Integrating thermal management from the start | Diabatix

February 1, 2024
Sarah da Silva Andrade

The importance of thermal management in the design cycle is becoming increasingly evident. With technological advancements, the heat generated by components, such as chips and battery packs, is escalating, presenting new challenges in various industries. In this context, why is early thermal management so important?

Enhancing performance and reliability

The traditional approach has often been to prioritize the functionality of devices, with thermal management being an afterthought. However, this approach can be problematic. For instance, in the electronics industry, engineers might focus on maximizing the functionality of a device by optimally placing chips on a PCB, but neglecting early thermal considerations can lead to overheating. Overheating not only degrades performance but may also cause components like chips to throttle, significantly impacting the device's efficiency.

Similarly, in the automotive sector, particularly in the design of battery packs for electric vehicles, overlooking thermal management can lead to thermal runaway - a dangerous phenomenon that has been well-documented in the media. Such incidents not only pose safety risks but also degrade the reputation of manufacturers. Thus, addressing thermal management early in the design cycle is paramount for enhancing both the performance and reliability of the devices.

Cooling for a battery pack

Cost and resource efficiency

Another critical aspect of early thermal management is its impact on cost and resource efficiency. Late-stage thermal management often leads to discovering that a design does not meet thermal requirements, necessitating costly and time-consuming redesigns. By integrating thermal considerations early, engineers can optimize both the performance and the thermal efficiency of the device from the outset. This proactive approach leads to a more robust and well-rounded final product, saving both time and resources in the development process.

Improving safety and user experience

Focusing on thermal management from the early stages of design also significantly enhances the safety of the products, which in turn improves the user experience. This is particularly crucial in industries like automotive, where the thermal management of battery systems is essential to prevent hazards such as fires or explosions.

Meeting regulatory compliances

With stringent regulatory compliances in place, particularly in areas like thermal management, early integration of these considerations ensures that the products meet the necessary standards. This compliance is not only vital for legal adherence but also for maintaining consumer trust and market credibility.

Sustainability and energy efficiency

Finally, early thermal management contributes to the sustainability and energy efficiency of devices. Products that are designed to manage heat effectively tend to have a longer lifespan and are less likely to experience failures due to overheating. This not only means less waste generated from broken devices but also that the devices operate more efficiently over their lifespan, conserving energy and reducing their environmental impact.

LED lighting cooling by ColdStream

Case study: Thermal management in LED lighting

Context and challenge

LED lighting, known for its energy efficiency and longevity, still faces significant thermal management challenges. The compact nature of LED devices means they generate a considerable amount of heat in a small area. If this heat isn't managed properly, it can lead to decreased efficiency, reduced lifespan, and even failure of the LED system.

Let's explore a practical example of thermal management applied to LED lighting. Consider an LED light fixture that exemplifies the utilization of natural convection for heat dissipation. In this design, aluminum is chosen as the primary material due to its adequate thermal conductivity properties. The fixture should be designed to handle a heat power output of 10W from the LED. Given the objective of mass production, the manufacturing process selected is die casting.

The figure displays the LED, the cylindrical design region, and the representation of the surrounding outside air.

LED lighting setup: LED, cylindrical design region, and the surrounding outside air.

Kickstarting effective thermal management

To address this early-stage thermal management challenge, we will make use of ColdStream, a specialized software focused on thermal generative design. This platform enables us to employ correlation-based estimation, quickly generating concepts that can be subsequently optimized.

In the context of the setup detailed in the previous section, ColdStream has generated a range of concepts for the LED heat sink, which is visually represented in the following figure.

Multiple concepts generated by ColdStream
Review the case study here

In short

This case study illustrates the importance of integrating thermal management solutions from the early stages of product development, particularly in technologies like LED lighting where heat management is critical for performance and longevity. By adopting a proactive approach to thermal challenges, companies can not only enhance the efficiency and durability of their products but also contribute to broader goals of sustainability and energy conservation.

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