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The Importance of Thermally Conductive Insulators

Jun 24

The performance of transistors—the building blocks of electronic devices—is being pushed to its limits as manufacturers seek to increase The Power of Thermally Conductive Insulators density and computational performance of chips. To ensure optimal performance, these devices must dissipate excess heat efficiently, and thermally conductive insulators are playing an increasingly critical role. They help to channel heat away from hot spots and reduce energy consumption by minimizing power loss, while also allowing transistors to function at lower operating voltages, enabling them to be powered with batteries instead of wires.

The thermal conductivity of materials is defined as the rate at which a material transmits thermal energy, namely the amount of energy it absorbs and releases per unit time (Release of Thermal Insulation Performance Value, 2001). The higher a material's thermal conductivity, the more quickly it will transfer heat. A high thermal conductivity also makes a material more difficult to oxidize or degrade, thereby helping to maintain the integrity of a product.

Because of the importance of thermal conductivity, a wide range of insulating materials exist to suit different needs. For example, while many polymers are superior insulators, their low thermal conductivity makes them unsuitable for certain applications. To boost the insulating properties of polymer materials, manufacturers often add metal oxide or inorganic fillers to formulate composites with the required conductivity values.

These fillers may be made from alumina, silica, beryllia, aluminum nitride and cubic boron nitride, among others. The use of these materials can also improve the stability and dimensional integrity of composites. However, incorporating these fillers into polymers and predicting the resulting conductivity values requires extensive testing.

In addition to providing superior insulation, these materials can also improve the electrical conductivity of plastics, which is a key factor for electronics applications such as printed circuit boards. This is especially important as manufacturers adopt advanced 3D integrated circuit technologies that require more complex circuitry. However, while these developments open the door to new technological advances, they also mean that heat must be conducted through a much denser structure, which could result in reduced efficiency and higher operating temperatures.

As a result, a range of techniques are being developed to increase the thermal conductivity of plastics. For instance, layer-by-layer assembly methods allow for unprecedented control over the microstructure of insulators, and aeolotropism fillers have been incorporated into plastics to create more efficient conduction pathways within an insulator.

Managing the heat generated by components has always been an essential element of electronic design, and it is even more crucial in today's high-powered applications. Transistors generate a significant amount of heat, and insulators with excellent thermal conductivity can quickly transport this heat away from hot spots to avoid overheating and improve their longevity.

Additionally, insulators must also have strong mechanical properties. For example, the rapid vibration and thermal shocks associated with launch and re-entry of spacecraft can cause damage to insulators, and this can pose serious safety risks for astronauts. This type of damage can also reduce a product's lifespan and lead to costly repairs.


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