What is a plate heat exchanger?

WCR UK - Frame handling services

A plate heat exchanger, or PHE, is a heat exchanger that uses metal plates to transfer heat between two fluids or to be used as a heat transfer surface for indirectly cooling or heating hot and cold fluids.

The purpose is to transfer thermal energy between two fluids without the fluids mixing.

The temperature difference between the entrance and exit will indicate how effective your plate heat exchanger is at heat transfer from one fluid stream into another.

Who invented the PHE?

In 1910, Richard Seligman started the Aluminium Plant & Vessel Company Limited as a fabrication business that supplied welded tanks to the brewing and vegetable oil industries.

In the early 1920s, Mr Seligman recognised that there was an opportunity to develop a more efficient heat exchanger than the shell and tube type that was commonly used at that time.

The gasketed plate & frame heat exchanger was created by Dr Richard Seligman in 1923 and revolutionised how fluids are heated and cooled.

How does a plate heat exchanger work?

A plate exchanger consists of a series of parallel plates that are placed one above the other to allow the formation of a series of channels for fluids to flow between them.

The plates are usually separated by rubber-sealing gaskets installed in a ring around the outside of the plates.

The space between two adjacent plates forms the fluid’s channel.

Inlet and outlet holes at the corners of the plates allow hot and cold fluids through alternating channels in the exchanger so that a plate is always in contact on one side with the hot fluid and the other with the cold.

Tightening bars run the entire length of the heat exchanger. Bolts tighten onto these bars and compress the plates and gaskets together, forming a water-tight seal.

heat exchanger plate with new gasket
A close-up of a corrugated plate with a gasket installed from a PHE

Where are PHEs used?

PHEs are found in many industries and heat exchanger applications, such as:

  • Food and beverage processing
  • HVAC
  • Chemical processing
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Paper and pulp production
  • Petrochemical
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Power generation

A gasketed plate heat exchanger can be quite compact and relatively easy to install, making them popular for many industrial and heat exchanger applications where space is limited.

PHE Diagram

In the diagram, you can see the heat transfer plates. The plates are usually made of stainless steel.

The gaskets that separate the plates are made of an elastomeric material, such as rubber or silicone, and are designed to prevent the two fluids from mixing during the heat transfer.

The plates are held tightly together by bolts, clamping bars, or tie rods that run the length of the exchanger.

The inlet and outlet ports are located at the end plates of the heat exchanger.

As one fluid flows through the channels between the plates, it comes into contact with the other fluid flowing in the opposite direction.

Heat is transferred from the hotter fluid to the cooler fluid, and the gaskets keep the two fluids separate.

PHEs are classified according to their plate configuration.

The most common types of PHEs are:

  • Parallel Flow
  • Counter Flow
  • Cross Flow
Plate Heat Exchanger diagram
A typical plate Heat Exchanger Diagram

How many plates are there in a PHE?

The number of plates in a single exchanger ranges from just ten to several hundred, reaching surface exchange areas up to thousands of square meters.

You can see the many plates of a PHE visible in this image
You can see the many plates of a PHE visible in this image

What are PHEs made from?

The frame of a plate and frame heat exchanger is generally constructed from steel.

The corrugated metal plate is usually made from formed stainless steel, which has good heat transfer characteristics and can withstand high temperatures and high-pressure differentials without warping or buckling.

What are the benefits of frame heat exchangers?

There are several key benefits of using a frame heat exchanger;

  • Easier to maintain, repair, and service.
  • They have a small footprint that requires little to no maintenance space.
  • They have an increased surface area than tube-based exchangers, meaning more heat is transferred in a shorter period.
  • The corrugated plates create turbulence in the liquids as they flow through the unit. This turbulence gives an effective heat transfer coefficient.
  • PHEs can be used in many applications, from power plants to chemical processing and high-purity applications like pharmaceuticals.

Disadvantages of gasketed plate heat exchangers?

  • They cannot be used in applications with large pressure differentials.
  • Gaskets are a potential problem if crushed excessively, as they can warp and result in system leaking.
  • Gaskets are more sensitive to temperature changes than plates; thus, a high fluid temperature may not be used for fear of damaging the gasket material.
  • The small plate pathways drastically decrease the pressure of the flow rates, necessitating extra pump power.
  • The two fluids with a significant temperature gap will not exchange energy as effectively as they would in a shell and tube exchanger.
  • They lose heat to the ambient air, lowering their efficiency.

Can a PHE be serviced and repaired?

Like most industrial equipment, a heat exchanger requires regular upkeep to function correctly.

Fortunately, PHEs are more straightforward to maintain than other exchangers, and problems are easier to spot and rectify.

Even if the PHE appears to be in good working order, planned maintenance is recommended regularly.

When a PHE’s efficiency is allowed to drop due to fouling, it will eventually become inefficient.

Deposits accumulate in the grooves of a plate as it becomes filthy, reducing heat transfer capacity.

The performance of a plate deteriorates with each level of deposit buildup, necessitating early detection to avoid prolonged outages and high remedial costs.

At WCR UK, we offer a comprehensive plate heat exchanger service. This involves thoroughly inspecting your exchanger, followed by a report detailing our findings and recommendations. We can then clean, repair or replace your exchanger as needed.

Contact us today to learn more about our PHE services or request a quote.

wcr uk heat exchanger cleaning
Heat exchanger cleaning at our factory

Types of PHEs

  • Gasketed
  • Brazed
  • Welded plate heat exchangers – Welded Plate Heat Exchangers: These heat exchangers are mainly used in the oil, gas and chemical industries to transfer heat
  • Semi-welded

What are the different types of heat exchangers?

Shopping for a heat exchanger can be overwhelming with the variety of options on the market.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common types of heat exchangers:

  • Shell and Tube – This is the oldest type of heat exchanger and is still widely used today. The tubes pass through a shell, transferring heat by convection or conduction.
  • Plate – These types of exchangers use plates with fluid passages between them.
  • Brazed plate – These are also known as fin-and-tube heat exchangers. They have fins attached to the plates and tubes joined by brazing. The fluids pass over the fins and through tubes to transfer their heat.
Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger
A Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger

Plate-type heat exchanger manufacturers

Just a small selection of plate-type heat exchanger manufacturers;

  1. Alfa Laval
  2. APV
  3. GEA
  4. Tranter
  5. SWEP – WCR UK are the exclusive UK distributor for SWEP brazed PHEs
  6. Allards
  7. Fischer
  8. Schmidt Bretton
  9. Sondex/Danfoss
  10. UKE
  11. Hisaka
  12. Arsopi
  13. Cipriani
  14. HRS
  15. Thermowave
  16. Thermaline
  17. Vicarb/Vitherm


A plate heat exchanger is a type of heat exchanger that uses plates to transfer heat between two fluids. They are more efficient than shell and tube exchangers and can be used in various applications, from power plants to chemical processing. PHEs require regular maintenance and cleaning to ensure they are functioning correctly.

At WCR UK, we offer a comprehensive service to keep your PHE in top condition. To learn more, contact us today or read more about plate heat exchangers.

About WCR UK

We supply replacement plates and gaskets and provide a full service and repair program for all major brands of plate heat exchangers

WCR UK is the best heat exchanger services company in the United Kingdom because of our experience and expertise. We have been in the business for many years, and we have a team of dedicated professionals who can help you with all your heat exchanger needs.

We also offer a wide range of services, including replacement parts, servicing, repairs, and cleaning. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so you can reach us anytime.

Our dedication to quality and our customers is what sets us apart from other companies in the industry. Read more

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