Thermal Load Boards Gets Engineers To Solutions Faster, Cheaper

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Prototype of a full scale load board with mock components

How do you characterize the airflow of an expensive PCB but not actually use a populated PCB itself?  You do it with 3D Printing.

3d printing in business-to-business has been known for its rapid prototyping and small scale production specifically in small to mid-size companies. Larger companies such as GE, Qualcomm and many others have the budget and the means to easily build 3d printing facilities when necessary, capable of 3D printing large and small components.  However,  smaller businesses depend on third-party manufacturers to turn their design into reality.

In thermal engineering 3d printing has become a vital tool in consulting and designing services primarily by creating thermal load boards.  Thermal load boards are a great tool for testing the airflow of a PCB populated with components.  Customers supply ATS with the component dimensions and placements, and ATS literally builds the components to place on a PCB to test the airflow of the PCB.

A PCB load board can save cost and time.  First, it allows an engineer to go beyond CFD to doing real airflow testing. While CFD is enormously helpful, actual airflow data confirms what is simulated, allowing engineers to greatly improve on the design.  And with a PCB Load Board, the physical design of the board and component placement is at a fraction of the cost of creating a sample board for this purpose.

Second,  a PCB load board reduces time on research and development and saves costs on materials by more than half, benefiting both the customer and manufacturer (see here).  This non-linear process sets up the customer for a prototype (Load Board) they are able to test multiple times through wind tunnel simulation, air velocity and temperature measurement, and flow visualization to name a few. The components on the load board consist of 3d printed parts the customer has defined in their layout. Heat sink holes are also placed into the board, again defined in the layout.

In one example of implementing this technology, a customer

“had their board laid out already, with the purpose of the load board is to validate the heat sink performance. The customer was still 6-9 months away from having software, so they can’t actually run their board at 100% capacity to create the load, that’s why ATS stepped in to make the load board with heaters that can be powered directly,” says Field Application Engineer Greg Wong.

Engineer Peter Konstatilakis has this to say as well

“ATS’ purpose of this service is to provide the customer with a means of thermally validating their board with the heat sinks they’ve decided to use before they spin up their board. This way any changes needed to house a different heat sink or make the board more free flowing in key spots can be made before spending thousands to spin up. In the end finding they can’t get their product on the market because they weren’t able to manage the thermals.”

For more information on PCB Load Boards and how they can save time and cost in your next design, please email us at ats-hq@qats.com  or visit our Contact Us page.

WATCH: PCB Layout & Design for PCB Cooling Solutions

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