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Active silencers for air-conditioning units


P. Leistner, H.V. Fuchs

1. Introduction

The noise emission of air-conditioning units can be reduced directly at the fan
during the design stage by standard constructive and technological measures.
However, for demanding applications the sound level achievable by primary
noise control exceeds the required values and thus additional silencers are
needed. The high acoustic requirements for such silencers culminate at the low
frequencies with a minimum of space available and only marginal pressure loss
allowed. Additionally, the geometric appearance and design of the unit have to
be retained. To resolve this difficult but frequently arising conflict a new series
of air-conditioning units, e.g. for computer rooms, telecom networks or
museums, is equipped with equally novel active silencers. Their attenuation
principle is based on an acoustic resonance system tuned to low frequencies,
the efficiency of which is significantly increased by an electro-acoustic
reinforcement system.

2. Sound attenuation and system integrity

High attenuation at low frequencies is required when noise problems of heating,


ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems have to be solved with silencers
or sound absorbers. Furthermore, acoustic components have to fulfill specific
demands concerning size, hygienic, thermal and chemical integrity as well as
installation and running costs. A variety of solutions have become available
during the development of Alternative Fibreless Absorber (ALFA) modules at
IBP [1], Fig. 1. Several acoustic resonance systems may be tuned to the low
frequency range and can be combined to yield broadband attenuators, e.g.:

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Active silencers for air-conditioning units
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– Membrane Absorbers
A combination of Helmholtz- and plate resonators as all-metal splitter
silencers for high hygienic demands and / or harsh environments, Fig. 2,
– Angular Stack Silencers
A compound of plate resonators forming an angular draft cladding to the
interior walls of exhaust stacks and ventilating ducts, Fig. 3,
– Microperforated panel or foil absorbers
A multitude of Helmholtz resonator surface structures with inherent friction
loss as light-weight silencers and absorbers for high temperatures and
vibrational load,

These examples illustrate combinations of high attenuation at low frequencies


with other special virtues according to very specific demands. The outstanding
benefit of Active Silencer Cassettes as another member of the ALFA-family is
their high broadband sound attenuation achievable with a minimum of silencer
length. Therefore, it fits the compact design of an air-conditioning unit with only
a marginal extension of its size.

3. Active silencer cassettes

The basic system of Active Silencer Cassettes [2,3] is represented by an


acoustic resonator which mainly consists of a loudspeaker membrane (mass-
like) and the air volume (spring-like) of the rear casing, Fig. 4. The attenuation
of the resonator, which is tuned to low frequencies, increases considerably if the
sound pressure close to the membrane is detected by a microphone and if the
microphone voltage is inverted, amplified and fed back to the loudspeaker coil.
This electro-dynamically driven resonant structure is designed to minimize the
acoustic impedance of the front side of the cassette. Since the loudspeaker and
the rear volume essentially define the resonance frequency an adaptation to a
given noise spectrum is possible. Furthermore, the amplification can be varied
to adjust the impedance close to its optimum according to any individual
application. The upper limit in frequency as well as sound intensity of this
absorption reinforcement system is set by the restricted mobility of the
membrane and by the electro-acoustic stability of the feedback loop.

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The electrical installation of the active cassettes requires only the connection to
a DC-power supply (24 V). The power consumption depends on the sound
intensity of the incident noise and is in the range between 2 and 8 W. Thin
acoustically transparent layers, e.g. perforated sheet metal, fibre fabric or
plastic foil serve as a protective cover of the components and reduce the flow
noise generated by the flow over the cassette. These compact cassettes can be
regarded as the basic element of a modular silencer system for combined and
optimized wall linings or splitter silencers in HVAC-ducts.

4. Application at openings of air-conditioning units

The geometric integration is one of the major problems of silencers for air inlets
and outlets of air-conditioning (AC) units. As mentioned before, several aspects
such as compactness, design and minimization of volume have to be considered
to retain the original performance and appearance of the unit. Under these
conditions short silencer arrangements with broadband attenuation and
sufficiently large air gaps are particularly required. A typical application of an
AC unit is shown in Fig. 5 (Conditioner Himod, Liebert Hiross). Here the air in
the room enters through the inlet at the top of the unit, passes the conditioning
components and discharges into a double floor. At the selected measuring point
in front of the unit the solid floor panels suppress acoustic contributions of the
downstream side. Therefore in this case a silencer is needed at the inlet
opening only, but with minimal height and with the given cross-section of the
unit. The measurements are carried out in a semi-anechoic chamber. The
measured sound pressure level spectrum in Fig. 6 at the selected point (Fig. 5)
clearly illustrates the dominance of low frequencies. Especially the peak level at
the blade passing frequency of about 200 Hz is perceptible as an annoying tonal
noise. On the basis of these results the silencers were designed as shown in
Fig. 7. In a vertical frame with a height of 300 mm the active silencer is arranged
in three lines whereby each line consists of three active cassettes. All the
cassettes have the same components, and thin foam layers are placed at their
opposite side. Due to these passive absorbers for attenuation at middle and high
frequencies an asymmetrical broadband silencer is achieved. The sound
pressure level with the silencer built in (Fig. 6) convincingly shows the
broadband attenuation as well as the reduced tonality problem at 200 Hz. During
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these measurements made on the conditioner the air flow of the unit was
adjusted to about 9000 qm/h and its reduction by the silencer amounts to less
than 3 %. With the corresponding air speed of 10 m/s in the spacing between
the silencers the proper function of the active cassettes could be demonstrated
in the presence of air flow.

5. Concluding remarks

The innovative approach with active silencers is based on the electro-acoustic


support of the resonant vibrations of a mass-spring-system. The high broadband
attenuation at low frequencies results from the adjustment of an impedance
which approximates the theoretical optimum for grazing sound incidence. Due to
the use of inexpensive standard components in a compact metal casing the
Active Silencer Cassettes can be adapted and easily implemented to solve
various noise control problems. The achievable attenuation at low frequencies
with very short silencers represents the major advantage especially at openings
of AC-units, Fig. 8. Several silencer frames can be arranged in line for further
noise reduction where the necessary space is available. Continuous detection of
the electric power consumption may be used to monitor the function of the active
cassettes. Apart from this, the modular system of the silencer enables its
integration into the service concept of HVAC systems.

6. Joint development of marketable products

The R&D results with active silencers for AC-units as described above represent
only the first step towards a marketable product. Usually, far too many promising
noise control solutions after their detailed scientific investigation fail to comply
with the harsh market requirements. For instance, hundreds of sophisticated
active noise control systems are treated in thousands of high-grade international
publications, but only negligibly few of them were actually commercialized so
far. Of course, many obstacles have to be surmounted to transfer R&D results
into a market governed mostly by small and medium-size enterprises. Here, the
Fraunhofer concept [4], Fig. 9, of a close and continuous alliance of researchers
and industrial partners stands for joint developments of marketable products. On
a Platform Innovative Acoustics (PIA) with over 10 German manufacturers and a
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Active silencers for air-conditioning units
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growing number of open-minded applicants a bridge is being built from research


into practice. This platform releases synergies and saves resources of all
partners so that even very small companies [4] can successfully exploit recent
developments of novel acoustic components and technologies, see the case
history described in [5].

7. Summary

The noise emission from air openings of innovative and compact air-conditioning
units, e.g. for computer rooms, telecom networks or museums, is reduced by the
application of equally novel active silencers. The practical requirements are
directed especially towards high attenuation at low frequencies with a short and
compact silencer arrangement as well as marginal pressure loss. With a top
frame, which comprises a special configuration of active silencer cassettes, the
broadband level reduction at the dominating low frequencies exceeds 10 dB.
The operating principle of the cassettes is based on an acoustic resonance
system tuned to low frequencies, the efficiency of which is significantly
enhanced by employing electro-acoustic reinforcement. The easy installation of
the cassettes as well as the permanent monitoring of their function allows an
integration into the service concept of the air-conditioning units.

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Active silencers for air-conditioning units
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8. References

[1] Fuchs, H.V.: Alternative fibreless absorbers – new tools and materials for
noise control and acoustic comfort. (in print) Acta Acustica 87 (2001).

[2] Krüger, J.; Leistner, P.: Noise reduction with actively absorbing silencers.
Applied Acoustics 51 (1997) 1, 113-120.

[3] Krüger, J., Leistner, P.: Wirksamkeit und Stabilität eines neuartigen aktiven
Schalldämpfers. Acta Acustica 84 (1998) 4, 658 - 667.

[4] Fuchs, H.V.; Eckoldt, D.; Hemsing, J.: Alternative Sound Absorbers for
Industrial Use: Acousticians on the Quest for Alternative Attenuators. VGB
Power Tech 79 (1999), 58-60.

[5] Fuchs, H.V.: From advanced acoustic research to novel silencing


procedures and innovative sound treatments. (in print) Acta Acustica 87
(2001).

[6] HiSAS – The semi active silencer. Technical Handbook, Liebert-Hiross


S.p.A., 2000.

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1 Porous Recycling Glass

2 Membrane Absorber

3 Compound Panel Absorber

4 Broadband Compact Absorber

5 Angular Stack Silencer

6 Cleanable Reactive Silencer

7 Active Quarter-wavelength Absorber

8 Active Silencer Cassette

9 Microperforated Panel Absorber

10 Microperforated Suspended Ceiling

11 Microperforated Foil Absorber

12 Microperforated Automotive Absorber

Fig. 1: Alternative Fibreless Absorber ALFA materials and elements as


developed and marketed together with 11 industrial partners [1]

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Charateristics Structure Applications

tunable (< 50 Hz) silencer splitters

all-metal enclosures

robust / resistive partitions

sealed all-around linings

easy cleaning baffles

low pressure drop screens

easy recycling shields

Fig. 2: Technological characteristics, physical structure and possible


applications of the membrane absorber boxes [1]

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Charateristics Structure Applications

stainless steel exhaust stacks


sheets

stack-integrated ventilating ducts

space-saving power plants

non-clocking mineral fibre plants

easy cleaning waste burning plants

low frequencies chemical plants

no pressure drop industrial plants

Fig. 3: Technological characteristics, physical structure and possible


applications of the angular stack silencer [1,4]

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protective cover
microphone

loudspeaker

24 V

amplifier
casing

Fig. 4: Schematic sketch of a single active silencer cassette

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air inlet

silencer

measuring
point (example)
AC unit 2m
(fan, air-filter,
heat-exchanger
etc.)
1.5 m

air outlet double floor

Fig. 5: Schematic sketch of the air-conditioning unit with air intake from the
room and outlet into a double floor

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80

without silencer
sound pressure level [dB]

60 with silencer

40

20

0
63 125 250 500 1k 2k 4k 8k
frequency [Hz]

Fig. 6: Measured sound pressure level (measuring point see Fig. 5) with
and without inlet silencer (see Fig. 7)

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absorptive layer
air inlet

110
active triple cassette 200

300 mm

silencer

AC unit

Fig. 7: Schematic sketch of the active inlet silencer

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Fig. 8: Illustration of different types of air-conditioning units with active inlet


silencers [6]

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PHASES STEPS FRAUNHOFER


Problem
Solution
Research Test
& Development Verification
INDUSTRY
Prototype
Patent
Suitability
Design
Adaptation Resistance
& Production Durability
Demonstration
Presentation
Quality
Quantity
Optimization Price
& Marketing Competition
Penetration
Co-operation
Diversification

Fig. 9: Fraunhofer concept for the joint development of marketable


products [5]

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