The Switched Nozzle Valve, also referred to as “SNV” throughout this paper, is an innovative product that is positioned to enter industries involving controlled gas flow. The SNV controls the flow of a variety of gasses, allowing them to be mixed efficiently and accurately. The SNV can be controlled by digital interface that allows the gas pressure to be accurately measured and adjusted with the touch of a button. This technology is still in the prototype phase, and will require much more thorough research and testing in order for it to be taken to the commercial market. Though this report we will cover several main areas:
- The current technology and its status.
- The markets that we tested and our results.
- Our recommendation for this invention.
The SNV is currently protected by a PCT patent application that gives it international priority, for a restricted amount of time, 18 months. This is important because soon the decision will need to be made to patent the technology, or move in a new direction.
There have been multiple different ideas for application, spanning multiple different industries. In the beginning, we created one subteam that would focused on finding companies that may be willing to partner or license the technology. The other team was focused on finding potential applications in different fields. We found this quite helpful in moving things forward. We did not have any success finding companies that were willing to partner with us and help further the technology in our time frame. However, we found several good connections in the welding industry that were somewhat helpful, as well as information regarding potential applications.
The key players in the industry currently offer two main solutions for gas mixing. There is a simple solution that is cost efficient and simple to use, but this requires monitoring and adjusting. The other solution is an automated mixer that works by simply twisting a knob to the desired mixture or pressure. The issue with this regulator is the high cost. After further development, the SNV could cost less and offer greater benefit than the high end solutions on the market.
In the welding industry, hard working men and women count on the reliable tried and true methods & tools. As technology is advancing, each industry is getting its own influx of innovation. Welding requires a gas shield to protect the weld, commonly made of argon or carbon dioxide. These two gasses are mixed which produces an arc causing the filler metal to melt, creating a weld. At the moment, smaller businesses in the industry mainly use the traditional knob and gauge regulator to mix the two gasses. Another solution to mix these two gasses is a proportional gas mixer which can cost in excess of $2,000. The problem currently seen by the industry is, there is no technological application to control gas flow that is reliable, accurate, and most importantly, cost efficient.
On one hand the industry can use the traditional method, which requires a large portion of time to get perfect, or spend thousands for the current automatable system. In regard to the invention, it is simply a product that would be nice to have in the industry. This is not a critical problem, in fact, a lot of companies prefer the simple gauge and knob system, simply because of how easy it is to use and how little it costs, as they are a fraction of the cost of what our inventor anticipates this product could be sold for. However, that does not mean there is no opportunity. There are companies willing to pay thousands for the automated system, and there are companies that are only willing to pay less than $100 for the simple system. We can create an intermediary that combines both ease of use and cost efficiency.
A switched nozzle valve regulates the flow of gas by repeatedly moving a sapphire ball back and forth at a high rate of speed to control the rate of flow. This allows for constant gas pressure when the valve is open and sudden stop in gas flow when you close the valve, increasing efficiency and decreasing the amount of gas lost. The concept behind the traditional switched nozzle relies on some method to intermittently halt flow.
The current prototype of the switched nozzle valve uses a ¼ in diameter sapphire ball to switch fully open and fully closed very quickly, replaced the traditional elastomer operator to regulate the gas flow works likes a switch. To ensure precise fit of the sapphire ball prevent any leaks, the ball rests in a brass conical seat, meaning the ball can conform to its seat because the material is softer than that of the sapphire ball. Therefore, it gives the valve a long-lasting life. Then for the valve body, a magnetic subassembly was contained in a 3-inch diameter brass shell, which affixed to the brass valve body. When current flows into the body and produces a coil force to operates the regulation on gas flow.
And combined these unique features together, the switched nozzle valve is capable of offering the regulation of flow without sensor required. And it could also be easily extend to other, or even multiple channels. Meanwhile, the divergent gas exit gives pressure recovery, so that the valve could be able to operate with only 20% pressure drop, while most traditional valve lose 50% of their pressure. Overall, comparing to current digital control switched nozzle, this invention has a much lower cost while being stable and reliable at the same time.
However, these figures and statements are all theoretical. The SNV is going to require much more rigorous research to first debunk the weak points and determine what caused it to fail in the initial testing. After that, adjustments will need to be made, resulting in multiple more hours put into designing and then building prototypes, only to be tested and analyzed again. There is a large cost associated with this in both man hours and experimentation. Through this report, we are going to explain whether or not this technology is worth further investment.
Intellectual Property Status
Several main parts of the switched nozzle valve are not proprietary, and are not claimed to be. This includes main features mentioned in “Performance of the switched nozzle prototype valve,” by Dr. Martin. “Not the converging-diverging nozzle, nor the use of a choked throat to regulate flow, nor the concept of a high speed valve is novel.” This is important when looking at the claims of the invention; the patent application focuses on the combination of these technologies with pulse width modulation to achieve digital control.
Overall, according to the provisional patent application, the main claim is for a “switched nozzle valve for fluid flow regulation.” Under this claim, there are two more specific claims, both detailed below. The main claim protects the use of the technology containing a method of switching and regulating the flow within the same valve. It also states its use for fluid flow, broad enough to capture all potential gases and other substances which could pass through, but narrow enough in general to avoid prior art complications.
The more specific parts of the claim start with “a converging-diverging nozzle having a choked throat for achieving sonic velocity of fluid in the throat.” Simply put, this is the technology that enables the regulating of gas flow to be constant, while the valve is on. In reference to ‘converging-diverging’, this is simply the build up of back pressure to precisely regulate the pressure flowing out of the SNV. To give you an idea of what we are referring to, picture one of the apollo rockets.The rocket boosters used have converging-diverging nozzles. The bottom of the rocket appears as if it was pinched just before the end of the rocket booster, and at the end is a funnel shape. That pinch, essentially creates back pressure to propel the rocket. That is the same concept used inside the SNV. This is depicted in section 2.2, “Pressure Recovery” of the SNV Paper. This is important because it allows for another advantage of the valve to be protected by IP, as the valve allows no pressure loss.
The next more specific claim states “a high speed valve operable to switch between fully open and fully closed to regulate the fluid flow for achieving constant flow while the valve is on.” This is what makes the valve able to keep a constant flow at any rate specified by the end user. It does not say exactly how this is achieved, but that would be too specific for a claim. It also protects the method of opening and closing fully which is important to the valve’s unique nature, however does not specify the pace or method this occurs. These claims are strong because they are not too narrow, and are broad enough to cover the entire concept of the SNV.
Filed PCT- this gives our inventor/ invention international priority, stating that we are working on something of this nature, preventing anyone from replicating this.
As addressed in the PCT, our inventor brings up obstacles that he believes, need to be dealt with. The first three obstacles pertain to the opening of the valve to allow for the gas to flow through. Our inventor states, “The operator will partially obstruct flow while it is in transition to its fully open position, so opening times need to be fast relative to the switching frequency or at least highly repeatable”. The mechanism that must move to allow for the flowing has to have an agile move to also prevent a ‘delivery pressure ripple, but that can not be a trade off for strength, as strength is essential so the mechanism, is not overcome by the high fluid forces.
Initial Potential Customers
There are many small and large scale ways gas mixing is used, but the SNV has a few markets with the largest promise. One of these markets is manufacturing. The basis of this technology is to help create products by mixing gases to assist welders, by ensuring a perfect gas shield protects welds. This scenario is mostly found in manufacturing plants because they go about creating various products from metal into end goods. It is one of the largest applicable markets in terms of size and relevance. For our segments, we choose the automotive assembly line sector and the welding/cutting sector. We would focus on automotive assembly lines that are ran using automation. The Switch Nozzle Valve is created to automatically control the flow of gasses, which would pair well with automatic welders but could also be used in smaller manufacturing settings. We choose welding and cutting because of our valve’s effectiveness in shield gasses as mentioned above.
These companies are likely to be the end users of the valve, and therefore should have the best insight into the problems they are facing. It is likely they would not be potential partners because manufacturing the valves is not their specialty. Small to mid-size manufacturing companies would be possible to reach and learn about these problems.
Our next market is industrial gas mixing. The reason Dr. Martin created the Switched Nozzle Valve was to mix gasses for welding purposes. Upon thinking about this we believe it could simply be used to mix gasses in general. Eliminating the restrictions of welding opens up the potential market for greater discoveries. We choose two segments, valve manufacturing and gas mixers. The gas mixing segment would focus on companies that mix and sell industrial gasses. This segment would contain more of our end users. They would use the Switch Nozzle Valve to mix gases that they would sell to other companies. These distributors will also be in touch with their consumers and the problems they may face, another valuable asset from reaching out to these companies. The valve manufacturing segment has the potential for a partnership and possible license.
Potential Applications after Research
After further research, we discovered there could be potential applications in the automated welding industry.
Robotic Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding, also known as Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), is a common high deposition rate process that involves feeding a wire continuously toward the heated weld tip. It is considered a semi-automatic welding process.
MIG welding is one of the most popular forms of welding in industrial applications and is an easy process to integrate to a robot system. MIG welding provides a faster process than other forms of welding, especially when robots are incorporated.
MIG welding robots are capable of all-position, adding flexibility to the welding system. Safety from dangerous fumes, higher quality welds and more efficient processes are just some of the advantages that companies see following MIG welding automation.
More specifically the automated welding industry. The main field of automatic welding we researched was the automotive welding market. The automatic welding arms on the automotive production lines burn out their sensors after approximately 5000 weld flashes and need to be replaced. These sensors are part of the valve system that is currently in place. The automatic welding arms use an active system to mix their gases. What this means is the valve is constantly checking to make sure the gas mixture is precise.
In order for the current systems to monitor the flow of gases they need these sensors on the out-flow end of the valve. The sensor is able to read the pressure of the gas flowing through the valve to insure the proper pressure is being delivered. Without these sensors the valve would not be able to precisely allow the right pressure of gas through itself. If the valve cannot give the precise pressure of gas then it is failing to do its job. While 5000 weld flashes may seem like a lot, it is quite the opposite. An average automotive welding arm in a manufacturing plant emits 1000 to 2000 weld flashes a day. This means the average lifespan of the sensors on the arm is only 2 to 5 days.