Run a Thermal System, Run a Marathon

Guest Post

by Luke Nowlan, Paratherm Summer Intern 2017

Luke Nowlan

Luke Nowlan, Engineering Student at Villanova University, and Paratherm Intern Summer 2017

Here in Pennsylvania, everyone anticipates summertime, and it always seems to end prematurely. Summer entails a degree of relaxed ambiance. People unwind and run off to vacation; the pace of life slows down. However, for a particular group of individuals, the pace is just starting to increase, as the most anticipated season of the year has yet to come. While most of us are getting our tan on at the beach, or perhaps enjoying some extra shut-eye on Sunday mornings, a peculiar crowd may be found out and about at the crack of dawn, actively preparing for that which lies ahead. Now, the days are becoming shorter, the air is crisp, and leaves are turning shades of maroon, orange, and gold. Marathon season is upon us.

I spent this summer working at Paratherm as a Chemical Engineering Intern while training for my first full marathon. During a Sunday morning run I began to draw connections between running and my experience with thermal fluids. Successfully training for a marathon, much like successfully maintaining a system operating with thermal fluid, involves the right equipment, consistent monitoring, and advice from qualified experts. Without proper training, a runner will “hit the wall” during the last several miles – a common pitfall wherein muscles deplete all their glycogen stores, thoughts become hazy, and legs begin to feel like Jell-O. Attempting a marathon “cold-turkey” inevitably leads to failure and to increased risk of injury. Similarly, failing to properly maintain one’s thermal fluid compromises efficiency and ultimately risks system failure. So let’s approach optimizing thermal efficiency as one would approach training for a marathon!


A runner is much like Goldilocks when it comes to selecting shoes. Each individual has a specific pair of formfitting shoes – not too big, too small, too wide, or too narrow, which allow for optimal performance. Gurus at specialized running stores help serious runners select an ideal performance shoe based on criteria such as foot-strike, pace, mileage, susceptibility to injury, and so forth. Similarly, each system should operate with a specialized thermal fluid, allowing the system to achieve optimal performance. Just as there is no one-size-fits-all sneaker, there is no one-size-fits-all thermal fluid. The team of experts whom I worked alongside excel at helping clients select an ideal fluid for their application based on industry, operating conditions, safety concerns, and other various plant considerations. Qualified engineers understand the importance of a proper fluid, and have the know-how to determine which fluid fits just right. Embrace your inner Goldilocks when selecting a thermal fluid!

Not only proper gear, but also consistent monitoring is key in all aspects of preparing for a Marathon race. Individuals track their progress in terms of pace and mileage by using smartphone applications and GPS watches to ensure improvements are being made. One must guard against dehydration by consistency drinking fluids before, during, and after activity. Injury avoidance necessitates knowing how to monitor one’s body – the ability to tell when something is awry. A thermal system is analogous to a runner’s body in these respects. All thermal fluids slowly break down over time, which can cause a system to become less efficient and eventually shut down. Therefore, it is important to consistently monitor thermal fluid health. By annually collecting fluid samples and submitting them to qualified labs, one can monitor how well the fluid is performing, and determine whether new fluid needs to be added. The engineers I worked with are able to make a total system analysis using extensive knowledge of equipment and processes. They’re able to tell when something is wrong and recommend remediate actions. So, think of thermal fluid maintenance as marathon training, and you’ll surely go the distance!

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