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Introduction to Thermal Management: Keeping Devices Cool


Last updated Dec 21, 2023 | Published on May 1, 2023

The latest electrification trends drive products to contain more powerful and compact electrical components, which drives additional thermal management challenges to maintain or improve performance, reliability, and lifespan. Product designers and manufacturers need to maintain optimized heat source temperatures to ensure these devices operate efficiently and remain reliable over time. One way to optimize device temperatures is through effective thermal management.

What is Thermal Management?

Thermal management is the process of managing heat within a system to ensure efficient and safe operation. By designing and implementing techniques that leverage conduction, convection, and radiation, thermal management helps regulate device or system temperature by removing or dissipating excess heat.

Thermal management is essential for many device and system types, including electronic devices, vehicles, power plants, imaging systems, and high-performance computing systems. Without proper thermal management these devices can overheat, leading to reduced performance, shortened lifespan, and potential damage to components.

Effective thermal management techniques, like heat sinks, fans, liquid cooling systems, and thermal interface materials, enable devices and systems to operate safely, perform at their best, and have a longer lifespan.

Thermal Management Techniques

Most systems use a combination of thermal management techniques, so these solutions are categorized based on the primary cooling method used in the system. Categorization is generally based on working fluid and the type of convection in the cooling system.

Air Cooling, Liquid Cooling, and Two-Phase Cooling

Thermal management solutions are classified into air cooling, liquid cooling, and two-phase cooling based on the working fluid used. While air cooling is often the simplest and most cost-effective solution, liquid cooling and two-phase cooling solutions provide more efficient heat transfer and are better suited for high-performance applications.

However, liquid cooling can have potential complications with compatibility and maintenance, and two-phase cooling solutions may require additional design considerations for managing the vapor-liquid interface. The best thermal management solution depends on specific application needs and the trade-offs between performance, cost, and complexity.

Conduction Cooling

Systems that do not use any fluid are considered conduction cooling solutions. These thermal management solutions rely on the thermal conductivity of materials to effectively transport heat away from a source. Most air, liquid, and two-phase systems have some level of heat conduction within its components, but rely more heavily on fluid movement to move heat. Natural Convection and Forced Convection

Based on convection type, a thermal management solution is classified into natural convection (passive solution) or forced convection (active solution). Natural convection relies on the natural flow of air or liquid around a heat source to dissipate heat and occurs due to the temperature differences between the heat source and the surrounding environment. Whereas, forced convection uses a fan or blower, pump, or other mechanical device to circulate air or liquid around the heat source, enhancing heat transfer and improving cooling efficiency

Air cooling and two phase cooling leverage both active and passive configurations, but liquid cooling solutions are primarily active solutions.

Why is Thermal Management Important?

Incorporating thermal management into the design process helps avoid costly redesigns or repairs. Industries such as medical, aerospace, defense, and eMobility have strict regulatory requirements for thermal management. Failure to comply with these requirements results in legal consequences, fines, or even loss of life.

Inefficient thermal management leads to increased energy consumption, which not only impacts the device’s performance and lifespan but also has a negative impact on the environment. This is a major design focus for industries like data centers and high power compute. By designing devices with thermal management in mind, energy consumption can be minimized, leading to a more sustainable product.

Touch temperature is an important factor in the user experience of a product. If a device or a component is too hot to touch, it poses risks of burns or other injuries to the end-user. This can also lead to negative media coverage, potential damage to brand value, and other legal liabilities.

Overall, thermal management should be an integral part of the design process to ensure reliable and safe operation, compliance with regulatory requirements, cost savings, environmental sustainability, and brand reputation.

The Boyd Difference for Thermal Management Solutions

Boyd has several decades of experience and expertise designing and manufacturing at scale custom thermal management solutions for various industries, including eMobility, cloud, medical and more. Leverage our extensive supplier network, material science experience, and engineering expertise for comprehensive thermal management solutions that meet your unique needs and challenges. To learn more about our thermal management solutions or to discuss your project needs, schedule a consultation with our experts.

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