Thermal management is often not taken seriously, or even considered at all. That is, until something goes wrong – performance becomes unstable, characteristics drift, or field failures occur – and it becomes painfully apparent that electronic components and systems subjected to over-temperature stress and thermal cycling are prone to failure and unreliability. A recent high-profile case is the Xbox 360 "red ring of death", where thermal cycling failure has been claimed to have cost Microsoft over $1bn.
This is just one example of the way in which thermal considerations are becoming more important in many main-stream products, which have higher operating frequencies, higher component packing densities and enclosure styling constraints. The resulting challenge of higher power dissipation in smaller volumes applies at all levels, from components and modules to data centres, and thermal issues are becoming increasingly important in a very wide variety of electronic products and in most application areas. BCC Research have estimated that the $4.1 billion world market for thermal management products in 2005 will approach $6.7 billion by 2011.
Choosing the most cost-effective approach is also becoming more difficult, demanding a wide knowledge of the available options and an ability to quantify problems using simulation rather than traditional empirical methods. This situation is made even more difficult by shortened product development cycles.
For challenging military/aerospace applications, managing heat flow has been important for many years, and has led to the development of simulation software and improvements in heat management techniques. For most applications, however, the approach has been less structured and more "rule of thumb". However, the increasing complexity and power density of modern electronics, even in consumer applications, means that the traditional approach has severe limitations. Fortunately, the techniques and simulation software developed for demanding environments have become both more competent and more readily available.
So the engineer no longer has to risk heat-induced failure, provided, of course, that the thermal management issues have been tackled early in the product design life-cycle.
In order to promote awareness of the need for thermal management, the availability of solutions, and the support available from their regional network, the Electronics TN have commissioned a web-based presentation that aims to give an unbiased view of the challenges and the potential solutions: Thermal Management Guide
For this presentation, we’re looking for additional case studies or examples (good or bad), so get in touch to share your experiences and share your learning. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have some case studies you would like to submit or problems you would like to highlight.