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What Is Industrial Air Conditioning?

Eric Tallberg
Eric Tallberg

A deadly enemy of most electronic equipment and personal productivity is heat. Air conditioning is the mechanical replacement of heat with cooled air. In years past, most large commercial buildings and manufacturing facilities are equipped with industrial air conditioning units in part to alleviate the problems associated with overheating of electronic equipment such as computers, electronic testing instruments, and precision electronic manufacturing equipment. Machinery used to produce critical equipment, usually including precise measurements and tolerances, requires constant cooling to function properly. In a commercial facility, personal comfort was often an adjunct to equipment maintenance; those who worked with or near equipment that needed to be kept cool were the incidental benefactors of industrial air conditioning.

Much is made today, however, of what is known as “sick building syndrome.” This term refers to office buildings, schools, manufacturing, production, and testing facilities where air quality is such that workers, students, customers, clients, and visitors to these facilities were becoming ill simply from remaining in such buildings for any length of time. These various illnesses were the result of breathing and absorbing unhealthful vapors and contaminants emitted by materials used in the construction of the building, as well as inadequate heating, ventilation or air conditioning (HVAC) equipment. Thus, industrial air conditioning is now critical to individual comfort and personal health, not to mention optimum productivity of workers as well as equipment.

A thermostat connected to an industrial air conditioning system.
A thermostat connected to an industrial air conditioning system.

Nearly all modern industrial air conditioning units are now either ductless or split air conditioning systems, or a combination of both. The cooling machinery, fans, compressors, condensers, cooling towers, air handling, condensate recovery and discharge components are located at a remote location outside the building or facilities, either on the roof or grounds of the facility. The actual discharge of cooled air is accomplished by small, compact units located in various rooms, offices and spaces throughout the interior of the building. Often these room units are separately controlled via individual thermostats. Such is the beauty of ductless air conditioning. Ducted equipment, on the other hand, usually involves an inefficient dampening of louvers to maintain individual room temperature.

An industrial air conditioning vent.
An industrial air conditioning vent.

The size and capacity of industrial air conditioning equipment is, obviously dependent on the size and design of the facility to be cooled. These air conditioning units commonly range from some two tons, or 24,000 British Thermal Units (BTU) to 150 tons to 150 tons (1,800,000 BTU). A BTU is the amount of heat necessary to raise the temperature of a pound of water one degree, Fahrenheit. The reverse is, of course, true for cooling capacities. The BTU is the most common method of measuring the capacity of HVAC equipment in the U.S.

Discussion Comments


As you said, the range of these starts at about two tons (BTU/h). It is power, no energy.


My biggest problem with the way that industrial air conditioning systems are built and handled in the the United States is the absolute ripoff tactics used by air conditioning companies in an effort to turn a huge profit. Because air conditioning services are such a big requirement for many companies and businesses, there is a need for some type of regulation over the market. I would compare the way that air conditioning companies charge to that of a hospital.

Obviously if you need to go to the hospital, you have no choice but to pay for the services rendered there. The same goes for the repair and installations of industrial air condition systems. You must have cooled air for your employees and equipment to work but that often means you are forced into paying the rates that expensive maintenance companies charge.


Home air conditioning is vastly different then the way that industrial air condition systems work but in theory, they all cool spaces. Perhaps the biggest difference, besides cost of course, is the fact that many industrial air conditioning systems are based on more then just one cooling unit. These types of decentralized systems can actually compress cooling fluid in a central area and instead of forcing air down ducts and vents, the cooling fluid is then piped to a localized radiator that then cools the air for that room specifically.

The heat transfer loss that occurs from air is greater than that of a fluid running in a pipe so in some instances, this form of industrial cooling can be much more effective. Central air conditioning units that use duct systems to deliver cooled air must be well insulated as to not loose the cold properties of the air too quickly. This is a challenge that civil engineers have been dealing with for a long time and I am sure the market will continue to advance as the technology only gets better and better.


I have noticed that there is a large upswing in corporations and large facility management organizations that are switching to a more localized form of environmental cooling then just using a massive central air conditioning system. This often involves the use of several smaller cooling compressors that are located directly outside or on top of the building that it is cooling. This type of system has its advantages and disadvantages.

One of the major advantages is that it allows for a more finite control of individual area's temperatures. On the same hand, because you have several smaller units running at once, there can be a cost increase in the amount of electricity used. On the flip side of that, if a building is not being occupied or used, it is simple to deactivate the cooling system just for that area and thus saving money by not cooling an unused area. Sometimes, bigger is not always better. Be sure to make the right choice for you when doing and air conditioning installation.


As an information technology administrator in my company, I can tell you that industrial air conditioning systems are an absolute must for most companies that have massive or even mid-sized server rooms and setups.

The amount of heat put out by a room full of servers is immense and only industrial strength air conditioning systems are up for the task of cooling down very hot-running servers and other related equipment. Simply put, if our server rooms do not stay cool enough, we have major hardware crashes that can not only be devastating to components of the network but data loss on hard drives can occur as well. Either way, keep your computers cool is the lesson of the day.

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    • A thermostat connected to an industrial air conditioning system.
      By: Dave Friedel
      A thermostat connected to an industrial air conditioning system.
    • An industrial air conditioning vent.
      By: Kevin Penhallow
      An industrial air conditioning vent.
    • Pieces of industrial air conditioning equipment are frequently installed at external locations, like rooftops.
      By: AndG
      Pieces of industrial air conditioning equipment are frequently installed at external locations, like rooftops.