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Thermal interface materials and methods for processing the same

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20120292005 patent thumbnailZoom

Thermal interface materials and methods for processing the same


A thermal interface material is provided for use to fill a gap between surfaces in a thermal transfer system to transfer heat between the surfaces. The thermal interface material includes a base material and thermally conductive particles dispersed within the base material. The thermal interface material is conditioned under reduced pressure (e.g., prior to being placed in the gap between the surfaces, while being placed in the gap, after being placed in the gap, etc.) and, within about forty-eight hours or less of conditioning, the conditioned thermal interface material is either positioned in a container that inhibits ambient gas from contacting it (either alone or applied to the surfaces), or used to transfer heat between the surfaces. As such, the thermal interface material is substantially free of cracks following exposure to thermal cycling comprising a temperature change of at least about 100 degrees Celsius for at least about 10 cycles.

Browse recent Laird Technologies, Inc. patents - Chesterfield, MO, US
Inventors: Karen Bruzda, Richard F. Hill, Brian Jones, Michael D. Craig
USPTO Applicaton #: #20120292005 - Class: 165185 (USPTO) - 11/22/12 - Class 165 
Heat Exchange > Heat Transmitter

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The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20120292005, Thermal interface materials and methods for processing the same.

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FIELD

The present disclosure generally relates to thermal interface materials conditioned under reduced pressure, for example, reduced atmospheric pressure, etc., and methods for conditioning the thermal interface materials. Such conditioning of the thermal interface materials can be done prior to packaging the thermal interface materials; prior to, while, or after installing the thermal interface materials in thermal transfer systems; prior to or while using the thermal interface materials to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces in thermal transfer systems; etc.

BACKGROUND

This section provides background information related to the present disclosure which is not necessarily prior art.

Electrical components, such as semiconductors, integrated circuit packages, transistors, etc., typically have pre-designed temperatures at which the electrical components optimally operate. Ideally, the pre-designed temperatures approximate the temperature of the surrounding air. But the operation of electrical components generates heat. If the heat is not removed, the electrical components may then operate at temperatures significantly higher than their normal or desirable operating temperatures. Such excessive temperatures may adversely affect the operating characteristics of the electrical components and the operation of the associated devices.

To avoid or at least reduce the adverse operating characteristics from the heat generation, the heat should be removed, for example, by conducting the heat from the operating electrical components to heat sinks. The heat sinks may then be cooled by conventional convection and/or radiation techniques. During conduction, the heat may pass from the operating electrical components to the heat sinks either by direct surface contact between the electrical components and heat sinks and/or by contact of the electrical components and heat sink surfaces through intermediate mediums or thermal interface materials. The thermal interface materials may be used to fill gaps between thermal transfer surfaces, in order to increase thermal transfer efficiency, as compared to having the gaps filled with air, which is a relatively poor thermal conductor.

SUMMARY

This section provides a general summary of the disclosure, and is not a comprehensive disclosure of its full scope or all of its features.

Disclosed herein are example embodiments of systems and methods relating to processing thermal interface materials for improving reliability, operability, etc. of the thermal interface materials when used with thermal transfer systems (e.g., to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces of the systems, etc.) to thereby improve reliability, operability, etc. of the thermal transfer systems during such use, particularly when the thermal transfer systems undergo cyclic changes in temperature during such use. Also disclosed are example embodiments of thermal interface materials that have been processed in accord with the present disclosure, including thermal interface materials that have been conditioned under reduced pressure. In such embodiments, conditioning of the thermal interface materials can be done prior to, while, or after installing the thermal interface materials between thermal transfer surfaces in thermal transfer systems, or even prior to or while using the thermal interface materials to transfer heat between the thermal transfer surfaces in the thermal transfer systems. In some example embodiments, the conditioned thermal interface materials (e.g., separate from thermal transfer systems, installed in the thermal transfer systems, etc.) may be further packaged and/or stored (e.g., alone, in combination with the thermal transfer systems in which they are installed, etc.) under conditions so as to inhibit contact of the conditioned thermal interface materials with ambient gases.

Example embodiments of the present disclosure are generally directed toward thermal interface materials suitable for use to fill gaps between surfaces and/or transfer heat between the surfaces (e.g., in thermal transfer systems, etc.). In one example embodiment, a thermal interface material generally includes a base material and thermally conductive particles dispersed within the base material. At a first time period, the thermal interface material is substantially free of cracks following exposure of the thermal interface material to thermal cycling between a temperature of about −20 degrees Celsius and a temperature of about 160 degrees Celsius for at least about 10 cycles during use of the thermal interface material to fill a gap between at least two surfaces. At a second time period, after exposure of the thermal interface material to ambient air for at least about eight hours, the thermal interface material exhibits crack formation following exposure of the thermal interface material to thermal cycling between a temperature of about −20 degrees Celsius and a temperature of about 160 degrees Celsius for at least about 10 cycles during use of the thermal interface material to fill a gap between at least two surfaces.

In another example embodiment, a thermal interface material generally includes a base material and thermally conductive particles dispersed within the base material. Here, the thermal interface material is conditioned under reduced pressure and, within about forty-eight hours or less of conditioning the thermal interface material, the conditioned thermal interface material is either positioned in a container that inhibits ambient gas from contacting the conditioned thermal interface material, or the thermal interface material is used to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces of a thermal transfer system. In this example embodiment, the thermal interface material can be conditioned prior to, while, or after installing the thermal interface material in the thermal transfer system. Or, the thermal interface material could be conditioned at anytime prior to or while using the thermal interface material to transfer heat between the thermal transfer surfaces of the thermal transfer system.

Example embodiments of the present disclosure also generally relate to methods for processing thermal interface materials to improve operational reliability of the thermal interface materials when used to transfer heat between at least two thermal transfer surfaces. In one example embodiment, a method generally includes conditioning the thermal interface material under reduced pressure such that the thermal interface material is substantially free of cracks following exposure to thermal cycling comprising a temperature change of at least about 100 degrees Celsius for at least about 10 cycles.

Further areas of applicability will become apparent from the description provided herein. The description and specific examples in this summary are intended for purposes of illustration only and are not intended to limit the scope of the present disclosure.

DRAWINGS

The drawings described herein are for illustrative purposes only of selected embodiments and not all possible implementations, and are not intended to limit the scope of the present disclosure.

FIG. 1 is a flowchart illustrating operations of an example method for processing a thermal interface material in accordance with the present disclosure;

FIG. 2 is a perspective view of an example system operable to help process a thermal interface material in accordance with the present disclosure;

FIG. 3 is a photograph of a sample of a thermally conductive putty initially exposed to ambient laboratory conditions for about 24 hours and then submerged in degassed liquid silicone under reduced pressure in a vacuum chamber, and shown in the vacuum chamber in the degassed liquid silicone at about a time a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inches of mercury absolute (inHg abs)) was achieved in the vacuum chamber;

FIG. 4 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 3 conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) for about 15 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure and then submerged in degassed liquid silicone under reduced pressure in a vacuum chamber, and shown in the vacuum chamber in the degassed liquid silicone at about a time a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) was achieved in the vacuum chamber;

FIG. 5 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 3 conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) for about 15 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure, then exposed to ambient laboratory conditions for about 12 hours, and then submerged in degassed liquid silicone under reduced pressure in a vacuum chamber, and shown in the vacuum chamber in the degassed liquid silicone at about a time a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) was achieved in the vacuum chamber;

FIG. 6 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 3 conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) for about 15 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure, then stored in a sealed bag under vacuum for about 1 month, and then submerged in degassed liquid silicone under reduced pressure in a vacuum chamber, and shown in the vacuum chamber in the degassed liquid silicone at about a time a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) was achieved in the vacuum chamber;

FIG. 7 is a photograph of a sample of a thermally conductive putty conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 381 Torr (about 15 inHg abs) for about 5 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis;

FIG. 8 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 7 not conditioned at a reduced pressure and subjected to the same thermal cycling analysis as the sample shown in FIG. 7;

FIG. 9 is a photograph of a sample of a thermally conductive putty conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 381 Torr (about 15 inHg abs) for about 5 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis;

FIG. 10 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 9 not conditioned at a reduced pressure and subjected to the same thermal cycling analysis as the sample shown in FIG. 9;

FIG. 11 is a photograph of a sample of a thermally conductive putty conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 381 Torr (about 15 inHg abs) for about 5 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis;

FIG. 12 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 11 not conditioned at a reduced pressure and subjected to the same thermal cycling analysis as the sample shown in FIG. 11;

FIG. 13 is a photograph of a sample of a thermally conductive grease conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 381 Torr (about 15 inHg abs) for about 5 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis;

FIG. 14 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive grease of FIG. 13 not conditioned at a reduced pressure and subjected to the same thermal cycling analysis as the sample shown in FIG. 13;

FIG. 15 is a photograph of a sample of a thermally conductive putty exposed to ambient laboratory conditions for about 24 hours and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis;

FIG. 16 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 15 conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 5 inHg abs for about 15 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis;

FIG. 17 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 15 conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) for about 15 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure, then exposed to ambient laboratory conditions for about 24 hours, and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis; and

FIG. 18 is a photograph of a sample of the same thermally conductive putty of FIG. 15 conditioned at a reduced pressure of about 127 Torr (about 5 inHg abs) for about 15 minutes in accordance with the present disclosure, then packaged in a sealed container under vacuum for about 1 month, and then subjected to thermal cycling analysis.

Corresponding reference numerals indicate corresponding parts throughout the several views of the drawings.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

The following description is merely example in nature and is in no way intended to limit the present disclosure, application, or uses.

Thermal interface materials may be used to fill gaps between thermal transfer surfaces in thermal transfer systems (e.g., between surfaces of heat generating components (e.g., electronic devices, hot water devices, etc.) and surfaces of heat removing components (e.g., heat sinks, etc.), etc.) in order to increase thermal transfer efficiency between the surfaces, as compared to having the gaps filled with air which is a relatively poor thermal conductor. The thermal interface materials generally include base materials (e.g., silicone-based base materials, etc.) and thermally conductive particles (e.g., ceramic particles, etc.) dispersed (e.g., provided, located, etc.) within the base materials. Thermally conductive putties, thermally conductive greases, and thermal gap pads are example types of thermal interface materials that can be used to fill such gaps between thermal transfer surfaces.

As recognized by the inventors hereof some thermal interface materials may suffer from reliability issues when subjected to thermal cycling at temperatures above, for example, about 65 degrees Celsius (e.g., when the thermal interface materials are used in connection with heat generating components that are cyclically turned on and off and that cyclically heat to temperatures above about 65 degrees Celsius and then cool, etc.). For example, during use between surfaces cracks may form in the thermal interface materials, and/or the thermal interface materials may pump out of the gaps between the thermal transfer surfaces (leaving voids in the thermal interface materials). This in turn can decrease thermal transfer between the thermal transfer surfaces because the air filling the cracks and/or voids will have a lower thermal conductivity than the thermal interface materials.

As an example, the inventors hereof have recognized that cracks sometimes form in thermal interface materials when used in applications that undergo such cyclic changes in temperature (e.g., when used to fill gaps between thermal transfer surfaces, etc.). Without being bound by theory, the inventors hereof hypothesize that such cracks are caused by movement of gas (e.g., air, etc.) entrained within the thermal interface materials. Temperature changes in the thermal interface materials cause the entrained gas (along with the actual matrices of the thermal interface materials) to expand and contract and thus move within the thermal interface materials. Over time, the gas migrates and collects, and forms weak points within the thermal interface materials at which the cracks (or fissures) form (e.g., due to internal stresses, etc.).

The inventors hereof have unexpectedly discovered that subjecting thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning (e.g., removing entrained gas from the thermal interface materials, reducing an amount of entrained gas in the thermal interface materials, etc.) within a specific time frame before storing, shipping, using, etc. the thermal interface materials can help improve operational reliability (e.g., consistency of thermal transfer between thermal transfer surfaces, etc.) of the thermal interface materials (as compared to the same thermal interface materials not similarly conditioned). Such conditioning can be done, for example, prior to, while, or after installing the thermal interface materials in thermal transfer systems (e.g., prior to, while, or after positioning the thermal interface material in gaps between the thermal transfer surfaces in the thermal transfer systems, etc.), or even prior to or while using the thermal interface materials to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces of the thermal transfer systems.

For example, the inventors hereof have found that subjecting thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning (e.g., bulk supplies of the thermal interface materials, etc.) substantially reduces formation of cracks in the thermal interface materials when used to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces in applications that undergo cyclic changes in temperature (thus improving operational reliability of the thermal interface materials as previously described). In particular, the inventors hereof have found that using the thermal interface materials (e.g., to transfer heat between the thermal transfer surfaces, etc.) within about 48 hours or less (e.g., within about 24 hours or less, within about 12 hours or less, within about 8 hours or less, etc.) after subjecting the thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning substantially reduces formation of cracks in the thermal interface materials during such use of the thermal interface materials. The inventors hereof have also found that further storing the conditioned thermal interface materials (e.g., alone, already applied to thermal transfer surfaces, etc.) under conditions that inhibit the thermal interface materials from coming into contact with ambient gas (e.g., in sealed containers, under reduced pressure, etc.) after subjecting the thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning, and then later using the stored thermal interface materials (e.g., to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces, etc.), also substantially reduces formation of cracks in the thermal interface materials when exposed to cyclic changes in temperature during such use.

In addition, the inventors hereof have found that such benefits associated with subjecting thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning (e.g., reduction in crack formation, improved operational reliability, etc.) are reversible over time, and in fact disappear if the conditioned thermal interface materials are subsequently exposed to ambient gas for a period of time (e.g., for about 8 hours or more, etc.) before being used (e.g., to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces, etc.) or being stored as described herein. But the inventors hereof have found that such benefits can be re-achieved by subsequently subjecting the thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning within a specific time frame before the thermal interface materials are used. As such, the inventors hereof have found that operations for reduced pressure conditioning the thermal interface materials can be applied repeatedly to the thermal interface materials to indefinitely maintain such benefits. Such reconditioning can be done, for example, prior to, while, or after installing the thermal interface material in thermal transfer systems, or even while using the thermal interface materials to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces of the thermal transfer systems.

Example embodiments of the present disclosure thus relate to thermal interface materials (e.g., bulk supplies of the thermal interface materials, etc.) subjected to reduced pressure conditioning within a specific time frame of being used (e.g., used to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces, etc.), as well as to methods for subjecting the thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning and systems for subjecting the thermal interface materials to reduced pressure conditioning (e.g., in preparation for use, etc.). For example, some example embodiments include conditioning thermal interface materials by subjecting the thermal interface materials (e.g., alone, already applied to thermal transfer surfaces, etc.) to reduced pressure and then using the thermal interface materials, for example, to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces in thermal transfer systems, etc. Such conditioning can be done, for example, prior to, while, or after installing the thermal interface material in thermal transfer systems (e.g., prior to, while, or after positioning the thermal interface material in gaps between the thermal transfer surfaces, etc.), or even prior to or while using the thermal interface materials to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces of the thermal transfer systems. Some example embodiments further include packaging the conditioned thermal interface materials (e.g., alone, already applied to thermal transfer surfaces, etc.) in containers (e.g., sealed containers, etc.) under conditions that inhibit contact of the thermal interface materials with ambient gases, and maintaining the thermal interface materials in the containers under such conditions as desired (e.g., until the thermal interface materials are to be used, during storage of the thermal interface materials, during transport of the thermal interface materials, etc.) to thereby improve operational reliability of the thermal interface materials when unsealed and used by end users.

Example embodiments will now be described more fully with reference to the accompanying drawings.

FIG. 1 illustrates a flowchart of an example method 100 for use in processing a thermal interface material (e.g., a bulk supply of the thermal interface material, etc.) in accordance with the present disclosure. Such processing can help inhibit formation of cracks and/or help improve operational reliability of the thermal interface material, for example, when used to transfer heat between thermal transfer surfaces of components in thermal transfer devices that undergo cyclic changes in temperature. The example method 100 is described in connection with processing a thermal interface material prior to installing the thermal interface material in a thermal transfer system. However, it should be appreciated that the example method 100 is also applicable to processing a thermal interface material while installing it into a thermal transfer system as well as to processing a thermal interface material after it is already installed to a thermal transfer system.

The illustrated method 100 generally includes an operation 102 of conditioning the thermal interface material by subjecting the thermal interface material to reduced pressure, and an operation 104 of inhibiting ambient gas from contacting the conditioned thermal interface material, for example, prior to using the thermal interface material in the thermal transfer system. The method 100 may be applied to any size and/or quantity of thermal interface materials (e.g., bulk quantities of thermal interface materials, etc.).

In the example method 100, the operation 102 of conditioning the thermal interface material generally includes positioning the thermal interface material in a conditioning system (e.g., within a container portion of the conditioning system, etc.) and reducing the pressure around the thermal interface material, for example, to thereby remove entrained gas from the thermal interface material, etc. The conditioning system is configured to hold the thermal interface material in a generally sealed condition. This allows for a desired reduced pressure to be achieved within the conditioning system around the thermal interface material (and then subsequently maintained as desired). The conditioning system can include a vacuum chamber, a hermetically sealable bucket (e.g., a five-gallon bucket, etc.), a sealable bag (e.g., a plastic heat-seal bag, etc.), at least one or more dispensing cartridge, at least one or more sealable tubes, any suitable sealable packaging or container, conditioning system 220 illustrated in FIG. 2, forty-gallon mixers, etc. within the scope of the present disclosure. In other example embodiments, the operation 102 of conditioning the thermal interface material may include at least one or more other suitable operations, for example, for removing entrained gas from the thermal interface material, etc.

As just described, reducing the pressure around the thermal interface material can include removing gas (e.g., air, etc.) from inside the conditioning system around the thermal interface material using suitable operations (e.g., suction operations, vacuum operations, other sealing operations, etc.). This creates a low-pressure environment (e.g., a moderate vacuum, etc.) around the thermal interface material in the conditioning system where a pressure around the thermal interface material is less than ambient pressure outside the conditioning system (e.g., ambient air pressure, etc.). For example, a resulting pressure around the thermal interface material may be between about 1.0% of a perfect vacuum (about 29.5 inches of mercury absolute (inHg abs), about 14.5 pounds per square inch absolute (psia), about 100 kilopascals absolute (kPa abs), or about 750 Torr) and about 99.999% of a perfect vacuum (about 0.0004 inHg abs, about 0.0002 psia, about 0.001 kPa abs, or about 0.01 Torr).

As an example, a port may be installed to the conditioning system and a vacuum may be drawn via the port to directly reduced pressure (e.g., remove gas from, etc.) around the thermal interface material inside the conditioning system. The vacuum may be applied to the thermal interface material for a desired period of time to achieve a desired pressure within the conditioning system (and around the thermal interface material). The resulting pressure (e.g., reduced pressure, vacuum, etc.) may be achieved substantially instantaneously around the thermal interface material following application of the vacuum. As an example, a vacuum of at least about 381 Torr (at least about 15 inHg abs, at least about 7.37 psia, or at least about 50.8 kPa abs) (gauge pressure) may be applied to the thermal interface material positioned in the conditioning system for at least about 5 minutes to achieve the desired reduced pressure.

Alternatively, reducing pressure around the thermal interface material can include reducing a temperature of the gas within the conditioning system around the thermal interface material while holding a volume of the conditioning system around the thermal interface material generally constant, or increasing a volume of the conditioning system around the thermal interface material while holding a temperature of the gas within the conditioning system around the thermal interface material generally constant, etc.

As an example, the conditioning system and the thermal interface material contained therein can be heated and then covered to create a low-pressure environment around the thermal interface material. More particularly, a container portion of the conditioning system and the thermal interface material contained therein can be heated to any desired temperature, and a lid can then be used to close the container portion while still heated, to thereby seal the thermal interface material therein. When the thermal interface material cools, a slight vacuum/gas-tight seal will form between the container portion and the lid. It should be appreciated that only a slight increase in temperature of the container portion and/or the thermal interface material may be required so that subsequently closing the container portion of the conditioning system with the lid and allowing the thermal interface material therein to cool will create the slight vacuum around the thermal interface material. However, the container portion and/or the thermal interface material can be heated to any desired temperature within the scope of the present disclosure (e.g., any temperature greater than an ambient air temperature around the conditioning system and/or the thermal interface material within the conditioning system, and up to a limit of the container portion of the conditioning system (e.g., about 80 degrees Celsius for a plastic container portion, etc.), etc.), depending on a desired level of vacuum to be achieved. Moreover, the container portion and/or the thermal interface material can be heated for any desired time frame (e.g., for about 30 seconds, for about 24 hours, etc.) depending on a desired level of vacuum to be achieved.

The operation 104 (of inhibiting ambient gas from contacting the conditioned thermal interface material) of the illustrated method 100 generally includes maintaining the conditioned thermal interface material in a generally sealed condition. This protects the conditioned thermal interface material from exposure to ambient gas until desired to use the thermal interface material or transfer the thermal interface material to another container (e.g., for packaging, storage, transport, etc.). The thermal interface material may then be retained in the generally sealed condition as desired, for example, until needed for use, for storage, for transport to an end user, etc. When transported to the end user in the generally sealed condition, the end user can unseal the thermal interface material (exposing the thermal interface material to ambient gas) and install the thermal interface material as desired (e.g., within a desired time frame, etc.). As previously described, the inventors hereof have unexpectedly discovered that if the conditioned thermal interface material is installed for use in components in thermal transfer systems (subject to cyclical changes in temperature during operation) within about 48 hours or less after unsealing the thermal interface material, such conditioning of the thermal interface material can help inhibit formation of cracks, voids, etc. in the thermal interface material during such use (thereby improving operational reliability of the thermal interface material).



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stats Patent Info
Application #
US 20120292005 A1
Publish Date
11/22/2012
Document #
13111735
File Date
05/19/2011
USPTO Class
165185
Other USPTO Classes
International Class
28F7/00
Drawings
11



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