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The Role of CFD Thermal Analysis in Electronics Design

Key Takeaways

  • Introducing CFD thermal analysis.

  • How CFD thermal analysis helps designers.

  • CFD thermal analysis applications. 

Cooling fan in a computer

Optimize the thermal management system in your electronics design by using CFD thermal analysis

There is no way to fully eliminate heat generation in electronics; most electronic circuits dissipate power in the form of heat. Unfortunately, temperature rises due to heat generation is detrimental to the longevity of circuits—about half of all failures in electronic circuits are related to temperature. That is why it is necessary to implement optimized thermal management systems in electronic circuits.

The thermal management implemented in electronic circuits needs to be effective and efficient, otherwise, it is a waste of money, time, and space. There are various tools available to help designers optimize their thermal management design. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) thermal analysis is one such simulation that can help designers create optimal thermal designs to ensure the reliability and longevity of their product.

CFD Thermal Analysis in Electronics

The three-dimensional simulation of heat transfer and fluid motion using various numerical approaches in CFD is utilized for thermal analysis in electronic circuits. CFD thermal analysis can couple the effects of heat transfer methods, such as conduction, convection, and radiation, into fluid flow simulations for realistic results.

CFD thermal analysis simulations extract information to accurately predict the following:

  • Temperature distribution
  • Heat transfer rates
  • Hot spots
  • Airflow fields and patterns
  • Heat flux rates

Designers can then use this data to design a better thermal management solution and ensure their design will be safe to operate. 

How Does CFD Thermal Analysis Help Designers Overcome Thermal Challenges?

CFD thermal analysis builds a model of the electronic system, which helps designers review the thermal challenges in the design under various conditions. The thermal review obtained from CFD thermal analysis is closer to field results, as the thermal analysis model takes into account the temperature dependency of the material, properties of fluids (air, water, or any other coolants), contact conditions, and other structural and environmental non-linearities. 

CFD Thermal Analysis Applications 

CFD thermal analysis is useful in electronic thermal management designs, as it maximizes the chances of successful heat transfer from the electronic system under consideration. Nowadays, CFD thermal analysis is the most commonly used analysis tool by electronic design engineers for identifying flaws in thermal management systems early in the development process. Through iterations, the appropriate thermal design can be achieved using CFD thermal analysis. 

CFD thermal analysis is used in a wide range of areas including:

  • Electronics cooling
  • Heat exchangers
  • Electronics enclosure designs
  • Industrial machinery design
  • Electric vehicle thermal management systems
  • Aerospace systems

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Let’s dive into a few other applications of CFD thermal analysis.

IC Package Design

CFD thermal analysis supports IC package designs by helping designers select the correct packaging materials to ensure fast thermal transfers. CFD thermal analysis can also analyze the cooling effects on ICs or chips by modeling the geometry and assigning the fluid flow type, flow velocity, and heat transfer rates to the model. 

System-Level Design

CFD thermal analysis simulation can be employed at the board level as well as in system-level designs with heat sinks, cold plates, fans, etc. With CFD thermal analysis, the thermal and flow attributes can be directly assigned to the design geometry for optimization. This gives designers an opportunity to plug and play with coolants, heat sink types, and thermal interface materials and finalize the combination that offers maximum heat removal prior to development.

The cost of thermal failures or design reworks based on prototype thermal testing is prohibitive, which is why utilizing comprehensive CFD thermal analysis in the early design stages will continue to be a best practice. Cadence software includes CFD thermal analysis tools for optimizing your electronic thermal management designs.

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