Square collage of coolers and heat exchangers supplied by Sterling Thermal Technology

Considerations for designing bespoke heat exchangers

Bespoke heat exchangers enable design and manufacturing teams to take into account the unique requirements of your process and industry. By designing custom heat exchangers, everything from the heat transfer efficiency to the cost can be closely controlled.

If you need a bespoke heat exchanger, there are some key things to consider.

There may often be additional or unique considerations with custom designs, so get in touch with Sterling TT to discuss your requirements. We are a leading bespoke heat exchanger manufacturer.

Introduction to designing heat exchanger

At Sterling TT, we design and manufacture different types of heat exchangers, including CACA and CACW coolers, steam air heaters, condensers, shell and tube heat exchangers and many other varieties.

A bespoke heat exchanger design must begin by understanding what type of heat exchanger is correct for your application. Though each type is different, they are highly customisable, so each has a wide range of suitable applications.

For example, our CACW coolers will be used in renewable energy plants – such as our recent work with a biomass-fired power generation facility in Fukuyama town – and are already in use in frigates and submarines.

Each application requires unique design considerations to make the CACW cooler suitable for its purpose.


heat exchangers including coolers (CACA and CACW) designed and manufactured by Sterling Thermal Technology

For more information, explore our product pages or get in touch to discuss your requirements.

Key heat exchanger design considerations

1. Client data

When we design a heat exchanger, we begin with your data. This allows the engineer to make informed design decisions that take into account the specific requirements.

The data includes information such as specified hot and cold media, the amount of heat the heat exchanger must transfer, the available space and noise constraints. At this stage, we discuss any unique requirements or priority considerations for the project.

2. Fluid

The unique properties of the fluids involved dictate the most efficient heat exchanger design. It also affects the materials we will need to manufacture the heat exchanger. These ensure a good heat transfer coefficient, plus take into account reactivity both between the fluids, and the fluid and the manufacturing material.

For example, in a shell and tube design, it might be that the two fluids involved risk reactions if they come into contact. In this case, the engineer might use a double tube sheet design to prevent cross-contamination.

3. Operating conditions

Other operating conditions that need to be considered in bespoke heat exchanger designs include:

    • size constraints
    • operating pressures
    • vibration
    • ambient conditions such as salt water, dusty environments etc

Each of these aspects could significantly affect the design of the heat exchanger.

4. Budget

Budget is, inevitably, often a significant consideration. For example, it can influence which material is most appropriate to ensure a good heat transfer coefficient without pushing the cost beyond the budget of the project.

5. Design standards

Depending on the location and industry in which the heat exchanger will operate, there might be specific design standards to which we must adhere.

We are experienced designing heat exchangers within international standards, such as ASME, as well as country-specific standards and codes.

Read more about heat exchanger standards.

6. Material

The heat exchanger’s material is another important consideration with bespoke designs.

There are a variety of factors that impact the best choice of material, including:

    • corrosion resistance
    • conductivity
    • stress and cracking resistance
    • ease of manipulation and manufacture
    • melting point
    • cost

For some heat exchangers, corrosion resistance, for example, will be a more critical consideration than others.

For example, a heat exchanger that handles the vaporising of acid substances might need to be manufactured from tantalum. It has a very high melting point and is almost entirely resistant to acid attacks at temperatures below 150°C.

A heat exchanger that will be in constant contact with seawater, on the other hand, might be best being manufactured with titanium. This is a more abundant element (and therefore cheaper) but has good corrosion resistance. It could withstand sea water for 3 years before showing any signs of corrosion damage.

Learn more about the materials used in heat exchangers.

By using your data to understand the application of the heat exchanger, we can work with you to select the most effective and suitable material for your bespoke product.

7. Efficiency

Sterling Thermal Technology's configurator

Creating an efficient design with a good heat transfer coefficient will be a priority for most designs. However, this needs to be managed with other constraints and considerations for the project, such as cost, noise, corrosion resistance etc.

By understanding all the contributing factors, and your priorities, we can make informed design decisions for each heat exchanger product.

8. Size

It’s a reasonable question to ask: “Is a bigger heat exchanger always better?”

While a larger heat exchanger might offer greater heat transfer capacity and potentially higher efficiency in certain scenarios, it’s not always the optimal choice. Factors such as space constraints, cost considerations, energy consumption, and system requirements play crucial roles in determining the appropriate size. We plan for all of this when choosing a size for a heat exchanger.

9. Fouling and maintenance

The fluids involved and the ambient conditions can lead to fouling of the heat exchanger. In turn, this leads to cleaning and maintenance requirements.

By understanding these requirements, we can design a heat exchanger that you can easily clean.

10. Noise

Noise can often impact the design of a bespoke heat exchanger. For example, many coolers will use a fan to circulate air across the finned surface which can be loud.

If staff are working in proximity to the heat exchanger, it’s important that the noise is controlled to protect their hearing and ensure a suitable work environment.

A silencer, for example, could be added to the propeller design. Alternatively, a fan’s velocity could be reduced to lower the vortex generation, reducing the noise.

These can impact on efficiency, so other elements of the design may need to be altered accordingly until the optimum balance is reached between all the considerations.

Manufacturing considerations

While most considerations for bespoke heat exchangers are handled in the design stages, the manufacturing process itself comes with a range of specific considerations.


There are a huge number of processes and techniques that might be used in the manufacturing of a bespoke heat exchanger.

It will depend on the material and design as to which will be most suitable.

Manufacturing standards

TEMA nomenclature. © 1988 by Tubular Exchanger Manufacturers AssociationIn addition to adhering to design standards, projects might also have specific manufacturing standards that need to be followed.

For example, shell and tube heat exchangers are built to TEMA standards. Heat exchangers for the oil and gas industry are manufactured to API standards.

Read more about heat exchanger standards.

Logistical considerations

Transport of an Avantair from Sterling Thermal Technology's factory in the UKWe need to transport the heat exchanger, once manufactured, to the operating site. The logistics of this are extremely varied depending on the location, the conditions, and the size of the heat exchanger.

For example, we might ship a large heat exchanger in multiple shipments and discuss with you the best solution for the final assembly of the product on site.

Other times, we will advise clients on the machinery they will need to unload the heat exchanger shipment and set it up in its position at the site. This could be a mobile crane and associated equipment, for example.

At Sterling TT, we understand that every heat exchanger is different and will have unique challenges it must overcome in order to operate effectively. This is why all our heat exchangers are designed bespoke to your requirements.

Want to learn more? Get in touch or explore more of our website: homepage.