5 Thermal Management Myths

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Today’s design engineers often wear many hats, acting as much a project manager as they do a design engineer. 

Therefore it’s not surprising that in managing complex projects, thermal issues often take a backseat.  It’s fairly common that during a product’s final stages of design, thermal management roadblocks appear, causing delays and a hastened need for an expedited and retro-fitted (read: expensive) solution.  In fact, a recent study found that 1 in 5 electronics engineers identify thermal issues as a common cause of project delays (read our previous blog about it here).

In this blog, we’ll provide an overview of 5 common myths or misconceptions about thermal management needs and solutions.

 

“Thermal Management isn’t that important. I’ll deal with it later in the design process.”

Believe this one at your own risk.  There is a common trend in powered devices across all industries: Devices are getting more powerful and more compact.  More power usually means waste heat to deal with.  Thermal management solutions require surface area to be effective.  As the product footprint decreases finding enough space to install an effective thermal solution has become more difficult.  Don’t worry - there are many space-efficient solutions, but don’t delay in addressing them in your product packaging design.

 

 “Okay then, I’ll just buy a cheap heat sink or cold plate online.”

This one’s only partially false.  There are many good low cost thermal management options available online.  However, it’s not always easy to determine what the best thermal solution is, and most of these sites don’t come with a direct line to a thermal expert.  As we mentioned above, thermal management has become more challenging and the number of technologies, components and materials options is pretty vast: heat sinks, heat pipes, fans, cold plates, pumps, compressors, condensers, aluminum, copper, diamond, water, ethylene glycol, refrigerants.  It can be overwhelming.  A thermal management expert experienced in all of these options will help you develop the optimum solution. 

 

 “Heat Pipes don’t work.”

Totally false. Heat Pipes work and are extremely rugged and reliable passive solutions.  Copper/Water Heat pipes, like ones in your laptop, have been known to last for decades.  Heat Pipes do need to be designed and sized properly for the specific applications and you also need to ensure there is good thermal contact between the heat pipe and the heat source. Poor thermal contact is the #1 culprit when people say, “heat pipes don’t work.”  Heat pipes are often used to passively remove waste heat and conduct it away to an external heat sink to keep the components at a safe operating temperature, no actual cooling system is required. 

 

 “I have to build my thermal solution to determine that it works properly.”

Sure, we believe in that old adage: “In God we trust, but everyone else needs to bring data;” but today’s thermal simulation tools, especially in the hands of trained engineers, can be very accurate. Running simulations saves time and money by minimizing multiple prototyping cycles.   ACT not only designs, but also builds solutions and evaluates them vs. modeling results.  We have developed reliable modeling methods for all of the thermal technologies.  We can investigate different technologies and optimize the best one before anyone needs to cut metal or 3D print.  Keep your project on schedule by considering design and analysis options first.

 

“High performance thermal management systems are too expensive.”

Be careful what you think is expensive.  Consider the implications of a system or device that overheats and fails in the hands of your customers!  You can’t afford not to get your thermal solution right the first time.  There is some up-front cost, sure, but it’s cheap compared to the cost of unreliable or failed products. LEDs for examples lose wavelength fidelity and have significantly shorten lifetimes when the exceed their prescribed operating temperatures. 

 

ACT offers thermal management support including consulting, design and analysis, prototyping, small- and large-scale manufacturing, and product testing.  We help engineers at some of the biggest names you can think of (and some of the most unpredictable applications!) Contact us today to discuss your application and read more about how we serve our partners here.