I was on a conference call and WebEx yesterday with the NAFEMS CFD Working Group, of which Mentor Graphics is a member. One of the people on the call had a lot of background noise on his phone, which turned out to be a due to a fan by his desk to keep his computer cool.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a memory hungry, CPU intensive activity so I guess he was running a fairly substantial case. Even so, after 20+ years of electronics cooling CFD it’s a little disappointing that end users have to go to such lengths to keep their hardware cool. Particularly so, given it’s the middle of winter in the northern hemisphere and computers should be designed to withstand a 40+°C ambient temperature – that’s a more than most people can comfortably bear in the office!
Box level cooling was the first thing that CFD was applied to, with excellent work being done by companies like IBM, HP, Apollo and Sun in the early 1990s As an aside, FloTHERM was used in the thermal design of the SparcStation 1 series, with its distinctive pizza box form factor that became hugely popular through to the mid 1990s and considered to be amongst the highest performing computers of its generation.
Today it’s possible to cover several levels of packaging within the same thermal model, ironically made possible by the increase in computer memory and speed. It’s now quite feasible to get the overall thermal design of a computer right upfront, from the earliest concept design, refining this concurrently as the mechanical design is elaborated, right through to physical prototyping and beyond. . As a result there should be no nasty surprises at any stage in the design, with confidence in the thermal design increasing over time.
Electronics cooling CFD offers insight that’s been likened to having X-ray vision to those with the foresight to use it. It helps companies build better products, cheaper and in less far time by eliminating a lot of late design rework. It does this by enabling thermal designers to experiment with design changes, experience how this impacts temperature etc. allowing them to reflect and figure out what else to try. This can be visualized using David Kolb’s learning styles diagram. Without CFD to make the process easy and fun, organizations just like individuals find it difficult to go around the circle.
If you’re not familiar with NAFEMS, It’s a vendor-neutral not-for-profit organisation of over 800 members, which aims to create awareness and deliver appropriate training and education for those involved in FEA and CFD.