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Heating things up

European Inventor of the Year 2009 in the category "SMEs/research"  

With climate change wreaking havoc and volatile energy prices affecting home heating costs, the need for both environment friendly and budget-conscious heating systems is greater than ever. Joseph Le Mer's innovative adaptations on heat exchangers delivered just that.

Still from nominee film (JPG)

At a glance

Inventor: Joseph Le Mer (FR)

Invention: Heat exchanger element and method and device for producing the same

Sector: Mechanical engineering

Company: Giannoni-France

For the past thirty years, Joseph Le Mer has been churning out original inventions in a field not commonly known for groundbreaking change: heating systems. After several rocky starts, in 1993 Le Mer finally hit on the model which would catapult him and his patents to the forefront of this sector.

Indeed, an Italian entrepreneur by the name of Rocco Giannoni was so impressed by Le Mer's ideas that he asked the French inventor to let him finance them, with the two founding Giannoni-France in the town of Morlaix, France.

The French inventor's ranges of heat exchangers are notable for their single-tube design. Other exchangers that work through two or even three tubes suffer from high fabrication costs, difficulty in maintaining a good heat transfer rate and a heavy weight.

By contrast, Le Mer's heat exchangers are not only cheap to manufacture and relatively light-weight, but also more dynamic as the tube can be connected to others either end-to-end or side-by-side to meet different heating needs. In addition to a cheap manufacturing cost, Le Mer's patents also do not exact a heavy toll on the environment, enjoying an energy-efficiency well above the industry standard.

Since Giannoni-France's founding in 1993, the company has evolved from being a small-to-medium enterprise to a notable player in the world market for heat exchangers.  Its growth has been both spectacular and steady: Today, Giannoni counts as its own over 700 employees, produces more than one million exchangers each year and had a 2007 turnover of €135 million.

Despite emerging as a major industry leader, Giannoni didn't follow the trend among Western European manufacturers of outsourcing production to Asia and other industrialising regions to keep costs low. Instead, Le Mer worked on making the production process at home more efficient and hence more cost-effective.

As government bodies and environmental groups across Europe and North America increasingly advocate that home and business-owners replace traditional boilers with condensing ones to decrease heating costs and increase energy-efficiency, Giannoni, thanks to Le Mer, is already well positioned to capitalise on any market growth in this sector.

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