A young Portland company called Zess Technologies Inc. that is marketing a new type of heat exchanger with purportedly wide-ranging commercial and industrial applications plans to open a small testing and assembly facility here.
Company President Jim Zess, the engineer who invented and patented the heat exchanger, says Zess Technologies has been looking at potential buildings to lease here and expects to occupy about 3,000 square feet of floor space initially. The companys business plan, however, calls for the companys space needs here to grow and for its annual sales to reach $9 million in three years and $30 million in five years.
The company currently employs only five people, but estimates that number will rise to 45 in three years and around 90 employees in five years. A majority of those employees, including most of the companys engineering and production staff, would be in Spokane. For now, the company is operating out of office space in downtown Portland, where Zess moved from Vancouver, Wash., recently.
Heat exchanger is a general term used to describe devices such as radiators and condensersthat transfer heat energy from one medium to another for heating and cooling purposes.
The one invented by Zess is a commercial-sized adaptation of tiny units developed initially by researchers at Silicon Valley in California and later by Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories in the Tri-Cities for use in cooling electronic equipment.
It uses what is called micro-channel technologyin this case, numerous tiny channels about 10 thousandths of an inch wide cut into 12-inch-wide metal platesto circulate fluid, which is said to eliminate a turbulent-flow problem common to traditional heat exchangers.
A whole new set of physics and equations come into play in regard to pressure drop and heat transfer, compared with older-generation units, Zess says.
He claims that his companys patented heat exchanger, in which the channeled plates are stacked up to fit whatever the system demand would be, is smaller and more efficient than traditional heat exchangers. Thus, it offers potential cost savings when used for heating and cooling structures such as supermarkets, hotels, and hospitals, he says. It also has potential industrial-process, military, and mobile applications, he says.
We are just beginning to sell some of the units. Right now everything (to do with manufacturing) is being outsourced, Zess says. He says he expects the Spokane assembly facility to open within the next few months. For the immediate future, Zess Technologies will continue to contract out the manufacture of the heat-exchanger components, but the company expects later to be doing a portion of the manufacturing in-house, he says.
He declines to divulge the price of the micro-channel heat exchangers, except to say that its on the high end of the heat-exchanger market. The company received a $200,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant through the Spokane Intercollegiate Research & Technology Institute earlier this year to develop new materials and methods that it believes will allow it to produce the heat exchangers at a much lower cost. Its now working with SIRTI to do that.
Zess is a physical engineer licensed to practice in Washington, Oregon, and California, and has about 20 years of experience. He holds an undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering and a masters degree in environmental engineering.
Originally from the Midwest, he moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1989 to work for Portland General Electric Co., and left there in 1993 to form his own firm, called Zess Engineering & Environmental Science. He got the idea for the new heat exchanger in 1995 while working with scientists and engineers at Battelle in the Tri-Cities. The staff there had built a tiny exchanger to cool some electronic equipment, and Zess visualized its potential in larger applications. He formed Zess Technologies in January 1997 to develop a larger version of the micro-channel heat exchanger and to seek to commercialize it.
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