Vacuum: Where to begin?

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I recently started working at The DigiVac Company and have been so excited to learn, but having no previous knowledge of vacuum made my first weeks somewhat difficult. As I sat in training sessions and meetings, all I could keep thinking was “this is really cool!….but how am I going to retain it all?”

Vacuum is such an intimidating subject in the beginning, and when you’re in a position where you need to know it in order to excel, these questions may be the first that come to mind: 

  • What is vacuum?
  • How can it be used?
  • Where can I find it?
  • Is it dangerous?
  • If it is invisible, how do I see vacuum?

I know these were the questions on the tip of my tongue my first week and I hope that providing the answers to them will help you along your new journey into understanding and using vacuum.

So, what exactly is vacuum?

Vacuum is something that is both everywhere and nowhere. It is that space that can be devoid of all matter, particles, and material. From an academic standpoint, vacuum is also an area that has a pressure much lower than Atmospheric Pressure (760 Torr, 1013mb) where scientists and professionals can conduct experiments that tell them the functionality of equipment, lets them separate solvents, or remove water from products. The latter is the type of vacuum we will address in this article.

What can I use vacuum for then, if it’s only for experimentation and research?

There are many applications for vacuum within society. It has uses in industrial fields, research, laboratories, HVAC, taxidermy, medical device drying, manufacturing, and more.

The most common everyday places vacuum is used are:

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC): Most people have air conditioners in their house but do not know that those systems require a level of vacuum pressure within the equipment when they are first installed. If there is a leak, your AC unit won’t work. When installed or maintained by a professional company, the technician will take his/her vacuum gauge and ensure that the system is dry and leak free so the client does not face the preventable risk of an HVAC failure.

Distillation: The process of purifying or separating liquids through heating and cooling. This use of vacuum can be applied by almost anyone, and most adults over the age of 21 are familiar with it because distillation is the process used to make some hard alcohols. With the use of a fermenter and vacuum technology, elements which dilute the beverage, including water, are removed so the remaining components can be mixed with other ingredients to make a more enjoyable drink.

Although vacuum is not required for distillation, it is sometimes used. Recently distillation has also been used by chefs to infuse stronger flavors into their dishes and give their guests a more sophisticated dining experience. In addition, oil and gas companies use vacuum in their distillations processes to refine gasoline, without which your car wouldn’t run.

FreezeDryer-VacuumPump.jpgFreeze Drying: Whether it is food for the family, material at a medical office, or components of an experiment found in a scientific laboratory, people regularly come across freeze drying but may not know how vacuum comes into play during the process. Essentially, when freeze drying something, the individual seeks to remove all water from the item and leave only the solid components behind. To accomplish this, the item is frozen, placed in a chamber, and then lowered into pressures below Atmosphere where the water sublimes and the product remaining contains only the necessary or wanted components, while preserving the same structure.

Laboratories/Research: In this field, vacuum can be applied in a variety of ways. It can be used to separate and distill solvents, freeze dry material, develop innovative coatings, and test hypotheses under extremely low pressure. However, the applications may not end there. Academics and researchers are constantly finding new ways vacuum can be utilized, making this field difficult to classify.

Can it be dangerous to use vacuum?

Vacuum_Tanker_Implossion_-_Discovery.jpgGenerally speaking, no, vacuum is not dangerous. Although technicians are working with pressures and lowering them at a relatively fast rate, bringing pressures down leads to implosive, not explosive situations. In other words, low pressure vacuum is sucking the air out of something such as a water bottle and when most of the air is removed, it doesn’t explode, it implodes on itself, condensing in size. This compression must still be monitored however, and that is where vacuum gauges and line controllers come into play. Together, these instruments sense and display vacuum readings so technicians know the pressure levels within their equipment.

Where is vacuum found?

Vacuum is not necessarily found, but created. Within a sealed container, pressure is slowly or rapidly (depending upon the nature of the vacuum application) decreased until it reaches Atmosphere or lower. This is vacuum. If someone is looking to FIND vacuum, as in a place where they can learn about vacuum or see a vacuum chamber, they can research local universities and science centers that have them either in use or on display. Here is a neat example of vacuum effects on a balloon.

If it is invisible, how do I see vacuum?

Vacuum gauges are the solution to viewing activity within a sealed chamber. Traditionally, the vacuum gauge industry has manufactured instruments that provide measurement at a point in time to see how the vacuum pressure changes over time, but if someone wants to catalogue pressures and view multiple readings at once, the gauge itself cannot do that. In cases such as these, where technicians want analytics, they must look to digital software.

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Vacuum analytics is the vacuum time and pressure data provided by computer based vacuum software. It allows technicians to observe trends, make faster and more reliable conclusions and use set points to turn on and off a machine (the latter can be part of a vacuum control process). Finally, this data needs to be displayed in a useful format, so the presentation of this data is important too.

A good example of how to “see” vacuum is the DigiVac StrataCapture software (provided with any DigiVac gauge purchased with an ethernet option). This web-based software allows you to see all of your vacuum information and in the case of the digital vacuum gauges StrataVac and StraVac 3xCM, all of the connected sensors, change setpoints, and see PID variables as well.

Looking for something even more modern?

The latest additions to the DigiVac gauge family, the Bullseye Precision Gauge, Bullseye Precision Gauge with Bluetooth, and the Bullseye Precision Gauge Pirani have a specialized app that sends vacuum readings directly to the technician’s smartphone. This technology means that the specialist in charge of leak detections, outgassing, and any vacuum complication no longer needs to be situated right next to the vacuum chamber. He/she can continue about their day rest assured that the Bullseye Precision Gauge (any model) will notify them if a problem should occur.