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Liquid cooling for enclosures

Liquid cooling for enclosures

As engineers move to liquid cooling in high power electronics enclosures, so the role of connection technology has come to the fore, ensuring the connectors used in critical enclosures cooling circuits are spill and leak free, robust and reliable.

Faster processing speeds, increased capacity and higher power density in electronics produce more heat, higher junction temperatures and increased risk of failure. Traditionally, air-cooling has been the solution, using a combination of heat sinks, heat pipes and fans to remove the heat produced from the enclosure. High power electronics now being used in many real time processing applications are rapidly outstripping the capability of any air based cooling system.

Liquids have a much higher cooling capability than air; water is 24 times more conductive than air and can be up to approximately 100 times more efficient at removing heat. Liquids are therefore ideal for use in transferring the heat being generated away from the electronic components and enclosure and into a heat exchanger where the liquid can be efficiently cooled and recycled back into the enclosure cooling system.

Placing liquids in close proximity to sensitive electronics is a major concern. Any spillage in the enclosure would be disastrous, so how could spills be avoided? Stäubli's range of connectors has been specifically designed to meet these demanding requirements; their unique coupling design ensures fast, secure and reliable circuit connection and disconnection. Flat faced, clean break connector technology guarantees no spillage and eliminates any risk of air or contaminants entering the circuits on connection or disconnection.

Stäubli's connectors can also be designed for blind connection that can compensate for a large degree of mis-alignment. This ensures that connection to the liquid cooling circuit does not compromise the integrity of the electrical connectors; removal and replacement of liquid cooled enclosures can be as easy as on a traditional air cooled system.

Liquid cooled electronics are now being used across a broad range of applications from radar arrays and imaging systems in the defence sector to power converters in wind turbines. Many data centres are adopting this new technology and the benefits it offers in terms of reduced power consumption, increased processing capacity or reduced footprint.

A recent application illustrates the benefits of liquid cooling. Thermacore Europe, based in Ashington, Northumberland is a specialist in thermal management technology, especially for cooling electronics. When designing its latest system using liquid coolant, rather than air, it called on Stäubli to provide the easy-to-use and reliable, spill-free, automatic connectors required.

Thermacore's new system can remove up to 500W of heat energy from a processor with a footprint of only 20x30mm and can be readily adapted to fit different server designs, enclosures and component layouts. The company sees liquid cooling as the next important step in data centre servers; 50% of the energy currently used in these installations is for cooling, so more effective and efficient liquid cooling offers the ability to significantly increase the computing capacity in the same available space.

Another current example of how these new cooling techniques are now being adopted comes from the defence sector where liquid cooled ATR enclosures are being widely used in real time computing installations supporting pilot vision systems and advanced radar technology. These applications have a high processing power requirement and consequently produce a lot of heat.

Boston Design Consultants based in Northampton, in partnership with the IPECO Group, has developed innovative cold wall technology specifically for ATR applications in the defence sector. The cooling capacity on  a half ATR short enclosure increases by a factor of four to 1200W using the company's design of cold wall compared to just 350W using a typical air cooled system. BDC believes that cooling capacity could be extended even further using different fluids or higher liquid flow rates, and 2500W may be achievable - over eight times the capacity of air cooling. In addition the temperature gradient across the enclosure is reduced, ensuring that none of the electronics components approach the designed maximum operating temperature.

This improved thermal management has added benefits, with electronic components operating at lower temperatures and being subjected to less thermal cycling, MTBF rates extend by up to 30 times, resulting in reduced inventory - a very significant cost saving.

BDC selected Stäubli as its connector supplier recognising the superior technology of the connectors. Ian Day, director at BDC comments: "We needed connections that could be guaranteed to be leak free and still easy to use. Only Stäubli was able to meet these requirements. Working with their experienced engineers gave us the confidence that a robust, reliable, totally spill- and leak-free system was achievable and capable of being easily adapted for any cooling medium."

As illustrated by BDC's cold wall technology for ATRs and Thermacore's developments for cooling data centre electronics, Stäubli connectors have made the move to liquid cooling of electronics far easier to implement than many expected. The company's product specialists are able to provide advice on the precise connector solution and configuration to meet any application. Within the Group there is a wealth of knowledge and expertise in both fluid and electrical connectors available from the design stage onwards.

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