Jan 15, 2016 | By Benedict

There can be no doubt that 3D printing remains a hot trend in modern manufacturing—literally and figuratively, since 3D printers must apply significant heat to their plastic filament or metal powders in order to produce a red-hot 3D print. Sometimes, however, the technology must be utilized to keep things cool, as was the case with some precisely engineered, DMLS-produced heat-sinks designed by British manufacturing expert Plunkett Associates.

Plunkett Associates, established 10 years ago by material, tooling and production guru Tim Plunkett, has recently used its wealth of additive manufacturing expertise to produce a range of superior quality heat-sinks—components used to conduct heat away from delicate electronic components. The revamped 3D printed components possess complex internal architectures, which could not be replicated using other manufacturing processes.

For many manufacturers of electronic products, natural convection of buoyancy driven air-flows remains the preferred method for cooling electronic components. This method is cheap, simple to maintain and produces no noise or electro-magnetic interference. The drawback? Natural convection is limited in its scope, with medium to high power outputs tending to overwhelm the simple cooling system. Plunkett Associates, dissatisfied with this limitation, wanted to make convection cooling go further, and set about redesigning a key part of the system: its heat-sink.

What are heat-sinks and how do they work? Heat-sinks help to guarantee a long service life of an electronic components and prevent early product failure. Made from high thermal conductivity material such as aluminum or copper, these essential parts conduct heat from the electronic component towards the extremes of their own large surface areas. When the heat reaches these extremes, it can be convected to the air flowing overhead.

Designing an effective heat-sink can be a tricky task. Manufacturers need to maximize air flow and surface area, whilst minimizing pressure losses and costs. As part of the Technology Strategy Board funded SAVINGs project, Plunkett Associates turned to the Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) process in order to engineer the perfect heat-sink geometry. The company produced a range of 3D printed designs based on the unique characteristics of the DMLS process. Each heat-sink was first produced in virtual form and simulated using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software, in order to assess efficacy.

Once virtual testing was complete, the top five heat-sinks were then built by 3T RPD using DMLS and physically tested to confirm the accuracy of the virtual tests. All five models showed a significant improvement over a standard extruded heat-sink.

The success of the heat-sink project demonstrates yet another important industrial application of 3D printing technology. Red-hot additive manufacturing techniques could soon be the primary means of cooling electronic components.




Posted in 3D Printing Application



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