend over the full major dimension d2 of the flat section 3. In some cases, it may be preferable to extend the fin structures 10 and the side sheets 11 slightly beyond the outer edges of the narrow tube sides 15 in order to protect the fluid flow conduit from damage by impingement of rocks or other debris.

[0050] The inclusion of even very thin side sheets 11 has been found to greatly stiffen the tube assembly 1, especially with respect to bending about the centroidal axis in the tube major dimension d2. The fin structures 10 provide very little stiffness in this direction due to their convoluted nature, so that, in the absence of the side sheets 11 , the continuous tube wall 25 provides the only resistance to bending about that centroidal axis. Due to the relatively small minor dimension dl of the flat tube section 3, the resistance to bending about that centroidal axis by the continuous tube wall 25 alone is fairly small, and the spacing of the side sheets 11 away from that centroidal axis by a distance substantially greater than the minor dimension dl provides substantial benefit.

[0051] The impact of the side sheets 11 on the bending stiffness of the tube assembly 1 about the centroidal axis in the tube major dimension d2 can be quantified by comparing the centroidal moment of inertia about that axis of the tube assembly 1 to that of the tube 2 alone (the fin structures 10 can be assumed to provide no contribution to the centroidal moment of inertia, other than by maintaining the offset of the side sheets 11 from the flat sides 12 of the tube 2). For an exemplary embodiment having a tube wall thickness of 0.8mm, a side sheet thickness of 0.25mm, a fin structure height of 6.55mm, a minor dimension of 3.7mm, and a major dimension of 23.27mm, the centroidal moment of inertia about the tube major dimension axis for the tube assembly and the tube alone are calculated to be 925mm 4 and 76mm 4 , respectively. In other words, the centroidal moment of inertia of the tube assembly about the tube major dimension axis is approximately twelve times that of the tube itself. In preferable embodiments the centroidal moment of inertia of the tube assembly about the tube major dimension axis is at least five times that of the tube itself, and in highly preferable embodiments, at least ten times. This is especially preferable when the tube 2 is constructed of a material exhibiting relatively low modulus of elasticity, for example, alloys of aluminum.

[0052] The tube 2 of the exemplary embodiment further includes a first cylindrical section 4 adjacent to the first end 7, and a second cylindrical section 5 adjacent to the second end 8, with the flat section 3 arranged between the first and second cylindrical sections. These cylindrical sections 4, 5 allow for reliable and leak-free insertion of the tube assembly 1 into receiving grommets arranged in opposing headers of a heat exchanger (not shown). In order to maximize the amount of the tube available for effective heat transfer, the length of the cylindrical end sections are preferably kept to a minimum, and the length of the flat section 3 is preferably 90% or more of the overall length of the tube 2. A circumferential bead 9 is provided in the cylindrical section 5 of the exemplary embodiment in order to limit the downward movement of the tube assembly 1 when vertically arranged in a heat exchanger.

[0053] While the embodiments shown in the accompanying figures include the cylindrical end sections at both ends of the tube, it should be understood that in some instances a tube assembly 1 can be devoid of one or both cylindrical end sections 4, 5. When such cylindrical end sections are not included, the corresponding receiving grommets can be provided with receiving openings that correspond to the profile of the continuous tube wall 25 in the flat section 3. [0054] In certain preferable embodiments of the invention, a heat exchanger tube assembly 1 is made by creating braze joints between an aluminum tube 2, first and second aluminum corrugated fin structures 10, and first and second aluminum side sheets 11. The first corrugated fin structure 10 is arranged between the first side sheet 11 and a first broad and flat side 12 of the tube 2, while the second corrugated fin structure 10 is arranged between the second side sheet 11 and a second broad and flat side 12 of the tube 2. The assembly is compressed in order to place crests 18 and troughs 17 of the fin structures 10 in contact with the adjacent parts so that braze joints can be formed at the points of contact.

[0055] A brazing filler metal having a melting temperature that is lower than the melting temperatures of the tube 2, fin structures 10, and side sheets 11 is used to create the braze joints. Such a filler metal is typically aluminum with small quantities of other elements (silicon, copper, magnesium, and zinc, for example) added to reduce the melting temperature. The braze filler metal can advantageously be provided as a coating on one of more of the components to be brazed. In some embodiments, both sides of the sheet material used to form the corrugated fin structures 10 is coated with the braze filler metal, thereby providing the required braze filler metal at all of the contact points where braze joints are desired while avoiding having braze filler metal at locations where joints are not necessary or undesirable.

[0056] While many methods can be used to elevate the temperature of the tube 2, the fin structures 10, and the side sheets 11 in order to melt the braze filler metal and form the braze joints, two especially preferable methods are vacuum brazing and controlled atmosphere brazing. In vacuum brazing, the assembled parts are placed into a sealed furnace and substantially all of the air is removed in order to create a vacuum

environment. In this process, magnesium present in the alloys is released as the parts are heated and serves to break up the oxide layer present on the external surfaces of the components, allowing the molten braze filler metal to bond to the exposed aluminum. The oxide layer is prevented from reforming and interfering with the metallurgical bonding by the absence of oxygen in the vacuum environment.

[0057] In controlled atmosphere brazing, flux is applied to the components prior to heating. Heating of the parts occurs in an inert gas environment in order to prevent the re-formation of the oxide layer after the flux reacts and displaces the oxide layer present on the mating surfaces of the parts. With the oxide layer displaced, the molten braze filler metal bonds to the exposed aluminum in order to create the braze joints.

[0058] It can be especially preferable to braze several of the tube assemblies 1 at one time in order to increase throughput in a production manufacturing environment. FIG. 6 illustrates a method according to an embodiment of the invention wherein four tube assemblies 1 are made simultaneously. It should be understood that the same method can be used to make more than four or fewer than four of the tube assemblies at a time.

[0059] In the embodiment of FIG. 6, tubes 2, corrugated fin structures 10, and generally planar side sheets 11 are provided. Each of the tubes 2 is arranged between pairs of the corrugated fin structures 10, and each of the corrugated fin structures 10 is arranged between one of the tubes 2 and one of the generally planar side sheets 11.

Separator sheets 19 are arranged between adjacent pairs of the generally planar side sheets 11. The tubes 2, corrugated fin structures 10, and generally planar side sheets 11 are arranged into a stack 26. Additional separator sheets 19 are arranged adjacent to the generally planar side sheets 11 at the outermost ends of the stack 26, and a compressive load is applied to the stack 26 in the stacking direction in order to place the crests 18 and the troughs 17 of the convoluted fin structures into contact with the adjacent side sheets 11 and broad and flat sides 12 of the tubes 2.

[0060] In order to provide a uniform compressive load to the stack 26, bars 21 having a high stiffness (for example, structural steel channels) can be used on the outermost ends of the stack 26. The compressive load can be maintained after it has been applied to the stack through the use of metal bands 22 that surround the stack 26 in several locations. The bands 22 are tightened over the bars 21 while the stack 26 is compressed, so that tension in the bands 22 maintains the compressive load. After having been so assembled, the stack 26 is placed into a brazing furnace in order to create the individual tube assemblies 1. The stack 26 is heated within the furnace to a temperature suitable for melting the braze filler metal, after which the stack 26 is cooled in order to re-solidify the melted braze filler metal, thereby creating braze joints at the contact points. After cooling, the individual tube assemblies 1 , having been brazed into individual monolithic structures, can be removed from the separator sheets 19. The separator sheets 19 can be provided with a coating to prevent any metallurgical bonding between the separator sheets 19 and the side sheets 11, as such undesirable bonding can otherwise occur at brazing temperature even without the presence of braze filler metal.

[0061] As the stack 26 is heated to a brazing temperature, thermal expansion of the metal materials in the stack 26 will occur. In aluminum brazing, the components are typically heated to a brazing temperature of 550°C to 650°C. This temperature range is substantially higher than that used to solder copper components, and consequently the thermal expansion experienced by the components of the tube assemblies 1 during the bonding process is substantially greater if the components are aluminum than if they are copper.

[0062] The inventors have found that care must be taken during the brazing process to ensure that the fin structures 10 are not distorted by the heating to brazing temperature and cooling back down to ambient temperature. Unlike in traditional brazed aluminum radiator manufacturing, involving multiple rows of tubes and fin structures joined together into a monolithic brazed core, the flanks 16 of the fin structures 10 are prone to distortion by shearing forces introduced through thermal expansion differences between the components of the tube assemblies 1 and the separator sheets 19. In some

embodiments of the invention, this problem is remedied by generally matching the thermal expansion coefficient of the separator sheets 19 to that of the tubes 2, fin structures 10, and side sheets 11. This can be achieved by forming the separator sheets 19 from similar aluminum alloys, or from another material exhibiting a similar rate of thermal expansion.

[0063] Alternatively, or in addition, multiple individual separator sheets 19 can be used between each adjacent tube assembly 1, as shown in FIG. 7. Gaps 20 are provided between adjacent ones of the individual separator sheets 19. In the case where the separator sheets 19 are constructed of a material having a substantially different coefficient of thermal expansion than the materials from which the tubes 2, fin structures 10, and side sheets 11 are constructed, the gaps 20 can increase or decrease during the heating and cooling of the stack 26, thereby substantially alleviating the distortion of the fin structures 10 that might otherwise result from the mismatch in thermal expansion coefficients. The gaps 20 serve as breaks to avoid the accumulation of the thermal expansion induced distortion, so that any such distortion is limited to the discrete contact areas underneath each of the individual separator sheets 19. The assembly method depicted in FIG. 7 can be especially beneficial when a more temperature resistant material such as stainless steel is used for the separator sheets 19, and the components of the tube assemblies 1 are made from aluminum.

[0064] The tube 2 will now be discussed in greater detail, with specific reference to FIGs. 8-13. As described previously, the embodiment of the tube 2 shown in FIG. 8 includes a flat tube section 3 located between a first cylindrical tube section 4 and a second cylindrical tube section 5. The first cylindrical tube section 4 extends from the first end 7 of the tube 2, while the second cylindrical tube section 5 extends from the second end 8 of the tube 2. Transition regions 6 are located between the flat section 3 and each of the cylindrical sections 4 and 5. The transition regions 6 provide a smooth continuous flow path for a fluid passing through the tube 2, as well as avoiding locations of mechanical stress concentration in the tube material.

[0065] As shown in detail in the partial sectional view of FIG. 10, a transition region 6 extends over a length L, spanning from a location 27 proximal to the end 7 of the tube 2 to a location 14 distal to the end 7. The length L is preferably at least equal to the diameter of the cylindrical end section 4, although in some alternative embodiments it may be smaller in size than the diameter of the corresponding end section. As seen in FIG. 8, the broad and flat side 12 extends past the locations 14 at either end so that at least a portion of the broad and flat side 12 is located along the tube 2 between the locations 27 and 14 that define the beginning and end of a transition region 6.

[0066] In preferable embodiments, the intersections of the transition regions 6 and the broad and flat sides 12 of the flat tube region 3 define curvilinear paths 13. These curvilinear paths 13 provide a beneficial stiffening of the flat section 3 of the tube 2 with respect to a bending moment about the tube major dimension axis. For purposes of comparison, a prior art tube 102 is shown in FIG. 9 and includes a flat section 103 joined to a cylindrical section 104 by way of a transition section 106. The intersection of the transition region 106 and the flat section 103 defines a straight path 113 on the broad and flat side 112 of the flat section 103. The straight path 113 extends in the tube major dimension, and bending about the major dimension axis is fairly easy. This can be especially detrimental during the installation and/or removal of a tube assembly containing the tube 102 from a heat exchanger, as such installation and such removal frequently applies bending moments of this type onto the tube. This problem is especially exacerbated when the tube is constructed of a fairly low strength material such as annealed aluminum.

[0067] The inventors have found that the curvilinear path 13 provides a substantial stiffening effect to resist a bending moment of the aforementioned type, and prevents buckling or other damage to the tube 2 during installation, removal, and other handling of the tube 2 or a tube assembly 1 containing a tube 2. While benefit can be derived from any non-linear path, it can be especially beneficial for the path 13 to be defined by a series of connected arcuate path segments.

[0068] In the exemplary embodiment, the curvilinear paths 13 each include an apex located at the approximate center plane of the tube, so that the apex is located at the point 14 along the path 13 that is furthermost away from the end 7 (in the case of the transition region between the flat section 3 and the first cylindrical end 4) or the end 8 (in the case of the transition region between the flat section 3 and the second cylindrical end 5). The path 13 preferably includes an arcuate path segment at the apex so that stress

concentrations are avoided at the apex.

[0069] In some preferable embodiments, the outer perimeter (i.e. circumference) of at least one of the two cylindrical sections 4, 5 is less than the outer perimeter of the continuous tube wall 25 in the flat section 3. This advantageously allows for a relatively large heat transfer surface area per unit length in the flat section 3, without requiring a correspondingly large diameter at one or both of the ends 7, 8. A smaller diameter at the ends can be preferable, as it can enable closer spacing of adjacent tube assemblies and requires less sealing surface at the ends, for example. In some preferable embodiments the outer perimeter of the flat section 3 exceeds the outer perimeter of at least one of the two cylindrical end sections by at least 25%.

[0070] Heat exchangers including fluid conveying tubes having a flattened profile over the entirety of their length are well-known in the art, having been used for decades as radiators and the like. Flat tubes of this type are usually constructed in one of two ways. They are either extruded and/or drawn in the flat shape from a billet of material and cut into discrete lengths, or they are created in a tube mill from coiled sheet by forming the sheet form into a round shape, seam welding, roll flattening to the flat tube shape, and cutting into discrete tube lengths.

[0071] In the case of tubes such as the prior art tube 102 (FIG. 9) having a flattened section 103 and a cylindrical end section 104, the ends of the flat tube are formed into a cylindrical shape to form the cylindrical end section 104, and the transition section 106. This operation can be performed quickly and easily when the tube is constructed from highly malleable material such as copper, and only requires the extreme ends of the tube 2 to be formed. However, this method is not capable of achieving a transition section 6 as previously described.

[0072] The transition regions 6 can be formed by initially forming the tube 2 in a round form having an outer diameter equal to the desired outer perimeter of continuous tube wall 25 in the flat section 3. Next, with specific reference to FIG. 12, the ends of the round tube 2 are reduced in diameter to form the cylindrical ends 4 and 5, as well as a tapered transition region 6' between the ends 4, 5 and the central section 3' which retains the original round shape. This reduction in diameter can be accomplished by, for example, swaging of the tube ends. In some preferable embodiments the ends are reduced in diameter by at least 20% in order to achieve the desired ratio of outer perimeters between the flat section 3 and the cylindrical end sections 4, 5.

[0073] As depicted in FIGs. 13A and 13B, the profile of the flat section 3 of the tube 2 can be defined by forming that portion 3 ' of the tube 2 between a first forming die half 22 and a second forming die half 23. The tube 2 is inserted between the die halves 22, 23 when the die is in an open position, i.e. when the two die halves are separated from one another, as in FIG. 13 A. With the tube 2 so located, the die closes so as to be in the closed position of FIG. 13B, thereby forming the flat section 3 of the tube 2 to the minor dimension dl and the major dimension d2. Optionally, a mandrel 24 can be placed within the tube 2 prior to the forming operation in order to prevent buckling or other undesirable deformation of the broad and flat tube walls 12 during the forming operation. The mandrel 24, when used, can be removed from the tube 2 after the forming operation is complete. The geometry of the transition regions 6 can be produced by including complementary negative representations of the geometry in the contacting faces of the die halves 22 and 23, so that the desired geometry of the transition regions 6 is formed into the tube 2 during the forming operation.

[0074] An alternative embodiment of a tube assembly 201 according to the invention is depicted in FIGs. 14-16. The tube assembly 201 has multiple features in common with the previously described tube assembly 1 , and like features of the two are numbered similarly. The tube assembly 201 includes two convoluted fin structures 10 arranged along the flat section 203 of a multi -piece tube assembly 202. Side sheets 1 1 are spaced equidistantly from the opposing broad and flat sides 212 of the flat section 203, and crests and troughs of the convoluted fin sections 10 are joined to the side sheets 11 and the broad and flat sides 212 in similar fashion to that described with respect to the tube assembly 1.

[0075] The multi-piece tube assembly 202 includes a tube assembly central part 232 (which defines the flat section 203), a tube assembly end part 230 arranged at one end of the central part 232, and a tube assembly end part 231 arranged at the opposing end of the central part 232. Each of the tube assembly end parts 230, 231 has a cylindrical section (204 and 205, respectively) joined to a flat tube section 233 by way of a transition section 206. The flat tube section 233 is generally complementary in size and shape to the cross- section of the flat tube section 203. An opening 234 is provided at the end of each flat tube section 233, and is sized to receive a corresponding end of the central part 232. The joined tube assembly 202 provides a leak-free flow path for a fluid between a first end 207 and a second end 208.

[0076] As best seen in FIG. 16, an end of the central part 232 that is received into the opening 234 of the end part 230 can extend a distance into that end part, so that an overlap of the walls of the central part 232 and the flat tube section 233 of the end part 230 is created. It should be appreciated that, while specific reference here and in FIG. 16 is made to the end part 230, the same applies to the opposing end part 231. As one beneficial aspect of such an overlap, the resultant local increase of the total wall thickness in that overlap area can provide an increased stiffening of the tube assembly 202 to resist a bending moment about the tube major dimension axis. In order to maximize such an effect, it can be preferable in some embodiments for the end of the tube assembly central part 232 to extend to the transition section 206, so that the overlapping walls are provided over substantially all of the flat tube section 233.

[0077] In order to further provide structural support to the tube assembly 202 in the flat tube sections 233, it can be preferable for the wall thickness of the end part 230, 231 in the flat tube section 233 to be greater than the wall thickness of the central part 232. This allows for the broad and flat sides 212 of the central part 232 to be relatively thin in order to minimize the resistance to heat transfer between the fluids, while still

maintaining appropriate structural support in those regions that, as described previously, can be highly stressed during installation and/or removal of the tube assembly. The resultant stiffening can, in at least some embodiments, be sufficient for the intended use of the tube assembly. An additional increase in stiffness can be provided, in some other embodiments, by defining the intersection of the transition regions 206 and the flat tube sections 233 as a curvilinear path, in similar fashion to that described previously with respect to the tube 2.

[0078] The central part 232 can, in at least some embodiments, be formed by an extruding an aluminum alloy through a die in order to directly create the flat section 203. Such an extrusion process can allow for the narrow sides that join the broad and flat sides 212 to be of a greater thickness than the broad and flat sides 212, in order to provide additional structural reinforcement of the tube assembly 202. In addition, internal webs 235 extending between the broad and flat sides 212 can optionally be provided in order to provide structural support and/or heat transfer enhancement. Three such webs 235 are shown in FIG. 15, but it should be understood that more or fewer webs can be desirable depending upon the application. The webs 235 can be of varying shape and orientation, including but not limited to arcuate and angled. In any event, the webs 235, when present, are arranged between the narrow sides of the central tube part 232 and divide the flow conduit extending through the central tube part 232 into multiple parallel branches.

[0079] In general, the end parts 203 and 231 can be formed in a manner similar to that described above for the tube 2. In order to facilitate the joining of the central part 231 to the end parts 230 and 231, a material having a braze alloy cladding on one side can be used to form the end parts 230 and 231 , with the end parts being formed so that the clad side is internal to the end part and is disposed against the end of the central part 232 in the region of overlap. Alternatively, braze alloy can be provided in the form of a paste or a ring of braze alloy at the joint location. In any event, the parts 230, 231 and 232 of the tube assembly 202 can be joined in a common brazing operation with the joining of the complete tube assembly 201. Such joining of the tube assembly 201 can thus be accomplished in similar fashion to that previously described for the tube assembly 1.

[0080] Various alternatives to the certain features and elements of the present invention are described with reference to specific embodiments of the present invention. With the exception of features, elements, and manners of operation that are mutually exclusive of or are inconsistent with each embodiment described above, it should be noted that the alternative features, elements, and manners of operation described with reference to one particular embodiment are applicable to the other embodiments.

[0081] The embodiments described above and illustrated in the figures are presented by way of example only and are not intended as a limitation upon the concepts and principles of the present invention. As such, it will be appreciated by one having ordinary skill in the art that various changes in the elements and their configuration and arrangement are possible without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.