Thermal Interface Material Basics for Electronic Engineers
Clemens J.M. LasancePhilips Research Laboratories, EmeritusEindhoven, the Netherlands
Basics of Heat Transfer
To understand the heat transfer properties of thermal interface materials (TIMs) we need to understandthe meaning of thermal conduction, convection and resistance.
The notion of thermal conduction is not very old. Biot (1804) and Fourier (1822) were the first toquantitatively study the heat flow through a piece of solid material. Fourier observed that the heat flow
was proportional to the temperature difference
over the test piece, proportional to the crosssectional area A of the bar, and inversely proportional to the length or thickness
, known as Fourier’s
T Ak q
(1)The proportionality constant k is called the
in W/mK. It is a material property and ameasure for the ability of a material to conduct heat. The range for engineering materials is from air(0.03W/mK), via plastics (0.2 W/mK), glass (1 W/mK), aluminium (200 W/mK) to copper (400 W/mK).Typical TIM values cover the range 0.4-4 W/mK.
The heat generated in an electronic device is usually transported by conduction to a heat sink or an areawhere the heat is transferred to a fluid which is called convection. The fluid can be a gas such as air, or a
‘real’ fluid such as water.
As a result, the convection heat is proportional to the area A and thetemperature difference between the wall and the main stream flow:
(2)This equation is commonly known as
“Newton’s Cooling L
; however, it should be realized that it isneither a law nor was it derived by Newton. In this equation, the proportionality coefficient
heat transfer coefficient
K. As a rule-of-thumb, take for natural convection h=10 W/m
K andfor fan-driven forced convection h=50 W/m
The last term to discuss shortly is the
. In a DC electrical circuit, Ohm’s law describes
the relations between the voltages and the currents. It states that a voltage difference over a resistorcauses an electrical current, which is proportional to the voltage difference:
V = I * R.In steady state heat transfer, a temperature difference causes a heat flow which is proportional to thetemperature difference as is seen in equations (1,2). Both equations can be written in the form
T = q *R
, with R
the thermal resistance (also commonly noted as R when there is no chance for misreading it
as an electrical resistance). This is analogous to Ohm’s law. In both the electrical and the thermal case
we observe that a driving force exists (either voltage difference or temperature difference), whichcauses a flow (of current, or of heat) over a resistor.