(www.gawkwire.com) – Everyone wants portable products. Miniature high density circuits, often housed in airtight enclosures are required, so we can use our devices everywhere, including in wearable technologies. Heat management is therefore a big problem, particularly as the trend of consumers demanding smaller, faster operating electronics continues.
Thermal management technology has to evolve quickly to keep up with this relentless advance of electronic component and product design. The range of materials available a decade ago are now redundant as the size and format of components has continued to reduce, packaging materials have changed and device integration and power density have increased.
That is leading to extensive development of advanced materials and structures which can manage heat better and as a result enable electronics to operate faster.
The multi-billion dollar market opportunity
The thermal interface material market will be $1.3bn in 2015 according to IDTechEx Research in the report Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025: Status, Opportunities and Market Forecasts (www.idtechex.com/tim) and will grow to $3bn in 2025.
Thermal interface materials used in 2015
When thermal management first started to become an issue, the choice of materials on offer was limited. Thermal grease was used to fill gaps between power devices and heat sinks. Manufacturing with greases is messy and imprecise. Thermal greases are popular in industrial computing, and consumer electronics but are experiencing decreasing market share.
Thermal pads made from a silicone elastomer and electrically conductive fillers began to emerge. These are cleaner, easier to use and more precise. These pads fill air voids between mating parts when subjected to assembly pressures from clips or screws and exhibit continually improving thermal performance over time as further flowing of the material occurs. Pads of this kind will be the most widely used thermal interface material by 2025, according to Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025.
It is also common to attach the circuit board to a larger heatsink or to the metal chassis of the product itself. The key to achieving successful heat transfer is to have a thin interface able to fill all air voids, such as a thermally conductive tape. These double-sided adhesive materials combine high structural bond strength and good heat transfer characteristics. Products are available for different thicknesses and surface areas of the mating parts.
In addition to these polymeric TIMs, there are also a wide range of metallic thermal interface materials available. Although lead solders can no longer be used due to toxicity, indium and gallium alloys are increasingly popular.
However, finding the right thermal management solution is not simple. Different applications have different requirements, which drive the choice of thermal interface material. As a result, the variety and breadth of thermal materials available and emerging today is broadening.
New advanced materials
Traditionally, TIMs have been micro-structured, but R&D is increasingly focussed on nano-structuring. This can involve:
• using nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes or graphene
• using metallic nanoparticles as fillers for polymeric TIMs
• nano-structuring a bulk ceramic or metal foam
However, the TIM industry is extremely conservative. Change is only ever considered when the current technology has reached its absolute limit, and the substitute must be mature.
Nevertheless, the consumer demand for increasingly smaller and faster electronics will drive new innovations, and result in the market for thermal interface materials growing by 7.9% CAGR over the next decade.
For more information the IDTechEx report Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025 (www.idtechex.com/tim) assesses the ten types of materials available to improve heat removal in eleven key applications with a combined market of $1.3bn.
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