Tag Archives: ATS

Industry Developments: Heat Exchangers for Electronics Cooling

By Norman Quesnel, Senior Member of Marketing Staff
Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.

(This article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Qpedia Thermal e-Magazine, an online publication 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. To read other stories from Norman Quesnel, visit https://www.qats.com/cms/?s=norman+quesnel.)

Heat exchangers are thermal management tools that are widely used across a variety of industries. Their basic function is to remove heat from designated locations by transferring it into a fluid. Inside the heat exchanger, the heat from this fluid passes to a second fluid without the fluids mixing or coming into direct contact. The original fluid, now cooled, returns to the assigned area to begin the heat transfer process again.

The fluids referred to above can be gases (e.g. air), or liquids (e.g. water or dielectric fluids), and they don’t have to be symmetrical. Therefore, heat exchangers can be air-to-air, liquid-to-air, or liquid-to-liquid. Typically, fans and/or pumps are used to keep these heat transfer medium in motion and heat pipes may be added to increase heat transfer capabilities.

Figure 1 shows a basic heat exchanger schematic. A hot fluid (red) flows through a container filled with a cold fluid (blue) but the two fluids are not in direct contact.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 1. In a Simple Heat Exchanger Heat Transfers from the Hot (Red) Fluid to the Cold (Blue) Fluid, and the Cooler After Fluid Re-Circulates to Retrieve More Heat. [1]

One example of a common heat exchanger is the internal combustion engine under the hood of most cars. A fluid (in this case, liquid coolant) circulates through radiator coils while another fluid (air) flows past these coils. The air flow lowers the liquid coolant’s temperature and heats the incoming air.

Applied to electronics enclosures, heat exchangers draw heated air from a cabinet, cool it, and then return the cooled air to the cabinet. These heat exchangers should be designed to provide adequate cooling for expected worst case conditions. Typically, those conditions occur when the ambient is the highest and when electrical loads through the enclosure are very high. Under typical conditions, heat exchangers can cool cabinet interiors to within 5°F above the ambient air temperature outside the enclosure.


Air-to-air heat exchangers have no loops, liquids or pumps. Their heat dissipation capabilities are moderate. Common applications are in indoor or outdoor telecommunications cabinetry or in manufacturing facilities that don’t have a lot of dust or debris.

Air-to-air heat exchangers provide moderate to good cooling performance. They don’t allow outside air to enter or mix with the air inside the enclosure. This protects the enclosure’s contents from possible contamination by dirt or dust, which could damage sensitive electronics and electrical devices and cause malfunctions.

An example of higher performance, air-to-air heat exchangers is the Aavid Thermacore HX series. These heat exchangers feature rows of heat pipes that add effective, two-phase heat absorbing properties when moving hot air away from a cooling area. The liquid inside the heat pipes turns to vapor. This transition occurs inside a hot cabinet. (See Figure 2)

The vapor travels to the other end of the heat pipe, which is outside the cabinet. Here it is cooled by a fan, transitions back to liquid form, and cycles back inside the cabinet environment.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 2. An Air-to-Air Heat Exchanger with Heat Pipes Extending Inside (top) and Outside (bottom) a Cabinet. Internal Heat is Transferred Outside the Enclosure. (Aavid Themacore) [1]

Other air-to-air heat exchangers feature impingement cooling functionality that can provide better performance than using heat pipes. Aavid Thermacore’s HXi Impingement core technology uses a folded fin core that separates the enclosure inside and outside. A set of inside fans draws in the hotter, inside air and blows it toward the fin core. This inside impingement efficiently transfers the heat to the fin core. Similarly, a set of outside fans draws in the cooler, ambient air and blows it toward the outer side of the fin core removing the waste heat. See Figure 3 below.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 3. Air-to-Air Heat Exchangers with Double-Sided Impingement Cooling Technology Can Move Twice the Heat Load of Conventional Exchangers. (Aavid Themacore) [3]


In some electronic cabinets, high power components can’t be cooled by circulating air alone or the external ambient air temperature is not cool enough to allow an air-to-air heat exchanger to solve the problem unaided. In these applications, liquid-to-air heat exchangers provide additional cooling to maintain proper cabinet temperatures.

For example, in a situation where heat is collected through a liquid-cooled cold plate attached directly to high power components. Even with the cold plate, the ambient air external to the cabinet is not cool enough to maintain the internal cabinet temperature at an acceptable or required level. Here, a liquid coolant in an active liquid-to-air heat exchanger can be used to cool the enclosure.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 4. Tube-to-Fin, Liquid-to-Air Heat Exchangers Provide High-Performance Thermal Transfer. [4] (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) tube-to-fin, liquid-to-air heat exchangers have the industry’s highest density of fins. This maximizes heat transfer from liquid to air, allowing the liquid to be cooled to lower temperatures than other exchangers can achieve. All tubes and fins are made of copper and stainless steel to accommodate a wide choice of fluids.

Available with or without fans, ATS heat exchangers are available in a range of sizes and heat transfer capacities up to 250W per 1°C difference between inlet liquid and inlet air temperatures. They can be used in a wide variety of automotive, industrial, HVAC, electronics and medical applications. [4]

Heat Exchanger

Figure 5. Small, Light-Weight Liquid-to-Liquid Heat Exchanger Provides Efficient Cooling Performance. [5]

Lytron’s liquid-to-liquid heat exchangers are only 10-20% the size and weight of conventional shell-and-tube designs. Their internal counter-flow design features stainless steel sheets stamped with a herringbone pattern of grooves, stacked in alternating directions to form separate flow channels for the two liquid streams. This efficient design allows 90% of the material to be used for heat transfer. Copper-brazed and nickel-brazed versions provide compatibility with a wide range of fluids. [5]


The development of nanomaterials has made it possible to structure a new type of heat transfer fluid formed by suspending nanoparticles (particles with a diameter lower than 100nm). A mixture of nanoparticles suspended in a base liquid is called a nanofluid. The choice of base fluid depends on the heat transfer properties required of the nanofluid. Water is widely used as the base fluid. Experimental data indicates that particle size, volume fraction and properties of the nanoparticles influence the heat transfer characteristics of nanofluids. [5]

When compared to conventional liquids, nanofluids have many advantages such as higher thermal conductivity, better flow, and the pressure drop induced is very small. They can also prevent sedimentation and provide higher surface area. From various research, it has been found that adding even very small amounts of nanoparticles to the base fluid can significantly enhance thermal conductivity.

Heat Exchangers

Figure 6. 3D Design of Curved Tube Heat Exchanger. Increased Turbulence and Velocity Increases Heat Transfer Rate. [6]

A recent paper by Fredric et al. proposes a theoretical heat exchanger with curved tubes and with nanofluids as the coolant. Nanofluids in place of regular water provide improved thermal conductivity due to the increased surface area. The heat transfer rate is further improved using curved tubes in place of straight tubes because the used of curved tubes increases the turbulence and fluid velocity, which helps increase the heat transfer rate. [6]

1. Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc., https://www.qats.com/Products/Liquid-Cooling/Heat-Exchangers.
2. Aavid Thermacore, http://www.thermacore.com/documents/system-level-cooling-products.pdf.
3. Aavid Thermacore, http://www.thermacore.com/products/air-to-air-heat-exchangers.aspx.
4. Advanced Thermal Solutions, https://www.qats.com/Products/Liquid-Cooling/Heat-Exchangers.
5. Kannan, S., Vekatamuni, T. and Vijayasarathi, P., “Enhancement of Heat Transfer Rate in Heat Exchanger Using Nanofluids,” Intl Journal of Research, September 2014.
6. Fredric, F., Afzal, M. and Sikkandar, M., “A Review on Shell & Tube Heat Exchanger Using Nanofluids for Enhancement of Thermal Conductivity,” Intl. Journal of Innovative Research in Science, Engineering and Technology, March 2017.

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.

Utilizing Fans in Thermal Management of Electronics Systems

Fans in Thermal Management

There are different types of fans that are used in thermal management of electronics with tube axial fans being the most common. (Wikimedia Commons)

The ongoing trend in the electronics industry is for increasingly high-powered components to meet the ever-growing demands of consumers. Coupled with greater component-density in smaller packages, thermal management is more and more of a priority to ensure performance and reliability over the life of an electronics system.

As thermal needs have grown, engineers have sought out different cooling methods to supplement convection cooling. While options such as liquid cooling have grown in popularity in recent years, still one of the most common techniques is to add fans to a system.

Through the years, fan designs have improved. Fan blades have been streamlined to produce great flow rate with less noise and fans have become more power-efficient to meet the desires of customers trying to use less resources and save costs.

While much has changed in the presentation of fans, there are many basic concepts that engineers must consider when deciding how to implement fans in a project.

This is part one of a two-part series on how to select the best fan for a project. Part one will cover the types of fans that can be used. Part two, which can be found at https://www.qats.com/cms/2017/03/10/analysis-of-fan-curves-and-fan-laws-in-thermal-management-electronics, will cover fan laws and analyzing fan curves.


As described by Mike Turner of Comair Rotron in an article for Electronics Cooling Magazine, “All You Need to Know About Fans,” fans are essentially low pressure air pumps that take power from a motor to “output a volumetric flow of air at a given pressure.” He continued, “A propeller converts torque from the motor to increase static pressure across the fan rotor and to increase the kinetic energy of the air particles.”

In a white paper from Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) entitled, “Performance Difference Between Fans and Blowers and Their Implementation,” it was added that fans are at their core, dynamic pumps. The article added, that in dynamic pumps “the fluid increases momentum while moving through open passages and then converts its high velocity to a pressure increase by exiting into a diffuser section.”

The biggest difference between a fan and a blower is the direction in which the air is delivered. Fans push air in a direction that is parallel to the fan blade axis, while blowers move air perpendicular to the blower axis. Turner noted that fans “can be designed to deliver a high flow rate, but tend to work against low pressure” and blowers move air at a “relatively low flow rate, but against high pressure.”

The three types of fans are centrifugal, propeller, tube axial, and vane axial:

• In centrifugal fans, the air flows into the housing and turns 90 degrees while accelerating due to centrifugal forces before being flowing out of the fan blades and exiting the housing.
• Propeller fans are the simplest form of a fan with only a motor and propellers and no housing.
• Tube axial fans, according to Turner, are similar to a propeller fan but “also has a venture around the propeller to reduce the vortices.”
• Vane axial fans have vanes trailing behind the propeller to straighten the swirling air as it is accelerated.

The most common fans used in electronics cooling are tube axial fans and there are a number of manufacturers creating options for engineers. A quick search of Digi-Key Electronics, offered options such as Sunon, Orion Fans, Sanyo Denki, NMB Technologies, Delta Electronics, Jameco Electronics, and several more.

Fans in Thermal Management

A fan is added to a heat sink on a PCB in order to increase the air flow and heat dissipation from the board component. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)


When selecting a fan, engineers must consider the specific requirements of the system in which they are working, including factors such as the necessary airflow and the size restrictions of the board or the chassis. These basic factors will allow engineers to search through the many available options to find a fan that fits his or her needs.

In addition, engineers may look towards combining multiple fans in parallel or in a series to increase the flow rate across the components without increasing the size of the package or the diameter of the fan.

Parallel operation means having two or more fans side-by-side. When two fans are working in parallel, then the volume flow rate will be increased, even doubled when the fans are operating at maximum. Turner added. “The best results for parallel fans are achieved in systems with low resistance.”

In a series, the fans are stacked on top of each other and results in increased static pressure. Unlike parallel operations, fans in a series work best in a system with high resistance.

The ATS white paper noted, “In real situations, the fans may interfere with each other. The end results is a lower than expected performance.” Turner warns that in either parallel or series configurations there is a point in the combined performance curve that should be avoided because it creates unstable and unpredictable performance, but analyzing fan performance and fan curves will be covered in more detail in part two of the blog.

Efficiency is a major factor when selecting a fan. As noted in an article from Qpedia Thermal eMagazine, “A large data center contains about 400,000 servers and consumes 250 MW of power. It has been estimated that about 20% of the total power supplied to a high end server is consumed by fans.”

Clearly, finding a fan that can work efficiently with lower power will save a considerable about of resources. The article details several methods for creating efficiency in designing a system that includes fans:

“Fan power consumption is traditionally reduced by controlling the motor speed to produce only the airflow required for adequate cooling, rather than operating continuously at full speed. Significant energy savings can be achieved beyond this technique through fan efficiency increase. Optimizing the motor and electronic driver, increasing fan aerodynamic efficiency through careful redesign, and optimizing fan-system integration are three ways of achieving this.”

Read more about the techniques for achieving efficiency at https://www.qats.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Designing_Efficient_Fans_for_Electronics_Cooling


To learn more about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. consulting services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.

Cold Plates and Recirculating Chillers for Liquid Cooling Systems

Recirculating Chillers

ATS cold plates and recirculating chillers can be used in closed loop liquid cooling systems for high-powered electronics. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

The miniaturization of high-powered electronics and the requisite component density that entails have led engineers to explore new cooling methods of increasing complexity. As a result, there is a growing trend in thermal management of electronics to explore more liquid cooling systems and the reintroduction, and re-imagining, of cold plate technology, which has a long history that includes its use on the Apollo 11 space shuttle.i

Thermal management of high-powered electronics is a critical component of a design process. Ensuring the proper cooling of a device optimizes its performance and extends MTBF. In order for a system to work properly, engineers need to establish its thermal parameters from the system down to the junction temperature of the hottest devices. The use of cold plates in closed loop liquid cooling systems has become a common and successful means to insure those temperatures are managed.

Cold plate technology has come a long way since the 1960s. At their most basic level, they are metal blocks (generally aluminum or copper) that have inlets and outlets and internal tubing to allow liquid coolant to flow through. Cold plates are placed on top of a component that requires cooling, absorbing and dissipating the heat from the component to the liquid that is then cycled through the system.

In recent years, there have been many developments in cold plate technology, including the use of microchannels to lower thermal resistanceii or the inclusion of nanofluids in the liquid cooling loop to improve its heat transfer capabilities.iii

An article from the October 2007 issue of Qpedia Thermal eMagazine detailed the basic components of a closed loop liquid cooling system, including:

• A cold plate or liquid block to absorb and transfer the heat from the source
• A pump to circulate the fluid in the system
• A heat exchanger to transfer heat from the liquid to the air
• A radiator fan to remove the heat in then liquid-to-air heat exchanger

The article continued, “Because of the large surface involved, coldplate applications at the board level have been straight forward…Design efforts for external coldplates to be used at the component level have greatly exceeded those for PCB level coldplates.”

Exploring liquid cooling loops at the board or the component level, according to the author, requires an examination of the heat load and junction temperature requirements and ensuring that air cooling will not suffice to meet those thermal needs.iv

To read the full article on “Closed Loop Liquid Cooling for High-Powered Electronics,” click http://coolingzone.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Qpedia_Oct07_Closed_Loop_liquid_cooling_

Chillers provide additional support for liquid cooling loops

In order to increase the effectiveness of the cold plate and of the liquid cooling loop, recirculating chillers can be added to condition the coolant before it heads back into the cold plate. The standard refrigeration cycle of recirculating chillers is displayed below in Fig. 1.

Chiller,s Cold Plates

Fig. 1. The standard refrigeration cycle for recirculating chillers. (Adavanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

Several companies have introduced recirculating chillers to the market in recent years, including ThermoFisher, PolyScience, Laird, Lytron, and Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS). Each of the chiller lines has similarities but also unique features that fit different applications.

In order to select the right chiller, Process-Cooling.com warns that it is important to avoid “sticker shock” because of testing conditions that are ideal rather than based on real-world applications. The site suggests a safety factor of as much as 25 percent on temperature ranges to account for environmental losses and to ensure adequate cooling capacity.v

The site also noted the importance of speaking with manufacturers about the cooling capacity that is needed, the required temperature range, the heat load of the application, the length and size of the pipe/tubing, and any elevation changes.

“Look for a chiller with an internal pump-pressure adjustment,” the article stated. “This feature enables the operator to dial down the external supply pressure to a level that is acceptable for the application. Because the remaining flow diverts internally into the chiller bath tank, no damage will result to the chiller pump or the external application.”

When trying to decide on the right size chiller for your particular application, there are several formulas that can help make the process easier. Bob Casto of Cold Shot Chillers, writing for CoolingBestPractices.com, gave one calculation for industrial operations. First, determine the change in temperature (ΔT), then the BTU/hour (Gallons per hour X 8.33 X ΔT), then calculate the tons of cooling ([BTU/hr]/12,000), and finally oversize by 20 percent (Tons X 1.20).vi

Not every application will require industrial capacity, so for smaller, more portable chillers, Julabo.com had a secondary calculation for required capacity (Q).

Q=[(rV cp)material+(rV cp)bath fluid]ΔT/t

In the above equation, r equals density, V equals volume, cp equals constant-pressure specific heat, ΔT equals the change in temperature, and t equals time. “Typically, a safety factor of 20-30% extra cooling capacity is specified for the chilling system,” the article continued. “This extra cooling capacity should be calculated for the lowest temperature required in the process or application.”vii

Comparison of Industry Standard Recirculating Chillers

Recirculating Chillers

Applications for liquid cooling systems with chillers

Recirculating chillers offer liquid cooling loops precise temperature control and coupled with cold plates can dissipate a large amount of heat from a component or system. This makes chillers (and liquid cooling loops in general) useful to a wide range of applications, including applications with demanding requirements for temperature range, reliability, and consistency.

Chillers have been part of liquid cooling systems for high-powered lasers for a number of years to ensure proper output wavelength and optimal power.viiiix To ensure optimal performance, it is important to consider safety features, such as the automatic shut-off on the ATS-Chill 150V that protects against over-pressure and compressor overload. Other laser-related applications include but are not limited to Deep draw presses, EDM, Grinding, Induction heating and ovens, Metallurgy, Polishing, Spindles, Thermal spray, and Welding.x

Machine hydraulics cooling and semiconductors also benefit from the inclusion of chillers in liquid cooling loops. Applications include CVD/PVD, Etch/Ashing, Wet Etch, Implant, Inductively Coupled Plasma and Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (ICP/AA), Lithography, Mass Spectroscopy (MS), Crystal Growing, Cutting/Dicing, Die Packaging and Die Testing, and Polishing/Grinding.xi

One of the most prominent applications for liquid cooling, heat exchangers, cold plates, and chillers is in medical equipment. As outlined in an ATS case study,xii medical diagnostic and laboratory equipment requires cyclic temperature demands and precise repeatability, as well as providing comfort for patients. For Harvard Medical School, ATS engineers needed to design a system that could maintain a temperature of -70°C for more than six hours. Using a cold plate with a liquid cooling loop that included a heat exchanger, the engineers were able to successfully meet the system requirements.

Liquid cooling with chillers are also being used for medical imaging equipment and biotechnology testing in order to provide accurate results. ATS CEO and President Dr. Kaveh Azar will discuss the “Thermal Management of Medical Electronics” in a free webinar on Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. For more information or to register for the webinar, click https://www.qats.com/Training/Webinars.


Closed loop liquid cooling systems are not new but are gaining in popularity as heat dissipation demands continue to rise. Using cold plate technology with recirculating chillers, such as the ATS-Chill150V, ATS-Chill300V, and the ATS-Chill600V, to condition the coolant in the system can offer enhanced heat transfer capability.

Portable and easy to use, ATS vapor compression chillers are air-cooled to eliminate costly water-cooling circuits and feature a front LED display panel that allows users to keep track of pressure drop between inlet and outlet and the coolant level. They each use a PID controller.

Recirculating Chillers

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.

i http://history.nasa.gov/SP-287/ch1.htm
ii https://heatsinks.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/qpedia_0309_web.pdf#page=12
iii http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0142727X99000673
iv https://www.qats.com/cpanel/UploadedPdf/Qpedia_Thermal_eMagazine_0610_V2_lorez1.pdf#page=16
v http://www.process-cooling.com/articles/87261-chillers-evaluation-and-analysis-keys-to-selecting-a-winning-chiller?v=preview
vi http://www.coolingbestpractices.com/industries/plastics-and-rubber/5-sizing-steps-chillers-plastic-process-cooling
vii http://www.julabo.com/us/blog/2016/sizing-a-cooling-system-control-temperature-process-heating-operations
viii http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/print/volume-37/issue-6/features/instruments-accessories/keeping-your-laser-cool0151selecting-a-chiller.html
ix https://www.electrooptics.com/feature/keeping-it-cool
x http://www.lytron.com/Industries/Laser-Cooling
xi http://www.lytron.com/Industries/Semiconductor-Cooling
xii https://www.qats.com/cms/2016/10/04/case-study-thermal-management-harvard-medical-school-tissue-analysis-instrumentation/

ATS holding webinar on Thermal Management of Medical Electronics

Medical Webinar

DR. Kaveh Azar, founder, CEO and President of Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS), will present a free webinar on “Thermal Management in Medical Electronics” on Dec. 15, 2016.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) will host a free, online webinar on “Thermal Management of Medical Electronics”. The hour-long webinar will begin at 2:00 p.m. and there will be 30 minutes of question and answer time after its completion.

The webinar will be presented by thermal management expert Dr. Kaveh Azar, the CEO, President and founder of ATS. Dr. Azar will speak about the unique challenges that are present in finding a thermal solution for medical electronics and the importance of including thermal management in the design process.

The object of all thermal management is to ensure that the device junction temperature, the hottest point on a semiconductor, stays below a set limit. While this is true for all electronic systems, medical electronics pose unique thermal challenges that have to be overcome to meet the junction temperature requirements.

Medical electronics could have stringent material selection. For example, copper is a common metal chosen in thermal management, but can cause irritation or a neurodegenerative condition for patients and has to be used carefully. In addition, medical electronics may have spatial constraints, such as forceps that have only 2-4 millimeters of width, which is a constrained space with very little airflow.

Other challenges presented by medical electronics include the need for constant, reliable repeatability; temperature reliability within a range; and in some cases specific FDA requirements.

Dr. Azar will address each of these issues and more. To register for the free webinar on Thursday, Jan. 26, visit http://www.qats.com/Training/Webinars.

Discussion of Thermal Solution for Stratix 10 FPGA

An Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. (ATS) client was planning on upgrading an existing board by adding Altera’s high-powered Stratix 10 FPGAs, with estimates of as many as 90 watts of power being dissipated by two of the components and 40 watts from a third. The client was using ATS heat sinks on the original iteration of the board and wanted ATS to test whether or not the same heat sinks would work with higher power demands.

In the end, the original heat sinks proved to be effective and lowered the case temperature below the required maximum. Through a combination of analytical modeling and CFD simulations, ATS was able to demonstrate that the heat sinks would be able to cool the new, more powerful components.

ATS Field Application Engineer Vineet Barot recently spoke with Marketing Director John O’Day and Marketing Communications Specialist Josh Perry about the process he undertook to meet the requirements of the client and to test the heat sinks under these new conditions.

JP: Thanks again for sitting down with us to talk about the project Vineet. What was the challenge that this client presented to us?
VB: They had a previous-generation PCB on which they were using ATS heat sinks, ATS 1634-C2-R1, and they wanted to know if they switched to the next-gen design with three Altera Stratix 10 FPGAs, two of them being relatively high-powered, could they still use the same heat sinks?

Stratix 10 FPGA

The board that was given to ATS engineers to determine whether the original ATS heat sinks would be effective with new, high-powered Stratix 10 FPGA from Altera. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

They don’t even know what the power of the FPGAs is exactly, but they gave us these parameters: 40°C ambient with the junction temperatures to be no more than 100°C. Even though the initial package is capable of going higher, they wanted this limit. That translates to a 90°C case temperature. You have the silicon chip, the actual component with the gates and everything, and you have a package that puts all that together and there’s typically a thermal path that it follows to the lid that has either metal or plastic. So, there’s some amount of temperature lost from the junction to the case.

The resistance is constant so you know for any given power what the max will be. The power that they wanted for FPGAs 1 and 2, which are down at the bottom, was 90 watts, again this is an estimate, and the third one was 40 watts.

JP: How did you get started working towards a solution?
VB: Immediately we tried to identify the worst-case scenario. Overall the board lay-out is pretty well done because you have nice, linear flow. The fans are relatively powerful, lots of good flow going through there. It’s a well-designed board and they wanted to know what we could do with it.

I said, let’s start with the heat sinks that you’re already using, which are the 1634s, and then go from there. Here are the fan specs. They wanted to use the most powerful fan here in this top curve here. This is flow rate versus pressure. The more pressure you have in front of a fan, the slower it can pump out the air and this is the curve that determines that.

Stratix 10 FPGA

Fan operating points on the board, determined by CFD simulations. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

This little area here is sometime called the knee of the fan curve. Let’s say we’re in this area, the flow rate and pressure is relatively linear, so if I increase my pressure, if I put my hand in front of the fan, the flow rate goes down. If I have no pressure, I have my maximum flow rate. If I increase my pressure then the flow rate goes down. What happens in this part, the same thing. In the knee, a slight increase in pressure, so from .59 to .63, reduces the flow rate quite a bit.

Stratix 10 FPGA

CFD simulations showed that the fans were operating in the “knee” where it is hard to judge the impact of pressure changes on flow rate and vice versa. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

So, for a 0.1 difference in flow rate (in cubic meters per second) it took 0.4 inches of water pressure difference, whereas here for a 0.1 difference in flow rate it only took a .04 increase in pressure. That’s why there’s a circle there. It’s a danger area because if you’re in that range it gets harder to predict what the flow will be because any pressure-change, any dust build-up, any change in estimated open area might change your flow rate.

The 1634 is what they were using previously. It’s a copper heat pipe, straight-fin, mounted with a hardware kit and a backing plate that they have. It’s a custom heat sink that we made for them and actually the next –gen, C2-R1, we also made for them for the previous-gen of their board, they originally wanted us to add heat pipes to this copper heat sink, but I took the latest version and said, let’s see what this one will do. For the third heat sink, I went and did some analytical modeling to see what kind of requirement would be needed and I chose one of our off-the-shelf pushPIN™ heat sinks to work because it was 40 watts.

JO: Is the push pin heat sink down flow from the 1634, so it’s getting preheated air?
VB: Yes. This is a pull system, so the air is going out towards the fans.

Stratix 10 FPGA

CFD simulations done with FloTherm, which uses a recto-linear grid. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

This is the CFD modeling that ATS thermal engineer Sridevi Iyengar did in FloTherm. This is a big board. There are a lot of different nodes, a lot of different cells and FloTherm uses recto-linear grids to avoid waviness. You can change the shape of the lines depending on where you need to be. Sri’s also really good at modeling. She was able to turn it around in a day.

Stratix 10 FPGA

Flow vectors at the cut plane, as determined by CFD simulations. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

These are the different fans and she pointed out what the different fan operating curves. Within this curve, she’s able to point out where the different fans are and she’s pointing out that fan 5 is operating around the knee. If you look at all the different fans they all operate around this are, which is not the best area to operate around. You want to operate down here so that you have a lot of flow. If you look at the case temperatures, remember the max was 90°C, we’re at 75°C. We’re 15°C below, 15° margin of error. This was a push pin heat sink on this one up here and 1634s on the high-powered FPGAs down here.

Stratix 10 FPGA

JP: Was there more analysis that you did before deciding the original heat sinks were the solution?
VB: I calculated analytical models using the flow and the fan operating curves from CFD because it’s relatively hard to predict what the flow is going to be. Using that flow and doing a thermal analysis using HSM (heat sink modeling tool), we were within five percent. What Sri simulated with FloTherm was if a copper heat sink with the heat pipe was working super well, let’s try copper without the heat pipe and you can see the temperature increased from 74° to 76°C here, still way under the case temperature. Aluminum with the heat pipe was 77°; aluminum without the heat pipe was 81°, so you’re still under.

Basically there were enough margins for error, so you could go to smaller fans because there’s some concern about operating in the knee region, or you can downgrade the heat sink if the customer wanted. We presented this and they were very happy with the results. They weren’t super worried about operating in the knee region because there’s going to be some other things that might shift the curve a little bit and they didn’t want to downgrade the heat sink because of the power being dissipated.

Stratix 10 FPGA

Final case temperatures determined by CFD simulations and backed up by analytical modeling. (Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc.)

JO: What were some of the challenges in this design work that surprised you?
VB: The biggest challenges were translating their board into a board that’s workable for CFD. It’s tricky to simplify it without really removing all of the details. We had to decide what are the details that are important that we need to simulate. The single board computer and power supply, this relatively complex looking piece here with the heat sink, and we simplified that into one dummy heat sink to sort of see if it’s going to get too hot. It all comes with it, so we didn’t have to work on it.

The power supply is even harder, so I didn’t put it in there because I didn’t know what power it would be, didn’t know how hot it would be. I put a dummy component in there to make sure it doesn’t affect the air flow too much but that it does have some effect so you can see the pressure drop from it but thermally it’s not going to affect anything.

JO: It really shows that we know how to cool Stratix FPGAs from Altera, we have clear solutions for that both custom and off-the-shelf and that we understand how to model them in two different ways. We can model them with CFD and analytical modeling. We have pretty much a full complement of capabilities when dealing with this technology.

JP: Are there times when we want to create a TLB (thermal load board) or prototype and test this in a wind tunnel or in our lab?
VB: For the most part, customers will do that part themselves. They have the capability, they have the rack and if it’s a thing where they have the fans built into the rack then they can just test it. On a single individual heat sink basis, it’s not necessary because CFD and analytical modeling are so established. You want two independent solutions to make sure you’re in the right ballpark but it’s not something you’re too concerned that the result will be too far off of the theoretical. For another client, for example, we had to make load boards, but even then they did all the testing.

To learn more about Advanced Thermal Solutions, Inc. consulting services, visit www.qats.com or contact ATS at 781.769.2800 or ats-hq@qats.com.