Limitations of current thermal interface materials

Ms Rachel Gordon
Limitations of current thermal interface materials
Overheating is the most critical issue in the computer industry
Overheating limits further miniaturisation, power, performance and reliability. The escalation of power densities in electronic devices has made efficient heat removal a crucial issue for progress in information, communication, energy harvesting, energy storage and lighting technologies. The current market for thermal interface materials stands at $1.7 billion, and is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2025, according to Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025: Status, Opportunities, Market Forecasts. The 182-slide deck covers the ten types of materials available to improve heat removal in eleven key applications.
The need for thermal interface materials
As long as electronic systems aren't monolithic, but are built from a wide range of materials such as metals, polymers, ceramics and semiconductors, there will be a need for thermal interface materials (TIMs).
The contact area between high power, heat generating components and heat sinks can be as low as 3%, due to the micro-scale surface roughness. Thermal interface materials are required to enhance the contact between the surfaces, and decrease thermal interfacial resistance, and increase heat conduction across the interface.
Proper selection of thermal interface materials is crucial
Instead of sophisticated cooling technique, it is often better to invest in the interface material. Without good thermal contact, the use of expensive thermally conducting materials for the components is a waste.
The most appropriate choice of TIM has been shown to:
• Reduce total cost of ownership
• Eliminate of the need for liquid cooling
• Reduce system cooling power consumption
• Reduce building power consumption
• Increase operational lifetime
Thermal interface materials is a global industry
The geographic breakdown of sales of TIMs, included in "Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025", demonstrates this is truly a global industry:
Fig 1. Breakdown of thermal interface materials sales by region.
Source: IDTechEx Research report "Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025: Status, Opportunities and Market Forecasts"
In the report the state of the market in 2015, a geographic breakdown of the market, and forecasts to 2025, are separated by TIM type and by application. These have been compiled after an extensive interview program with TIM manufacturers making a variety of materials, serving many different industries, and using financial data published by public companies. It also includes profiles of 29 companies working in this industry.
Drivers for innovation in this industry
• Faster computers: With electronic systems becoming faster, hotter, more compact, and portable, the need for better TIMs in consumer and industrial computing will continue.
• Greener lighting: LEDs are replacing traditional lighting in more applications, for lower energy and higher brightness, especially in the automotive industry.
• Electrification of transport: Heat management is of very high importance in electric vehicles, which have large energy storage systems. As vehicles incorporate more and more electrics and electronics, thermal management will become increasingly important.
• Better connectivity: As a wider-reaching and more comprehensive wireless network is built, and higher reliability is expected, more, better quality TIM is being used in telecommunications equipment.
Technology benchmarking
In Thermal Interface Materials 2015-2025: Status, Opportunities, Market Forecasts the technologies and chemistries are described and compared, and performance data from a wide selection of commercially available products is benchmarked. The report includes a technology appraisal of the ten key technologies:
1. Pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes
2. Thermal adhesives
3. Thermal greases
4. Thermal gels, pastes and liquids
5. Elastomeric pads
6. Phase change materials
7. Graphite
8. Solders and phase change metals
9. Compressible interface materials
10. Liquid metals
Current and growing opportunities
There are many current and growing opportunities for these technologies to be used in the following markets:
• LED lighting
• Photovoltaics
• Lasers
• Telecommunications equipment
• Automotive electronics
• Industrial computing
• Defence and aerospace electronics
• Consumer and mobile handheld electronics
• Medical electronics
• PCB testing equipment
The importance and uses of TIMs in these industries, the materials used most frequently and the market size is also presented.
This report will offer technical and commercial insight to anyone looking to sell materials into this $1.7 billion market, or looking to improve the thermal management of their products in information, communication, energy harvesting, energy storage and lighting industries.
For full details see
Top image: Thermal interface material under heatsink, Holland Shielding Systems