Category Archives: How To

Engineering How-To: Attaching Heat Pipes into an Assembly

Heat pipes are commonly used for cooling electronics by transporting heat from one location to another. They may part of a system that cools a certain very hot component, but they are used, typically in multiples, to bring cooling to electronic assemblies. Here are some common attachment methods used when assembling heat pipe-based cooling applications.

Press Fitting

First, we look at a cooling system where several heat pipes are integrated with a series of cooling metal fins. As shown, the fins may be mechanically press fit over the heat pipes resulting in a structure like that in Figure 1.               

Attached Heat Pipes To An Assembly Figure 1
Figure 1: Stamped Metal Plates Placed Over the Ends of Some Heat Pipes

At this finned end of the assembly the heat transfers from pipe to fins where it dissipates to the air. These fins are typically stamped from sheet metal and the holes stamped through as well. When they’re properly sized, the fins press fit tightly on the raised heat pipes. The heat transfer is normally very good. To optimize thermal transfer, the fins can be soldered to the pipes, but press fitting into tight holes should provide more than sufficient performance.


The other ends of these heat sinks are soldered into grooves in an aluminum plate. (Figure 2) This is an aluminum plate and the heat pipes are copper. In order to solder we need to nickel plate the aluminum. Then we add solder paste into the grooves and then the heat pipes are inserted into the grooves.

How to Attach Heat PIpes to a Heat Pipe Assembly
Figure 2. Heat Pipes Soldered into Grooves on a Nickel-Plated Aluminum Heat Spreading Plate.

The solder paste is usually a low temperature solder paste, typically based on tin bismuth alloys with melt temperature of about 138°C. That’s important because you really can’t bring the heat pipes to more than 250°C or else the water in the heat pipes will boil and the heat pipes will burst. So, during the assembly process you would put the solder paste into these grooves, then insert the heat pipes, and then clamp it with some sort of fixture to maintain the contact.

Then the whole assembly will go through an oven to reflow the solder paste. The reflow oven will precisely control the temperature of the air inside and will also have some kind of circulating fan so that the part heats evenly and quickly. Temperature control in the oven is critical to avoid exceeding the max temperature of the heat pipes. Other reflow methods for heating up an assembly might include a soldering iron, torch or hot air gun. But these methods can be risky and difficult. It is difficult to heat the part evenly and to control the temperature that the heat pipe is being exposed to.

Thermal Epoxies

In a prototype environment you might turn to an epoxy for attaching heat pipes to assemblies. There are number of thermally conductive epoxies available. Their thermal conductivity ranges from 1 to 6 W/mK. When a heat pipe is epoxied into an assembly, the bond line is so thin that it really doesn’t make too much of a temperature difference, even when compared to solder. There might be a few degrees difference which is usually acceptable in a prototype when you’re in testing mode and are aware that there could be a temperature difference of a few degrees. That’s easily calculated from the specs on the epoxy.

Figure 3. Adding Thermal Epoxy to Grooves in a Heat Spreading Plate Prior to Installing Heat Pipes.

To begin the epoxying process, first you either mix your epoxy or use a mixing tube. You apply a thin layer into the groove and then insert the heat pipe. The grooves shown here are for heat pipes that are pre-bent and fit very precisely. Once in place, a flat plate that goes on top and is clamped down during the epoxy curing period.

In the example here, the epoxy has room temperature cure. Once the heat pipes are in and clamped down, the assembly can be conveniently left for a time at room temperature for the epoxy to cure. For a shorter time, the assembly can go into an oven at a high temperature – not a soldering temperature, but still hot enough that it will accelerate the cure time.      

Figure 4A. With Deep Enough Grooves, Heat Pipes Are Same Level as the Plate Surface for Better Thermal Contact with a Board.
Figure 4B. With Deep Enough Grooves, Heat Pipes Are Same Level as the Plate Surface for Better Thermal Contact with a Board.

When embedding heat pipes into a surface a good practice is to machine the grooves slightly deeper than the heat pipes are. Then, you can create a fixture that is like a negative of this plate with raised areas where those heat pipes. Such a fixture will press the heat pipes down into those grooves. After they’re epoxied or soldered in the assembly the heat pipes and base will be at the same height for optimum thermal contact.

In this kind of application, flat heat pipes should be used. They can maximize the surface contact area where there are hot components. And in applications where the components do not come in direct contact with the pipe it’s often easier to use round heat pipes. This is because round heat pipes are easier to bend and have slightly better thermal performance than the flat heat pipes. So whenever possible we use the round heat pipes, but when they are embedded into a surface and they have contact with the components then we use the flat heat pipes.

For More Information

The above article is taken from a descriptive video by Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. that you can find on the ATS YouTube page at:

“Heat Sink Selection Made Easy” Free Technical Webinar on June 13

PCB from Tellabs- smaller sige


Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) will present Heat Sink Selection Made Easy, a free technical webinar for engineers involved in the thermal management of electronic components. The hour-long webinar begins at 2:00 ET on Thursday, June 13.

The heat dissipation needs of todays components are more challenging than ever. Choosing the right heat sink the first time is essential. With so many application requirements and heat sink options, this can be a daunting task, but it is made easier by having an informed approach.

In this webinar, attendees will learn the importance of system airflow and its impact on heat sink design; attachment methods and how to solve thermal and mechanical design challenges; and how to make the right off-the-shelf or custom heat sink choice for your application and budget.

Presenting Heat Sink Selection Made Easy is Dr. Kaveh Azar, president, CEO and founder of Advanced Thermal Solutions. Dr. Azar is an active participant in the electronics thermal community and has served as the organizer, general chair and the keynote speaker at national and international conferences sponsored by ASME, IEEE and AIAA.

How to View the June 13th Webinar:

  • The webinar starts at 2PM ET and will be available for 24 hours, until 2PM ET Friday the 14th.
  • ATS felt that this approach would help engineers in other time zones to be able to watch the webinar.

How to Ask Questions?

  • Today’s webinar speaker, Dr. Kaveh Azar, is happy to take your questions via email.
  • Please send email to and write in the email’s subject, “Heat Sink Selection Webinar Question”




Some Basic Principles of Wind Tunnel Design

Wind tunnels generate uniform air flows, with low turbulence intensity, for thermal and hydraulic testing. These devices have been around for more than a century, and are used in many industries, including aerospace, automotive, and defense. They also play a key role in electronics thermal management. Wind tunnels are made in different shapes and sizes, from just 30 cm long to large enough to contain a passenger airplane. But the basic idea behind all wind tunnels is universal.

There are two basic kinds of wind tunnels. One is the open type, which draws its air from the ambient and exits it back to the ambient. This kind of wind tunnel provides no temperature controls. The air follows the ambient temperature. The second type of wind tunnel is the closed loop wind tunnel, whose internal air circulates in a loop, separating it from outside ambient air. The temperature in a closed loop wind tunnel can be controlled using a combination of heaters and heat exchangers. Air temperatures can be varied from sub-ambient to over 100oC. Figure 1 shows a schematic of a closed loop wind tunnel.

In general, closed loop wind tunnels are made with the following sections:

1-Test section

2-Settling chamber

3-Contraction area


5-ÂBlower assembly

6-Heater/heat exchanger assembly

Figure 1. Schematic of an ATS Closed Loop Wind Tunnel.

A good quality wind tunnel will have a flow uniformity of 0.5-2% and turbulence intensity of 0.5-2%. It should provide temperature uniformity within 0.1-0.5oC at the inlet of the test section [1].

108K different push pin heat sink assembly configurations featuring 3 different pitch heat sink types, 3 different fin geometries, brass and plastic push pins


To achieve uniform, high quality flow in the test section, the settling chamber and the contraction area are used to smooth the flow. The role of the settling chamber, which is upstream of the contraction area, is to eliminate swirl and unsteadiness from the flow. The settling chamber includes a special honeycomb and a series of screens. As long as a flows yaw angles are not greater than about 10o, a honeycomb is the most efficient device for removing swirl and lateral velocity variations and to make the flow more parallel to the axial axis [2]. Large yaw angles will cause honeycomb cells to stall, which increases the pressure drop and causes non-uniformity in the flow. For large swirl angles, screen meshes should be placed before the honeycomb. For swirl angles of 40o, a screen with a loss factor of 1.45 will reduce yaw and swirl angles by a factor of 0.7. Several screens are needed upstream of the honeycomb to bring the swirl down to 10o.

Using a honeycomb will also suppress the lateral components of turbulence. Complete turbulence annihilation can be achieved in a length of 5-10 cell diameters [2]. Honeycombs are also known to remove the small scale turbulence caused by the instability of the shear layer in front of them. This instability is proportional to the shear layer thickness, which implies a short honeycomb has a better ratio of suppressed turbulence to that generated.

Screens break up large eddies into smaller ones which decay faster. They lower turbulence drastically when several screens are placed in a row. Screens also make flow more uniform by imposing a static pressure drop which is proportional to velocity squared. A screen with a pressure drop coefficient of 2 removes nearly all variations of longitudinal mean velocity. Low open area screens usually create instabilities. In general, screens should have openings larger than 57%, with wire diameters about 0.14 to 0.19 mm. Sufficient distance is needed between multiple screens to stabilize static pressure from perturbation. This distance is typically a percentage of the settling chamber diameter.

The contraction area is perhaps the most important part of a wind tunnel’s design. Its main purpose is to make the flow more uniform. It also increases the flow at the test section, which allows flow conditioning devices to be at lower flow section with less pressure drop. Batchelor used the rapid distortion theory and estimated the variation in mean velocity and turbulence intensity [3]

A considerable number of shapes have been investigated for contraction, including 2-D, 3-D and axisymmetric shapes with various side profiles.

The shape of the contraction can be found using potential flow analysis. Consider the axisymmetric contraction shown in Figure 2 [4]

Figure 2. Schematic of an Axisymmetric Contraction [4].

The design of a wind tunnel is a lengthy process and, as shown above, it requires extensive knowledge and experience in both theory and construction. A novice might attempt to construct a tunnel, but considering the time spent, it might not be justified economically. Wind tunnel design also depends on economic and space constraints. Larger wind tunnels allow more space to have all the conditioning elements in place. A space-constrained wind tunnel must compromise some features at the cost of reduced flow quality, but can still be acceptable for practical engineering purposes.


  1. Azar, K., Thermal Measurements in Electronics Cooling, Electronics Cooling Magazine, May 2003.
  2. Bell, J. and Mehta, R., Design and Calibration of the Mixing Layer and Wind Tunnel, Stanford University, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, May 1989.
  3. Batchelor, G., The Theory of Homogeneous Turbulence, Cambridge University Press, 1953.
  4. Edson, D. and Joao, B., Design and Construction of Small Axisymmetric Contractions, Faculdade de Engenharia de Ilha Solteira, Brazil, 1999.

Announcing our ATS Electronics Cooling Webinars for Third Quarter of 2012

ATS, Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. will present technical webinars on electronic cooling topics in July, August and September 2012. Each of these free events will provide engineering-level training in a key area of modern thermal management.

Here are the different webinar topics and presentation times:

Using Thermal Interface Materials to Improve Heat Sink Thermal Performance

July 26, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

To cool hotter components, engineers are using larger fans and heat sinks, and increasing surface areas. These hardware enhancements can add significantly to design costs. In many cases, cooling performance can be improved by using a higher performance interface material between the case and the heat sink. Participants will learn the importance of lowering thermal resistance using thermal interface materials, or TIMs, and the different kinds of TIMs available from the market.

Air Jet Impingement Cooling

August 23, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Ongoing increases in power in devices such as processors and IGBTs mean that higher capacity cooling methods are needed to remove excess heat. One such method is the jet impingement of a liquid or gas onto a surface on a continuous basis. Lab experiments at ATS have shown up to a 40% improvement in cooling achieved using this method. This webinar will explore jet impingement cooling theory, implementation and best practices.

LED Thermal Management in Commercial and Consumer Lighting Applications

September 27, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Excess heat directly affects both short-term and long-term LED performance. The short-term effects are color shift and reduced light output, while the long-term effect is accelerated lumen depreciation and thus shortened useful life. Participants will learn how to diagnose and solve thermal issues in consumer and commercial LED applications.

Each of these one-hour online tutorials will include detailed visuals, real world examples, instructions, definitions and references. Audience questions will be answered by the presenters during and after the presentation. One or more ATS PhD-level thermal engineers will be presenting live.

There is no cost to attend these ATS webinars, but virtual seating is limited. Registration is available online at, or by calling 1-781-949-2522.


The Importance of Heat Flux Sensors

Heat flux sensors are practical measurement tools which are useful for determining the amount of thermal energy passed through a specific area per unit of time. Measuring heat flux can be useful, for example, in determining the amount of heat passed through a wall or through a human body, or the amount of transferred solar or laser radiant energy to a given area.

Affixing a thin heat flux sensor to the top of a component will yield two separate values which are useful in determining the convection heat transfer coefficient. If the heat flux can be measured from the top of the component to the ambient airstream and if the temperature at the top of the component and of the ambient airstream is measured, then the convection coefficient can be calculated.


q = Heat flux, or transferred heat per unit area

h = Convection coefficient

TS = Temperature at the surface of the solid/fluid boundary

TA= Ambient airstream temperature

Using a heat flux sensor can be useful for lower powered systems under natural convection scenarios. Under forced convection, the heat lost to convection off the top of a component can often be significantly higher than the heat lost to the board, particularly if the board is densely populated and the temperature of the board reaches close to the temperature of the device. Under natural convection situations, often the balance of heat lost to convection and heat lost through the board becomes more even and it therefore is of even greater interest to the designer to understand the quantity of heat dispersed through convection.

Experiments done at Bell Labs alluded to the effect of board density on the heat transfer coefficient. In these experiments, thin film heat flux sensors are affixed to DIP devices which populate a board. The total heat generation of the board is kept constant, so the removal of components from a densely populated board only increases the heat generation per component. The results of this particular experiment highlight an increase in the ratio of heat lost through convection from the surface of the component as board density increases and individual device power decreases.

 Surface Heat Flow vs. Board Density

Qs/Qt = the ratio of total heat flow through device surface to total heat generation

σ = the ratio of total device surface area to total board area

If a board was to be sparsely populated, a greater percentage of heat can be transferred to the board due to larger thermal gradients; however since the overall surface area of the sum of devices decreases, to some extent the heat transfer coefficient must increase to reflect a balance. As the number of components decreases, the power generation increases per component, and the larger resulting temperature gradients in the region around the component yield more convective flow and thus an increase in the heat transfer coefficient. On the other hand, if the board becomes more densely populated, the proportion of heat transferred through the surface, as compared to through the board increases, and the overall increase in heat transferred through the surface yields increased flow and heat transfer at an individual component surface.

The use of a heat flux gauge is an important tool for the electronics designer. In particular, by using a heat flux gauge, it is possible to experimentally determine the heat transfer coefficient at a certain location on the electronics board where it would have had to be simply predicted or estimated previously. Due to the complexity of many electrical systems as well as the irregular nature of many boards, often analytical or CFD methods are not accurate and the best approach is empirical techniques. The use of the heat flux sensor can give results which would be difficult to calculate using analytical or numerical simulations. However, like most other instruments, it is important to use the sensor correctly and carefully to decrease the errors within a system and increase the reliability.