Where to go with all the heat?

Those familiar with gaming consoles are probably more aware than most of the challenges that come from putting ever more powerful electronics into smaller and smaller packaging.

Ask them how many times they’ve heard the fan on their old Xbox or PlayStation spring, noisily, into life during a particularly intense firefight in Apex Legends!

Overheating, of course, is not just restricted to gaming consoles.

It’s an issue for every electronic device as they use more components and integrated circuits. And it’s not going away. The number of transistors which fit into a microprocessor reached over 10 billion in 2017. It was under 10,000 in 1971.

Today, transistors as small as 14 nanometres across are being produced regularly. That’s barely 14 times bigger than a DNA molecule. Late in 2019 Intel began shipping 10nm, with 7nm being planned for 2021

With this sort of miniaturisation, thermal management is increasingly an issue with wearables and digital assistants, and other smart devices in the home. In the home currently, 53% of people own a smart home device. One-third (33%) plan to invest in a smart home device in the next three years.

And then there’s what’s happening in industry. . By the end of 2022, automotive manufacturers expect that 24% of their plants will be smart factories. Nearly half of automotive companies (46%) already have a smart factory initiative, behind only industrial manufacturing (67%) and aerospace (63%), according to Capgemini. All in all, according to Deloitte, some 85% of manufacturers are delivering, researching or considering digitally transformed offerings.

In an article for Engineering Reality Magazine the audio-visual design and manufacturing company, Analog Way shared how it had to deal with 2Kw of heat generated from driving the highest resolution video display in the history of Times Square in New York. That’s as much as an electric fire!

Generally, more “smarts”, means more computing, which means more heat, greater thermo-structural challenges, and greater fatigue issues.

Here at Hexagon we’re beholden to some of the same challenges. Some of our scanners are accurate to the point where they could hit a target the size of a football goal in Barcelona, while standing in Munich. They’re increasingly being pushed to get smaller, while introducing more and more smart electronics. This causes some incredible challenges when it comes to maintaining accuracy, as the equipment undergoes thermo-structural tension.

Traditional tools for addressing some of the thermo-structural challenges were, for the most part, first established in the academic world. Complex ideas around high-end physics and thermodynamics and high-end computing collided in a wealth of exciting potential. And lots of potential there was … back in 1990! The trouble was these traditional tools often required a PhD, and a computing budget that a small country would be proud of. Getting engineering and design data into the early generation of tools is incredibly tough, demanding that users spend huge amounts of time “cleaning up” their design data, so they could get their models ready for simulation.

This is before the hallowed process of meshing the model could begin. In our own case, here at Hexagon in the example I mentioned earlier of developing high precision scanners, this process alone used to take as long as two weeks! For a second put yourself in the shoes of a young design engineer, and just think about those two weeks. Now think about your boss who wants a design update “now”, and not “in two weeks”. Obviously, this is not a thrilling prospect for most people. What’s more, even once the model has been solved, you’re still going to need to review the results. However, in some toolsets, this is a science project in and of itself, requiring feats of data manipulation that a black belt data jedi would find inspiring.

Of course, this is all faster than physical prototyping and gives a lot more insight. So it’s an improvement, but is it optimal?

Compare all this with the evolution of cameras. Before pictures were digital, taking and processing a picture required a fair amount of expertise, but it sure was better for most of us than painting a picture. Today we take and share digital pictures without even thinking about it. In fact the amount of information we’re now sharing dwarves that of previous generations. Every minute:

  • We send 16 million text messages
  • Send 156 million emails
  • Share 527,760 snapchat photos;
  • 120 professionals join LinkedIn
  • Users watch 4,146,600 YouTube videos

The same forces of digitalisation have created immense possibilities for the latest simulation tools, making it much easier and faster to find answers to the toughest thermal-structural problems. So, the question is, given what’s possible, are we doing enough?

At Hexagon we’re asking ourselves this question every day. Science and technology need to do more than just give us data. They need to provide us with the insight we’re looking for, when we need it as we try to understand what’s actually going on with our designs.

Engineers and designers in the electronics sector need real-world, pragmatic tools that deliver:

  1. Answers when they’re needed
  2. Automated and simplified computer science
  3. A complete “whole” products approach to problem-solving, not just isolated physics
  4. Design, engineering and manufacturing data performance results presented in ways we’d expect in the real world, not as science projects.

They may sound like lofty aspirations but you can see how they work in reality with Hexagon’s PICLS Lite, which is now available as a free download.

PICLS Lite is proving to be a hit with many of our electronics customers. Intended for electronics thermal simulation in conceptual design, one of our users suggests “PICLS is da shizznit!!!” Another suggested PICLS “… completes the circuit for power electronics”. One of our customers, a provider of integrated circuits, is even including it in their training materials.

However you describe it, PICLS Lite is pretty cool (do you like what I did there?) providing immediate thermal simulation feedback and results on your conceptual PCB layouts. It doesn’t require much, if any, training. You can run it on a laptop. It doesn’t require a large budget. It’s free.

It’ll help you run your electronics more efficiently and more durably.

Check it out


  • Keith Perrin

    Keith Perrin joined MSC Software and Hexagon in February 2017, bringing more than 15 years of experience in the US and EMEA with Siemens, Autodesk and Oracle Cloud. Today, as an Industry Director for Hexagon Manufacturing, Keith gets to leverage 20 years of digital design, modeling and simulation experience helping customers realise their aspirations.

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