Thermal management a priority as popularity of mobile electronics rises

In the last five years, the popularity of personal electronic devices has skyrocketed among consumers. People are flocking to retailers in droves to purchase the latest smartphones and tablet computers – like Apple’s iconic iPhone and iPad.

The technology used to make these devices continues to improve, making them faster, sleeker and more powerful. As a result, they generate considerably higher levels of heat than the products of old, which places a premium on more efficient thermal management technologies.

Earlier this year, Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA) released “Electronic Thermal Management: A Global Strategic Business Report,” stating that the global market for electronic thermal management will hit $8.6 billion by the year 2015. According to the GIA study, market growth came to a virtual standstill when the recession struck in 2008. However, as the economy recovers and the mobile electronics sector continues to manufacture miniaturized processors at such a rapid pace, thermal management is expected to enjoy a significant resurgence.

“In the wake of growing sophistication and functionality of a variety of electronics systems, thermal management has assumed an important role in the management of costs associated with product development and time required for market release,” said the GIA press release. “Hardware products such as heat sinks and thermoelectric coolers, and software for designing these products would be the key beneficiaries.”

Countless industries rely on innovative techniques for thermal management of electronics in order to deliver the best products and services to consumers. Without them, great ideas remain ideas and never become actual products.

The trend of smaller, lightweight devices that are increasingly more powerful could not happen without these innovations, which directly influence the design phase of the end product itself. Take that away, and modern smartphones would look very different than they do today.

Innovative metal joining methods improve oil industry operations

As the public debate about drilling in Arctic waters continues, and in light of incidents such as Shell’s Noble Discoverer losing its mooring and drifting uncontrolled toward an Alaskan shore late last month, the petroleum industry can use all the positive innovations it can get.

“Innovation in any industry should result in being able to do something more efficiently, less costly, with increased performance, or, ideally, all three,” writes Jerry Greenberg, contributing editor at World Oil Online. “In the offshore industry, as operators wade into ever-increasing water depths accompanied by ever-increasing costs, drilling contractors, rig designers and equipment manufacturers assist in that effort by developing bigger, or sometimes smaller, but efficient equipment for deep and ultra-deepwater regions.”

By reducing the size of drilling equipment, companies like Shell are presented with a few game-changing options. They can enjoy the benefit of increased deck space on active rigs, or they can reduce overall vessel size while still maintaining functional equipment, thus allowing easier passage through narrow waterways like the Panama Canal.

Through new and innovative metal joining methods, these are all becoming viable options for operators in the oil and natural gas industry. The size of drilling towers and other rig-based equipment can be reduced by eliminating the need for cantilevers to be transversely skidded into place, according to Greenberg. Sensors and other instrumentation that improves on rig analysis of the drilling process also improves the performance of drilling operations.

“No flexible connections are required, due to less-complicated interface between the cantilever and the drill floor,” he explains.

The added benefit of cost reduction frees up money for additional safety measures, oil spill response plans, new job creation and more. The ripple effect is significant, to say the least.

Also of significant value is the efficiency of equipment built using these metal soldering techniques when operating in extreme temperatures and sea conditions, like those found in Arctic waters. With environmental activist groups and the media closely watching drilling activity in that area, every opportunity to increase equipment efficiency and reduce the risk of accidents is an invaluable one.

Military, commercial technology share common goals

In the field, the military uses heavy glass screens for everything from communications equipment to devices meant to detect bombs, chemical and biological weapons.

Obviously there are mobility issues with such cumbersome screens, but there are also other dangers. A thick and sharp shard of glass broken off when impacted during an attack could present a significant threat to armed forces personnel.

According to an article in Chemical and Engineering News, scientists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory spent $4 million dollars to develop a glue that could survive acids, etching and other harsh conditions of semiconductor manufacturing. This allowed them to design lightweight, flexible screens that could be used on various pieces of equipment, replacing their heavier and more dangerous predecessors.

"The Army recognized that flexible displays were a useful technology, so we wanted to speed their development,” said David C. Morton, who manages the Flexible Display Center at the Army’s lab outside Washington, D.C. "We are successful in the sense that there will be commercial technology this year that the Army will be able to buy."

Efficiently joining dissimilar metals and other materials is leading to staggering breakthroughs in developing equipment used for industrial, military and even space exploration applications. Innovation in just one area can open the floodgates of advancement in countless others.

Solder-based bonding technologies – like those provided by S-Bond – can also effectively bond dissimilar materials and are leading to revolutionary leaps forward in several industries. Windows of opportunity are being opened that were previously glued shut – though clearly they weren't sealed with the same quality we now have the ability to produce.

ORNL to receive $1M to develop innovative battery design

Battery research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is one of 19 projects recently awarded funds from the U.S. Department of Energy. Each of the projects is designed to address ways to improve energy storage, with applications in electric vehicle technologies, electrical grid stability and efficiency and U.S. armed forces security, according to a DOE release.

ORNL is set to receive $1 million of the total $43 million provided through the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The goal is to regulate destructive hotspots that develop during use, according to the statement. Each research initiative is being supported through two new ARPA-E programs – Advanced Management and Protection of Energy Storage Devices and Small Business Innovation Research.

"This latest round of ARPA-E projects seek to address the remaining challenges in energy storage technologies, which could revolutionize the way Americans store and use energy in electric vehicles, the grid and beyond, while also potentially improving the access to energy for the U.S. military at forward operating bases in remote areas," said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. "These cutting-edge projects could transform our energy infrastructure, dramatically reduce our reliance on imported oil and increase American energy security."

Thermal management technologies have become a high-profile point of focus as they have the potential to dramatically increase battery life and efficiency while reducing long-term costs. By increasing thermal conductivity, heat management and battery performance improves.

In addition to making batteries more efficient, these innovations reduce the need for less environmentally friendly energy sources. Applying innovative thermal management technologies across a number of industries can have widespread and positive effects on the global ecosystem – both short and long-term.