Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Kevin Chen
Image of PCB source Freepik
Heat dissipation is among the key areas of focus when designing and manufacturing printed circuit boards (PCBs). Also known as thermal management, heat dissipation encompasses a series of techniques that are aimed at dispersing heat that is generated by various components on the PCB.
Since the operation of the printed circuit boards is based on the flow of electrons, the components involved are expected to generate a significant amount of heat. If this heat accumulates to dangerous levels, it will likely cause physical and electrical damage to the PCBs. Of course, it will interfere with the performance and operation of the PCB.
Any reputable PCB manufacturer should implement various techniques to facilitate proper heat dissipation. In this article, we are going to highlight some of the main heat dissipation techniques on the PCB.
Thermal management techniques for PCB
Now let’s look at ways of handling heat dissipation on printed circuit boards
Integrating cooling fans and heat sinks
Well, these two techniques may sound too traditional but they do a pretty job when it comes to PCB thermal management. Cooling fans are designed to rotate continuously and as they do so, they dissipate the heat energy away from the printed circuit boards. They also blow a stream of cool air on the PCB components hence speeding up the cooling process.
On the other hand, heat sinks are made of conductive metal parts and are strategically positioned on the PCB. They conduct heat from one section of the printed circuit board and dissipate it to another area where it will be radiated away. Usually, PCB designers designate space for both the heat sink and as well as the cooling fan.
Heat pipes are also major hardware components that play an important role in facilitating thermal management on the printed circuit board. Heat pipes are ideal when the PCB is designed to be used in a compact device where there is limited space for deploying other space-demanding cooling techniques.
How do heat pipes in PCBs work? These pipes are made of excellent conductors and have cooling fluids such as nitrogen, water, and ammonia. The pipe will absorb the heat from the component and dissipate it through in the form of the vapor on the fluids. This vapor will flow down the pipe up to the condenser where it will be converted back to the liquid form. The cycle will keep running as long as the electronic device is on and the PCB components are active.
Heat pipes are preferred because of their reliability and also performance when it coms to thermal management. They are also more affordable than most alternative PCB heat dissipation methods.
Using thick copper traces
Copper traces on PCBs are usually used for conducting electric current or signal transmission. However, they can play a significant role in thermal management. For this method to be effective, you should consider using thicker traces. The thicker the traces, the more the surface area to facilitate maximum dissipation of heat.
By choosing thicker copper traces, you will be able to solve two problems: efficient transfer of electric current or signals and better thermal management on the PCB.
Using thermal vias
Using thermal vias is also a simple technique of achieving maximum heat dissipation on the PCB. These are plated through holes that are strategically positioned on the surface of the printed circuit boards, just below the components that are expected to generate significant heat when in operation.
Thermal vias provide minimal resistance to the flow of heat hence facilitating faster and efficient dissipation of heat. Thermal vias are usually used on surface-mount PCBs. Heat dissipation by thermal vias is through conduction since they are metallic barrels.
Component selection and placement
They type and specifications of the components that you place on your printed circuit board will have an impact on the heat dissipation. Since our goal is to get maximum heat dissipation, it is advisable to select high-power electronic components for the PCBs.
Whether it is resistors, microcontrollers, capacitors, or any other component, you should go for one that has high power specifications. The main reason is high-power components are capable of handling electric energy without dissipating it in the form of heat. The overall result is less accumulation of heat on the PCB.
Component placement focuses on how and where you place the components on your PCB. Placing components near cooling devices such as fans and vias will help you achieve maximum dissipation. There should also be a proper distribution of components on the PCB to provide adequate room for thermal dissipation.
Optimized PCB design and layout
An optimized PCB design and layout will help to achieve maximum heat dissipation. PCB design takes care of various heat dissipation techniques such as the placement. With an optimized design, you will determine the exact placement of the components. You will also determine the surface area and dimension properties that will help you achieve maximum dissipation of heat from the PCB. During the design process, you will be in a position to determine which sections of PCBs are likely to be affected by excess heat and you will choose the best solutions.
Consult experts for your PCB needs
Are you planning to buy PCBs for your electronic application? You should check the capacity and ability of the PCB to dissipate heat perfectly and efficiently. You don’t want to end up with printed circuit boards that have poor thermal management. Also, if you are a PCB manufacturer, you should implement the thermal management techniques that we have discussed here. They will determine the success of your project.
Whether you are a buyer or manufacturer, working with experts in the PCB industry should be your priority. For example, experienced PCB sourcing agents in China will inspect the technical features of the printed circuit boards to find out their capacity to dissipate heat. If you are manufacturing the PCB modules, the sourcing agent will help you get the right components that have an efficient thermal management rating. Other than quality PCBs, you are likely to end up buying PCBs at reasonable prices.
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