Thermal management and electronics cooling with cloud-based CAE

December 28, 2016 // By Ajay B. Harish
As soon as you start CPU intensive software solutions like Photoshop or MATLAB, a buzzing sound of the laptop follows. For the entire time using them, the CPU shows near 100% usage and the laptop continues to heat up with the fan running.

Within the next hour or two, the battery starts to drain much faster than usual, making you wonder if it’s time for a new one. A few minutes later, one just realizes that it is nothing more than the fan that was buzzing all along that ate up the battery.

Laptops are at one end, whereas at the other one you have server farms. Servers range from the size of a room to that of clusters of several sq. km. Whether we tweet or like something on Facebook, every time a server is crunching data. According to recent studies, these server farms consumed negligible energy globally in 2000. Within the last decade however, these server farms have grown to consume about 3% of world’s total energy and are contributing to 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is the same carbon footprint as that of the airline industry. In terms of actual numbers for 2015, the total consumption from server farms worldwide was about 450 Terawatts while the consumption of a country like the UK was about 300 Terawatts. Continuing at this rate is highly unsustainable for the coming decade.

 

Heat transfer and electronics

While some would blame the data centers and others the irresponsible social media usage, the crux of the problem is related to understanding the heat transfer and developing technologies that can improve the heat removal processes. As electronics components are getting miniaturized, thermal management is becoming even more essential and needs a greater consideration during the design process.

Conventional design and prototyping processes have relied heavily on experimentation. Each test requires preparation of a unique sample that might never be mass manufactured. Both sample preparation and testing add exponentially to the associated costs and design time. Eventually, interpolation and extrapolation of data believed to be within permissible limits, play a significant role.

This is where engineering simulation (CAE) comes in. CAE software based on Finite Element Method and Computational Fluid Dynamics have, till date, taken a backseat in the design and development process. Though used in the industry, they are considered to provide an order of magnitude estimates, but the focus on real-life experiments continues. It is indeed true that experimentation cannot be totally eliminated, but the purpose of simulation technology is to complement it, contributing to parameter optimization that can lead to improved products, significantly more energy efficient. The era when FEM and CFD were independent entities are long gone and multidisciplinary optimization is the reality realm.

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