Founded in 1964 and headquartered in Brescello, Reggio Emilia in Italy, Immergas is the leading Italian provider of condensing boilers, designing and producing 200 different models on 10 production lines.
The company owns a second plant in Poprad, Slovakia where it manufactures entry-level appliances for emerging markets, and is launching a start-up in Iran to produce boiler models for Middle Eastern markets.
The company is consistently ranked among the leading European companies in the home Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) sector and owns nine sales subsidiaries in Europe, and one in China.
In this interview, engineer Luca Cavalli, of Immergas’ advanced engineering team, discusses the technical and business benefits the company has realised since first introducing Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) technologies into its R&D department in 1997.
Since then, the company has increased the number of CAE tools it uses, and also leverages a collaborative relationship with EnginSoft to support its CAE-led approach to the design and optimization of its products and production processes.
Immergas has been the leading Italian company for condensing boilers since 2002 and before that for traditional gas boilers. About 200,000 of the 350,000 boilers produced in 2015 were manufactured in Italy at the Brescello headquarters in Reggio Emilia, and most of the components are designed and made at the company’s Italian plants, where over 600 employees design and manufacture 200 different models on 10 production lines. Immergas owns a second plant in Poprad, Slovakia, where it manufactures entry-level appliances specifically designed for emerging markets. The company also has a new start-up that is being launched in Iran, which aims to produce boiler models suited to the Middle East markets. Fifty years after its formation, which occurred on February 5, 1964, the company, started by Romano Amadei, Giuseppe Carra and Gianni Biacchi, is consistently ranked among the leading European companies in the home Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) sector, and owns nine sales subsidiaries in Europe, and one in China.
How long have you been using CAE simulation technologies and mathematical modeling in your company?
We have been using CAE technologies since late 1997 when wee first acquired the ANSYS software for Finite Element Analysis (FEA) and the Fluent package for CFD simulation.
In 2004, we added the ANSYS CFX suite in order to increase the integration and the potential of the CAE package. The first project we developed using ANSYS Mechanical was the optimization of a pressure vessel made of stainless steel.
What was the main reason for introducing these technologies?
Since its inception, Immergas’ mission has been to win a leading position in the design and manufacture of first-class products, in terms of perceived quality, energy efficiency, safety and value for money in the extremely competitive market of home HVAC. I recall that in the late Nineties we were already well aware that globalization would bring unheard of opportunities and challenges, such as access to larger, untapped emerging markets, a more demanding and sophisticated customer base, increased regulation and shorter product life cycles. So, it was easy to foresee increasing pressures on our R&D to deliver a wider range of appliances, with better performance, lower costs and reduced time-to-market. Therefore, I would say that the main reason for introducing CAE was the necessity to invest in the engineering of new products in order to remain among the leaders and expand our customer base.
What kind of products are you using simulation for?
We use CAE methods to design and optimize a wide range of systems and components, such as fuel mixers and controls, combustors, heat exchangers, exhaust piping, pressure vessels, filters and valves. An emerging trend has recently been the downsizing of boilers powered with fossil fuels and their integration into more complex systems that include renewable energy generators like photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar heaters or heat pumps. Also in this case, I believe that simulation can be of great help to understand the interactions among the many devices, and to ensure that each appliance performs within its optimal operating range to achieve the best balance in terms of the performance and efficiency of the whole system.
Why did you decide to introduce mathematical modeling in the design process?
As I have previously mentioned, our industrial sector faces increasing competitive pressures. Besides the usual requirements for reliability, low cost and flexibility of the installations, the market is also demanding additional features such as energy efficiency, lower emissions and acoustic impact, and greater connectivity to name a few. Mathematical modeling provides a large amount of data that can be used to understand the details of the physics associated with the functional systems and components of the appliances for the HVAC. Furthermore, by doing virtual simulations, it is possible to explore a larger design space faster when compared to the physical prototyping approach.
How does this affect your design process?
The design of an innovative appliance may require the use of many CAE tools, such as advanced fluid dynamics, thermal, thermal-structural, mechanical, combustion and acoustics analyses, DOE algorithms, etc. Our internal advanced engineering team can access a wide array of experimental data in order to validate the most effective simulation path. Virtual modeling allows faster design iterations so that only a few, optimized solutions are tested in our laboratory. Following the introduction of CAE into our R&D, we have changed the design process remarkably, moving from the trial-and-error method and physical prototyping loops, to advanced collaborative engineering where virtual simulation leads the process.
Are you also thinking about applying mathematical modeling to new products and what expectations do you have?
Today Immergas concentrates on supplying intelligent installations that choose the most cost-effective energy source from among condensing boilers, heat pumps, solar panels and photovoltaic energy in order to deliver heated or cooled air with the least energy consumption. New European and National legislative obligations, and the need felt strongly by everybody to reduce pollution and the associated costs, are pushing industry to develop more advanced technological solutions. Thermal, solar and PV panels, heat pumps, hybrid systems and other sources of renewable energy are already well-established and in great demand. We expect that these trends will grow stronger in the near future. I’m sure that Immergas, as we have been doing for almost 20 years, will keep investing in advanced engineering and will take advantage of the most updated CAE technologies such as multi-physics integration, acoustics analysis, advanced combustion and high-performance computing (HPC).
What’s the value that EnginSoft can give you?
In our view, EnginSoft’s unique strength is its multidisciplinary approach that includes many areas of Computer Aided Engineering (CAE). Its expertise covers all types of analyses for both product and process, including all the key physics for our R&D, such as advanced fluid dynamics, thermal, thermal-structural, mechanical, combustion, acoustics, and Fluid Structure Integration (FSI) analyses and multi-objective optimizations. EnginSoft’s collaboration with some of the most prestigious academic groups, leading industries and cutting-edge CAE vendors ensures it can transfer the best practices used in the most challenging engineering situations. Besides routine support provided on the simulations conducted internally by Immergas, another recognizable value of our collaboration with EnginSoft is the large number of resources that can be quickly leveraged in order to accelerate the achievement of the projects’ objectives. Lastly, the valuable partnership with EnginSoft stimulates continous investment in the training of our human resources through various methods, such as training courses, on-the-job training, webinars and, of course, the annual International CAE Conference.
From your perspective, do you believe there will be a need for computation codes to handle future challanges?
Looking ahead, we reckon that home and commercial HVAC systems will be cleaner, more efficient and more connected. Furthermore, the emergence of cutting-edge technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) could increase the demands of increasingly complex systems. It is clear to us that the design challenges of the future, and the multiphysics phenomena involved, cannot be economically handled without an increasingly large portfolio of virtual prototyping tools.
Could you estimate the return on the investment (ROI) related to these R&D activities?
Immergas develops a wide range of appliances both in-house or in collaboration with hundreds of suppliers and therefore it is difficult to assess the ROI for the CAE activities without reviewing the challenges of each project. I would rather talk about some of the costs of not doing simulations. For instance, due to various constraints in our laboratory, some high-powered systems cannot be developed through physical prototypes. Moreover, the performance demanded of our new products may easily go beyond the reach and the budget of a trial-and-error approach. Last but not least, the adoption of CAE by Immergas has proved to have enhanced the skills and the commitment of our technical staff towards amazing innovations.
This paper, by means of presenting three application cases, provides a brief description of the capabilities of a numerical tool developed for the design and optimization of hybrid metal/composite lattice structures created with 3D printing