# Category Archives: Thermal Analysis

## How to Achieve Localized Cooling with Cold Plates

Many applications in electronics cooling require a cold plate to remove heat from discrete components laid out on a board. In these circumstances, it is more efficient that the liquid does not completely fill the cold plate, but is only transferred to areas that need to be cooled.

With this kind of design, the required volumetric flow rate of the coolant will be significantly lower than if the entire cold plate was filled with liquid. The schematic for a typical example of this scenario is given in Figure 1. [1]

Figure 1. Schematic of a Board with a Localized Area of Heat Dissipation . [1]

In Figure 1, areas A, B, C and D must be cooled for the components dissipating from 5 to 15 W/cm2. The other areas, designated as open, have components that interfere with the cold plate and must be avoided in the design. Two designs were considered for this case: a drilled hole and a press-fit tube. Figure 2 shows the drilled hole concept.

As can be seen, there are multiple small holes around the heat dissipating components under the cold plate surface. Large holes are machined to interconnect the smaller holes. A technique called gun drilling was used for machining the long holes. The entire cold plate was made from a copper block.

Figure 2. Schematic of the Drilled Hole Cold Plate Design. [1]

Figure 3 shows the press-fit tube design. In this approach, a copper tube with high thermal conductivity is routed through the areas of heat transfer and either brazed or epoxied to the aluminum cold plate base. This design is considerably lighter and cheaper than the drilled hole design.

Figure 3. Schematic of the Press-Fit Tube Cold Plate Design. [1]

To analyze the performance of this cold plate configuration, simple analytical tools can be used for a standard cold plate design. A brief summary of the equations is described here. To analyze the problem, we first have to calculate how much flow is going through the cold plate, and evaluate the pressure drop of the flowing fluid.

Pressure drop is calculated from:

Where
Um = bulk mean fluid velocity (m/s)
f = fanning friction factor
Awet = wetted surface area of the tube
Ac = cross section of the tube
K = loss coefficients related to turns, sudden expansion and contraction, etc.

The friction factor was obtained from the following equation which is in satisfactory agreements for the laminar, turbulent and transition regimes [2]

Where

Where ν is the kinematic viscosity of the fluid (m2/s) and P is the wetted perimeter of the tube.

For the heat transfer calculation, the Nusselt number can be calculated from standard correlations in the literature for fully developed flow. The Nusselt number is related to the heat transfer coefficient as:

Where
Kf = fluid conductivity

For thermally developing flow the following correlation can be used: [3]

Where
Num = mean Nusselt number
Nu = fully developed Nusselt number
L = duct length

Then the convective resistance can be calculated as:

Where
hm = mean heat transfer coefficient

For the tube fitted design the overall thermal resistance is made of four components: convection, tube conduction resistance, epoxy conduction resistance and the cold plate. It is stated as:

Where
Rh = convection resistance
Rtube = conduction resistance of tube walls
Repoxy = conduction resistance of the epoxy
Rcoldplate = conduction resistance of the cold plate

For the drilled design the overall thermal resistance can be written as:

If the heat transfer coefficient is based on the local fluid temperature, then a caloric resistance must be added based on the fluid mass flow rate. The effective heat transfer coefficient is then:

Where
ṁ = mass flow rate (kg/s)
Cp = fluid heat capacitance (kJ/kg·K)

Figure 3 shows the pressure drop of the two designs as a function of water flow rate. It can be seen that with a water flow rate up to 1.89 l/min (0.5 GPM) the pressure drop between the two designs is almost the same, but at higher flow rates the drilled design’s pressure drop exceeds the tube design. The sharp 90-degree turn of the drilled holes, which lead to a higher loss coefficient, is the major contributor to the higher pressure drop.

Figure 4. Total Pressure Drop of the Drilled Design and the Tube Design as a Function of the Volumetric Flow Rate. [1]

Figures 5 and 6 show the effective heat transfer coefficient of the two designs as a function of flow rate. The bend and sharp increase of the curves around 0.95 l/min (0.25 GPM) is due to the flow transitioning from laminar to turbulent. The drilled hole design shows effective convection heat transfer between 7,000 and 27,000 W/m2K for the range of flow between 0 and 7.56 l/m (2.6 GPM). The press-fit tube design on the other hand shows a lower effective heat transfer coefficient of between 6,000 and 17,000 W/m2K.

This is mostly due to the interfacial resistance and tube wall conduction. In the drilled design example, these two resistances do not exist. In a real application, the pumping of fluid is constrained by the pump and its characteristic curve. Even though the drilled hole shows a higher heat transfer coefficient for the same flow rate, the extra pressure drop caused by the drilled design may have a lower flow rate hence lowering the heat transfer coefficient.

Figure 5. Effective Heat Transfer Coefficient of the Tube Design as a Function of Flow Rate for Different Regions on the Plate. [1]

Figure 6. Effective Heat Transfer Coefficient of the Drilled Hole Design as a Function of Flow Rate for Different Regions on the Plate. [1]

Figure 7 shows another cold plate design, this one by Lytron. [4] In this design, the extended-surface cold plate material and micro-channel aluminum extrusion are sandwiched between aluminum sheets. The entire assembly is welded using vacuum brazing. It is all aluminum, which makes it very light weight. The flexibility of this design allows the placement of cooling channels in different positions to enable localized cooling.

Figure 7. Lytron Vacuum Brazing of a Cold Plate for Localized Cooling. [4]

The above analytics show that the performance of a cold plate for localized cooling can be calculated using a simple analytical tool. The designer then has to consider such factors as weight, manufacturing, cost and thermal performance to decide the best option for his or her design. The characteristic of the pump has a paramount effect on the design and cannot be neglected.

References:

1. Seaho, S., Moran, K. and Rearick, D. (IBM Corporation) and Lee, S. (Aavid Engineering), Thermal Performance Modeling and Measurements of Localized Water Cooled Cold Plate, http://www.aavidthermalloy.com/technical/papers/pdfs/water.pdf
2. Churchill, S., Comprehensive Correlating Equations for Heat, Mass and Momentum Transfer in Fully Developed Flow in Smooth Tubes, Ind. Eng. Chem. Fundam., Vol.16, 1977.
3. Al-Arabi, M., Turbulent Heat Transfer in the Entrance Region of a Tube, Heat Transfer Eng., Vol. 3, 1982.
4. http://www.lytron.com

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com/consulting or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

## Thermal Performance of Macro and Microchannel Cold Plates in Electronics Cooling

In recent years, intense activity has been gone into improving the capabilities of cold plates. Specifically, the use of microchannels has provided great improvements in cold plate thermal performance. Regardless of a cold plate’s channel size, the following equations can be used for heat transfer coefficients when determining thermal performance. [1]

Where,

= Nussselt number

Dh = hydraulic diameter

= Reynolds number

ν = kinematic viscosity
Pr = Prandtle number

The pressure drop can also be calculated as:

Where,
P = density
f = friction factor

In recent years, microchannel cold plates have gained popularity due to their high performance. Webb shows that the best results can be achieved when the channel aspect ratio is about 7.4, and with a fin aspect ratio of 8. [2] Figure 1 shows a Fin-H copper microchannel with a channel hydraulic diameter of 0.49 mm. Due to the small size of the channels, the flow is generally considered to be laminar. The optimization resulted in a 25-mm wide and 20-mm long microchannel cold plate. [2]

Webb considered both single-pass and two-pass designs on the water side. The two-pass version was made to determine if there was any mal-distribution of the water from the single-pass case.

Figure 1. Copper Microchannel Fin-H Used in a Cold Plate. [2]

Figure 2 shows the thermal resistance of the Fin-H for the 1-pass and 2-pass designs as a function of flow rate.

Figure 2. Thermal Resistance of a Fin-H Cold Plate as a Function of the Water Flow Rate. [2]

This figure shows that the 1-pass version has a much better thermal resistance than the two-pass model for the same flow rate. It also shows that the flow has been distributed relatively uniformly. Figure 3 shows the pressure drop of the cold plate as a function of flow rate for the Fin-H and the Thermaltake Bigwater 735 cooler. [3] The figure shows the pressure drop of the 1-pass design is only 38% of the 2-pass design.

Figure 3. Pressure Drop of a Fin-H Cold Plate and a Thermaltake Cooler as a Function of the Water Flow Rate. [2]

Figure 4 shows the thermal resistance of the Fin-H cooler in the 1-pass design compared to the Thermaltake cooler [3]. At 2.28 l/min the Thermaltake’s thermal resistance is 0.106 K/W. The balance point of the Fin-H for 1-pass is with a thermal resistance of 0.07 K/W at a flow rate of 0.361 l/min. This is only 16% of the flow rate for the Thermaltake cooler.

Referring to Figure 3, the pressure drop is almost the same for both coolers. The major implication is that the microchannel cold plate requires a smaller pump compared to macrochannel cold plates, and provides a 50% increase in thermal performance.

Figure 4. Thermal Resistance of a Fin-H Cold Plate and a Thermaltake Cooler as a Function of the Water Flow Rate. [2]

Another innovative approach is the concept of forced-fed boiling (FFB). [4] Figure 5 shows a schematic of this process. It consists of a micro-grooved, thin copper surface with alternating fins and channels. The microgrooves have a hydraulic diameter of 28 microns, an aspect ratio of 15, and a fin density of 236 fins per cm.

There are feed channels on top of the micro-grooved surface. The fluid is forced through these channels into the microgrooves, which are located on top of the heated surface. The fluid vaporizes in the microgrooves and moves upward, while the liquid flows beneath the escaping vapor. This keeps the surface wet, resulting in an increase of the critical heat flux (CHF).

Figure 5. A Force-Fed Boiling Cold Plate. [4]

Figure 6 shows the heat transfer as a function of the temperature difference between the inlet fluid and the surface for various values of the flow rate for R245fa, a non-aqueous fluid for low pressure refrigeration applications. The figure shows that for heat fluxes of about 200 W/cm2 or less, heat transfer is independent of the flow rate, but this is not the case at higher heat fluxes. It also shows that the slope of the heat flux decreases with increasing temperature difference.

Figure 6. Heat Flux as a Function of the Temperature Difference for the FFB Cold Plate. [4]

Figure 7 shows an interesting trend for the heat transfer coefficient as a function of heat flux for the same fluid. At first, the heat transfer coefficient increases with the increase in heat flux. This indicates that by increasing the heat flux, a phase change process takes place which changes the single-phase flow to two-phase heat transfer. After reaching an impressive peak at 300 KW/m2K, the heat transfer coefficient starts to decrease. This is attributed to local dryouts from bubble generation, which also blocks the microchannels.

Figure 7. Heat Transfer Coefficient as a Function of Heat Flux for the FFB Cold Plate. [4]

While advances in cold plate performance have been incremental, their technology is still evolving. Improvements in microchannel manufacturing will open more opportunities in this field. Microchannel cold plates provide tremendous heat transfer coefficient capacities, but limitations prevent their broad deployment.

Fouling, dryout, and fabrication issues have been major negating factors for microchannel deployment in the broader market. Microchannel cold plates may have particular value in such applications as military, space, and high capacity computing, where service and maintenance are part of the deployment.

However, from the design and problem-solution standpoint, microchannel cold plates can be an effective part of a closed loop liquid cooling system.

References
1. Dittus, F. and Boelter, L., Publications on Engineering, University of California at Berkley, 1930.
2. Webb, R., High-Performance, Low-Cost Liquid Micro-Channel Cooler, Thermal Challenges in Next Generation Electronic Systems II, Millpress Science Publishers, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2007.
3. Thermaltake Company, 2006.
4. Cetegen, E., Dessiatoun, S., and Ohadi, M., Force Fed Boiling and Condensation for High Heat Flux Applications, VII Minsk International Seminar: Heat Pipes, Heat Pumps, Refrigerators, Power Sources, Minsk, Belarus, 2008.

Learn more about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) standard and customized, high-performance liquid cold plates by visiting https://www.qats.com/Products/Liquid-Cooling/Cold-Plates.

For more information about ATS thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com/consulting or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

## In the ATS Labs – Where Thermal Solutions Advance to Meet Industry Demands

Thermal management innovations need to match the rapid pace at which the electronics industry is advancing. As consumers demand new and more powerful devices or greater amounts of information at faster speeds, cooling solutions of the past will not be enough. Today’s cooling solutions must be smaller, lighter, and offer higher performance, but also need to be cost-effective, meet demanding project specifications, and be reliable for many years.

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) understands the importance of creating cutting-edge thermal solutions for its customers and has geared its thermal design capability and its research and development to match the innovations taking place in electronics design.

An ATS engineer assembles a rig for testing cold plates in one of ATS’ six state-of-the-art labs. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

To meet the need for innovative solutions, ATS engineers are hard at work in the company’s six state-of-the-art laboratories at the ATS headquarters, located in Norwood, Mass. (south of Boston). Thermal issues of all kinds are recognized, broken down, and resolved and cooling solutions are designed, simulated, prototyped, and rigorously tested in these research-grade facilities.

When someone thinks of a research lab, the initial picture is scientists in white coats working for major corporations, such as IBM, Microsoft, or Google, but the development of new ideas is an essential tool for any company in the technology field. Working with empirical tests in a lab environment pushes concepts from the white board or the computer screen to reality. There comes a time when engineers need to produce tangible data to ensure that a design works as planned.

ATS thermal engineers are no different. They use state-of-the-art instruments and software in each of the six labs to conduct a long list of characterization, quality-assurance, and validation tests. In addition to finding custom cooling solutions for customers, ATS engineers produce thermal management products for commercial uses, including a variety of next generation heat sink, heat pipe, vapor chamber, and liquid cooling designs.

Engineers test ATS instruments using a wind tunnel and sensors in the Characterization Lab. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Among the most common tests performed in the ATS labs are:

• Measurements of air velocity, direction, pressure and temperature;
• Characterization of heat sink designs, fans and cold plates
• Flow visualization of liquid and air flow
• Image visualization characterization using infrared and liquid crystal thermography.

Many of the instruments that these tests are performed on were designed and fabricated by ATS. That includes open-loop, closed-loop, and bench-top wind tunnels; the award-winning iQ-200™, which measures air temperature, velocity, and pressure with one instrument; and the thermVIEW™ liquid crystal thermography system. Engineers also use specially-designed sensors, such as the ATS Candlestick Sensor, to get the most accurate analysis possible.

Smoke flow visualization tests run in ATS wind tunnels demonstrate how air flows through a system. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Heat pipes and vapor chambers are increasingly common cooling solutions, particularly for mobile devices and other consumer electronics, and ATS engineers are working to expand the company’s offerings for these solutions and to develop next generation technology that optimizes the thermal performance of these products. This research involves advanced materials, new fabrication methods, performance testing, and innovative designs that are ready for mass production.

ATS engineer Vineet Barot sets up a thermal imaging camera for temperature mapping studies in the lab. (Advanced Thermal Solutions. Inc.)

ATS has also developed products to meet the growing demand across the electronics industry for liquid cooling systems. From new designs for recirculating and immersion chillers to multi-channel cold plates to tube-to-fin heat exchangers, ATS is continuing to expand its line of liquid cooling solutions to maximize the transfer of heat from liquid to air and researching new manufacturing methods, advanced materials, and other methods of enhancing the technology.

As liquid cooling technology has grown, ATS has met this demand with new instruments and lab capabilities, such as the iFLOW-200™, which measures a cold plate’s thermal and hydraulic characteristics, and full liquid loops to test ATS products under real-world conditions.

ATS engineer Reza Azizian (right) works with intern Vladislav Blyakhman on a liquid cooling loop in the lab. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

The labs at ATS are up to even the toughest electronics cooling challenges that the company’s global customers present. Thanks to its extensive lab facilities, ATS has provided thousands of satisfied customers with the state-of-the-art thermal solutions that they demand.

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com/consulting or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

## Fin Optimization in Heat Sinks and Heat Exchangers

(This article was featured in an issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication produced by Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) dedicated to the thermal management of electronics. To get the current issue or to look through the archives, visit http://www.qats.com/Qpedia-Thermal-eMagazine.)

In electronics cooling, often separately managed Thermal/Mechanical (TM) and Software/Electrical (SE) engineering teams are finding themselves facing common challenges, as they are being driven towards similar business goals, such as product differentiation, company growth and profitability.

More so than ever today, these teams are being directed to find ways to increase component performance, particularly on highly populated boards within complex systems, at an acceptable cost of manufacturing. They are also discovering that their goals are being held back by governing specifications, environmental conditions, mechanical limitations and budget restrictions.

Closeup of fin array on an ATS tube-to-fin heat exchanger. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

TM’s design thermal solutions based on airflow, envelope size, power dissipation, etc. and migrate (as expected) to the lower cost “standard solutions” whenever possible. If adequate margin is not met, reliability implications are more apparent as engineers will have to optimize solutions. This is because, in most cases, the form factor, layout, boundary conditions, etc. are set.

Thermal solutions become the gatekeeper, and in some cases, the determining factor in product deployment.

Many leading companies design their products by using technologies that will sustain long product life cycles for increased market share and brand awareness. As products are refined through the design cycle, thermal solutions may have to be optimized and this requires many investigations to be undertaken.

As the electronics industry continues to use components dissipating more and more power, new heat sink solutions must be able to accommodate large heat fluxes while keeping the same spatial dimensions [1]. Finned heat sinks and heat exchangers are largely employed in many engineering fields, and this demand spurs researchers into devising and testing new geometries for the heat sinks.

Engineers constantly try to develop new designs to enhance the performance of heat exchangers. One such effort is the design of the wavy fins to enhance the surface area.

Figure 1 shows a close up view of an extrusion type thermal solution where the profile has a feature of undulated fins. In general, a wavy fin heat sink should perform better under natural and forced convection due to the increased surface area created by the fins. This feature can easily be manufactured with a die. The “waviness” can be adjusted to increase surface area resulting in a positive impact on thermal performance.

Figure 1. Close-Up View of Simply Wavy Fin Geometry [1]

Theoretical models have been devised to find the pressure drop and the heat transfer from wavy fin geometries. Figure 2 shows the schematic of a wavy fin.

Figure 2. Schematic of a Wavy Fin Geometry [2]

In this figure, the fins are assumed to have a sinusoidal geometry where

λ = Wave length (m)
H = channel width (m)
S = channel height
2A = twice the amplitude of the wave

The shape of the curve is assumed to be:

The length of the curve can be found from the following equation:

Shah and London [3] came up with the following equation for the friction and Nusselt number in channels:

Where,
F = fanning friction factor
aspect ratio

The same equation applies for a wavy fin based on the correct length:

The Nusselt number for the straight fins and wavy fins is the same as long as the correct surface area is used:

The above equations are for the low Reynolds number.

For high Reynolds number Shapiro et. al [4] derived the following equations:

Where,
Dh = hydraulic diameter (m)
Reynolds number based on hydraulic diameter
L = half length of the channel (Le/2)
Pr = prandtl number
Dh = 2SH/(S+H)

The combined asymptotic for the friction and Nusselt number is as follows:

Figure 3 compares the results of the above analytical equations with the results from Kays and London [5]. In the graph, the Colburn j factor is shown and is defined as:

The results show that the experimental values of Shah and London are within 20% band of the values obtained from the above relations. The data is for the fin type 11.44-3/8W.

Figure 3. f and j Values as a Function of Reynolds Number.[2]

Marthinuss et al. [6] reviewed published data for air-cooled heat sinks, primarily from Compact Heat Exchangers by Kays et al [5] and concluded that for identical fin arrays consisting of circular and rectangular passages, including circular tubes, tube banks, straight fins, louvered fins, strip or lanced offset fins, wavy fins and pin fins, the optimum heat sink is a compromise among heat transfer, pressure drop, volume, weight and cost.

Figure 4 shows that if the goal is to get a higher value of heat transfer per unit of pressure drop, the straight fin is the best. Figure 5 shows that when heat transfer per unit height is of concern pin fin is the best.

Figure 4. Profile Comparisons Based on Heat Transfer/Pressure Drop. [6]

Figure 5. Profile Comparisons Based on Heat Transfer/Volume. [6]

Sikka et al. [7] performed experiments on heat sinks with different fin geometries. Figure 6 shows 3 different categories of heat sinks tested. The conventional fins, such as straight and pin fins, are shown in (a); (b) shows the fluted fins and (c) shows the wavy fin design. The tests were done for both horizontal and vertical direction of air flow at natural convection and low Reynolds number forced flow. Table 1 shows the dimensional values of each of these heat sinks.

The last column shows the values of At/Ab (total surface area/base surface area).

Figure 6. (a) Traditional Fins, (b) Fluted Fins, (c) Wavy Fins. [7]

Table 1. Geometries and Dimensions of the Heat Sinks. [7]

The values of the Nusselt number were reported based on the following relation:

Figure 7 shows that for natural convection in the horizontal direction, the pin fin has the best performance. The fluted fins have, in general, a better performance compared to longitudinal fins. The lower graph in figure 7 shows that the wavy fins are essentially the same as the longitudinal fins.

Figure 7. Nusselt Number As a Function of Rayleigh Number for Natural Convection-Horizontal Direction. [7]

Figure 8 shows the natural convection cases for the vertical direction. The figure shows that heat transfer decreases for the pin fin, but increases for the plate fin. The pin fin still is better than the plate fin, but the difference is only 4-6%. Figure 8 also shows that the cross cut heat sink has the best performance. The bottom figure in 8 confirms that the wavy fins do not have much better heat transfer compared to plate fins.

Figure 8. Nusselt Number as a Function of Rayleigh Number for Natural Convection-Vertical Direction. [7]

Figure 9 shows the Nusselt number for forced convection over a horizontal plate as a function of Reynolds number. This figure indicates that, for very low Reynolds numbers, the cross fin is better than the pin fin; but, around Re = 2000, the situation reverses and the pin fin gets better than the cross cut heat sink. For low Reynolds numbers, the longitudinal pins are better than the wavy fins; but, at higher Reynolds numbers, the performance of the wavy fins gets better by almost 12-18%.

Figure 9. Nusselt Number as a Function of Reynolds Number for Forced Convection-Horizontal Direction. [7]

Figure 10 provides the Nusselt numbers for the vertical direction for forced flow. In comparing the results with the horizontal direction, the results are almost the same, with the difference being that the wavy fin heat sinks perform better than the plate fin heat sinks, by about 14-20%.

Figure 10. Nusselt Number as a Function of Reynolds Number for Forced Convection-Vertical Direction.[7]

The results presented in this article strengthen our understanding about how heat exchangers and heat sinks can be made more compact and efficient. The results show that the design of the fin field is still an issue and much remains to be investigated for optimization, depending on the conditions and application.

Further empirical testing is warranted for the evaluation of the effects of wavy fin heat sinks, as fine meshing and a high degree of confidence is not easily obtained through simulating these profiles using commercial CFD tools.

References:

1. Lorenzini, M., “Performance Evaluation of a Wavy-Fin Heat Sink for Power Electronics” Applied Thermal Engineering, 2007.
2. Awad, M., Muzychka, S., “Models for pressure drop and heat transfer in air cooled compact wavy fin heat exchangers”, Journal of Enhanced Heat Transfer, 18(3):191-207(2011).
3. Shah, R., London, A., “Advances in heat transfer, suppl. 1, laminar forced flow convection in ducts”, New York, Academic press, 1978
4. Shapiro, A., Sigel, R., Kline, S., “Friction factor in the laminar entry region of a smooth tube,” Proc., 2nd V.S.Nat. Congress of applied mechanics, PP. 733-741, 1954.
5. Kays, M., London,L., “Compact Heat Exchangers”, Third Edition, McGraw-Hill, 1984.
6. Marthinuss, E., Hall, G., “Air cooled compact heat exchanger design for electronics cooling”, Electronics cooling magazine, Feb 1st, 2004
7. Sikka, K., Torrance, K., Scholler, U., Salanova, I., “Heat sinks with fluted and wavy fins in natural and low-velocity forced convection”, IEEE, Intersoceity Conference, 2000.

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

## How Do Heat Sink Materials Impact Performance

By Michael Haskell, Thermal Engineer
and Norman Quesnel, Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.

(This article was featured in an issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication produced by Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) dedicated to the thermal management of electronics. To get the current issue or to look through the archives, visit http://www.qats.com/Qpedia-Thermal-eMagazine.)

This article examines the difference in thermal performance between copper, aluminum, and graphite foam heat sinks. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Introduction

As thermal solutions for today’s electronics grow more challenging, demand rises for novel cooling ideas or materials. As a result, the proven methods of analytical calculations, modeling and laboratory testing are sometimes bypassed for a quick “cure-all” solution. Evolutionary progress is required of the thermal industry, of course. But, despite the urgency to introduce new ideas and materials, thorough testing should be performed in determining the thermal performance of a solution before it is implemented.

This article addresses the impact of material choice on heat sink performance. First, an evaluation of different materials is made in a laboratory setting, using mechanical samples and a research quality wind tunnel. This testing compares a constant heat sink geometry made from copper, aluminum, and graphite foam. Next, an application-specific heat sink study is presented using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software.

In this study, a heat sink was designed in 3D CAD to cool a dual core host processor. The performance of both an aluminum and copper design was then evaluated using CFD.

Laboratory Tests of Copper, Aluminum, and Graphite Foam

The stated thermal properties of engineered graphite foams have enhanced their consideration as heat sink materials. Yet, the literature is void of a true comparison of these materials with copper and aluminum. To evaluate graphite foam as a viable material for heat sinks, a series of tests were conducted to compare the thermal performance of geometrically identical heat sinks made of copper, aluminum, and graphite foam respectively.

Testing was conducted in a research quality laboratory wind tunnel where the unducted air flow was consistent with typical applications.

(The results for ducted and jet impingement flows, though similar to the unducted case, will be presented in a future article along with a secondary graphite foam material.)

Test Procedure

Earlier foam experiments by Coursey et al. [1] used solder brazing to affix a foam heat sink to a heated component. The solder method reduced the problematic interfacial resistance when using foams, due to their porous nature. Directly bonding the heat sink to a component has two potential drawbacks. First, the high temperatures common in brazing could damage the electrical component itself.

The other issue concerns the complicated replacement or rework of the component. Due to the low tensile strength of foam (Table 1) a greater potential for heat sink damage occurs than with aluminum or copper [2]. If the heat sink is damaged or the attached component needs to be serviced, direct bonding increases the cost of rework.

Table 1. Thermal and Mechanical Properties of the Heat Sink Materials. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

To avoid these problems, the foam heat sink can be soldered to an aluminum or copper carrier plate. This foam-and-plate assembly can then be mounted to a component in a standard fashion. The carrier plate allows sufficient pressure to be applied to the interface material, ensuring low contact resistance.

In this study, the heat sinks were clamped directly to the test component without a carrier plate as a baseline for all three materials. Shin-Etsu X23 thermal grease was used as an interface material to fill the porous surface of the foam and reduce interfacial resistance. Five J-type thermocouples were placed in the following locations: upstream of the heat sink to record ambient air temperatures, in the heater block, in the center of the heat sink base, at the edge of the heat sink base, and in the tip of the outermost fin.

Figure 1. Test Heat Sink Drawing. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

A thin film heater was set at 10 watts during all testing, and the heat source area was 25 mm x 25 mm, or one quarter of the overall sink base area, as shown in Figure 1. Both cardboard and FR-4 board were used to insulate the bottom of the heater, The estimated value of Ψjb is 62.5°C/W. Throughout testing, the value of Ψjb was 36–92 times greater than that of Ψja.

Results

As expected, the traditional copper and aluminum heat sinks performed similarly. The main difference was due to the higher thermal conductivity of copper, which reduced spreading resistance. During slow velocity flow conditions, the lower heat transfer rate means that convection thermal resistance makes up a large portion of the overall Θja.

Table 2. Test Heat Sink Geometry. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Figure 2. Experimental Heater and Measurement Setup. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

As flow speed increases, the convection resistance decreases, and the internal heat sink conduction resistance is more of a factor in the overall Θja value. This behavior is evident in the table below, and when comparing the different heat sink materials. The graphite heat sink’s thermal performance was only 12% lower than aluminum at low flow rates. However, the performance difference increased to 25-30% as the flow rate increased (Table 3).

Table 3. Specific Thermal Test Results. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Due to the lack of a solder joint, the foam heat sink experienced a larger interfacial resistance when compared to the solid heat sinks. This difference can be seen when comparing ΨHEATER-BASE in Table 3. To decouple the effect of interfacial resistance ΨBASE-AIR can be calculated. When ignoring interfacial resistance in this manner foam performs within 1% of aluminum at 1.5 m/s, and within 15% at 3.5 m/s.

Figure 3. Heat Sink Thermal Resistance as a Function of Velocity. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Graphite foam-derived heat sinks show promise in specific applications, but exhibit several drawbacks in mainstream electronics cooling. Due to the frail nature of graphite foam, unique precautions must be taken during the handling and use of these heat sinks. When coupled to a copper base plate, graphite foam can perform with acceptably small spreading resistances.

However, the foam’s lower thermal conductivity reduces thermal performance at high flow velocities compared to a traditional copper heat sink.

The mechanical attachment needed to ensure acceptable thermal interface performance without soldering or brazing also hinders foam-based heat sinks from being explored in mainstream applications. Despite these challenges, the thermal performance-to-weight ratio of foam is very attractive and well-suited to the aerospace and military industries, where cost and ease of use come second to weight and performance.

Thermal Software Comparison of Aluminum and Copper Heat Sinks

A challenging thermal application was considered. This involved the use of a dual core host processor on a board with limited footprint area for a heat sink of sufficient size. A heat sink with a stepped base was designed to clear onboard components. It provided sufficient surface area to dissipate heat (Figure 4).

Due to the complexity of the heat sink, machining a test sample from each material was not practical. Instead, CFD was used to predict the performance difference between the two materials and determine if the additional cost of copper was warranted.

Figure 4. Stepped Base maxiFLOW™ Heat Sink (ATS). (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Because of the stepped base and a long heat conduction path, spreading resistance was a major factor in the overall thermal resistance. The effect of copper in place of aluminum due to its higher thermal conductivity (400 and 180 W/m*K respectively) is shown in Table 4. The CFD software predicted a 21% improvement using copper in place of aluminum. More importantly, it reduced the processor case temperature below the required goal of 95°C.

The performance improvement with copper is due to the reduced spreading resistance from the processor die to the heat sink fins. This effect is shown in Figure 5, where the base temperatures of both heat sinks are obtained from the CFD analysis and plotted together. The aluminum heat sink shows a hotter center base temperature and a more pronounced drop off in temperature along the outer fins. The copper heat sink spreads the heat to all fins in a more even fashion, increasing the overall efficiency of the design. This temperature distribution can be seen in Figures 6 and 7, which were created using CFDesign software.

Figure 5. Effect of Heat Sink Material on Temperature Distribution. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Figure 6. Aluminum Stepped Base maxiFLOW™ Heat Sink Simulation. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Figure 7. Copper Stepped Base maxiFLOW™ Heat Sink Simulation. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Conclusion

Design engineers have many materials at their disposal to meet the challenging thermal needs of modern components. Classic materials such as aluminum and copper are joined by new technologies that bring improvements in cost, weight, or conductivity. The choice between a metallic, foam or plastic heat sink can be difficult because thermal conductivity provides the only available information to predict performance.

The first method for determining material selection is a classic thermodynamics problem: what effect does conductivity have on the overall thermal resistance in my system? Only once this is answered can the benefits of cost, weight, and manufacture be addressed.

References

For more information about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. thermal management consulting and design services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.