Cool in Confinement
By nature of the energy they produce, electronic devices like computers or LED
lighting products generate a significant amount of heat. To keep the devices cool, a heat sink is used as a passive heat exchanger to dissipate the heat in the surrounding area using tightly aligned fins that simply add more surface area to help cool the adjoining components in a confined space.
When an industrial automation company was ready to upgrade a 10-year-old electronic product, it looked to Alexandria Industries for help to revamp the device’s heat sink. The design team believed it could improve the component’s heat dissipation capabilities while reducing the material content using advanced manufacturing resources.
Things Can Change
The customer made the original component using aluminum investment casting. Today we understand that this metal forming process created microscopic holes in the heat sink’s surface area, increasing the metal’s porosity and thus reducing its heat dissipation. Casting the heat sink also required several subsequent machining steps to create the features that accommodate the adjoining components, such as the device’s electronic circuit board. This added extra manufacturing processes and costs to the component’s development process.
The customer’s design team decided to use aluminum extrusion to make the heat sink, as this process would eliminate the holes and reduce machining steps. The team also decided it wanted to make the fin walls thinner to reduce the component’s material weight and cost.
In the early redesign stage, the customer came to Alexandria Industries because of our aluminum extrusion and design engineering expertise. After evaluating the customer’s new design, we recommended some adjustments that further reduced the number of machining steps. We suggested changing the fin locations and adjoining features that reduced the material cost because less metal would be needed to form the part.
We recommended switching aluminum alloys from 6063 to 6060, because the 6060 aluminum alloy is easier to push through a die. This would accommodate the thinner fin wall design, lower material content, and reduce the component’s overall weight, while retaining its strength.
Turning Possibility Into Product
Because it was a high profile device, the product redesign was a sensitive issue for the customer’s management team. It was imperative that the heat sink’s redesign process go smoothly. From changing the component’s production process and manufacturing the tooling to generating first article parts for inspection, the team, including Alexandria Industries’ design engineers, provided weekly reports to keep management up to date on the work in progress.
By making slight design variations, along with changing the manufacturing process from an investment casting to an extrusion, the design team was able to reduce machining steps needed to manufacture the component. Changing the alloy to accommodate a thinner fin wall design, the teams also were able to decrease the amount of aluminum needed to make the part. The combined changes helped lower the component’s cost by nearly two-thirds, along with decreasing the overall manufacturing time from 16-20 weeks to 2.5 weeks.
Working hand-in-hand with the customer early in the process, allowed us more opportunities to collaborate on the redesign changes. Our engineering expertise and service was paramount in elevating us from an approved to a preferred supplier status.
Through unconventional thinking, engineering expertise and vertically integrated services, we help our customers turn possibility into product, faster and better than anyone.