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Practical Evaluation of Thermally-Conductive Plastics for Thermal Component Design
Keywords: Thermally conductive plastics, conductive plastics vs. metals, Modeling
A variety of thermally-conductive polymers have been commercially available for thirty years, for electronics thermal management. More attention has been focused on evaluating alternative materials to metal alloys for thermal components and structural components that may have a thermal requirement, as new types of electronic systems have been introduced that have significantly different power dissipation values and, in many cases, other influencing factors such as weight, as well. This presentation is intended to examine practical attributes of thermally conductive plastics and describe differences in thermally- conductive plastics in comparison to aluminum alloys used traditionally for extruding and casting heat sinks and related thermal components. Knowledge of how these plastics are different, the behavior of the plastics in manufacturing processes, and the effectiveness in natural and forced convection environments is useful, in order to properly assess whether a thermally-conductive plastic will be a suitable design choice. We would like to therefore consider two major topics for design and analysis: A. Thermal modeling -- Practical examination of how to model use of thermally-conductive plastics (TCP) for thermal solution design: - What differences are important to be aware of, as compared to modeling an aluminum or copper heat sink design? - How may thermally-conductive plastics behave in natural and forced convection, versus a typical aluminum heat sink? Examples will be shown for three component types: (a) injection-molded pin fin versus die-cast aluminum heat sink for high-volume manufacturing; (b) injection-molded plate fin versus extruded aluminum heat sink; (c) a frame or other mechanical component requiring some degree of thermal performance, injection molded, versus the comparable aluminum component. B. Applicability, from a practical perspective: - What are practical generalized rules for where a plastic injection molded heat sink may be applicable? - What limitations may there be in forced versus natural convection applications, such as pin or fin height, weight, power dissipation per unit volume, tooling cost, and similar? - How does flow direction within a mold affect bulk thermal conductivity for the finished component? - Is it reasonable to combine materials to create a finished heat sink and gain further improvement in thermal performance? - Additional practical guidelines.
Guy R. Wagner,
Electronic Cooling Solutions Inc.
Santa Clara, CA
United States


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