THE SIMULATOR How thermal imaging and VR are influencing the design of next-gen electronics

Words by Tom Gregory, product manager, 6SigmaET T

elevisions, tablets, laptops, smartphones: our electronics have

lost a lot of weight over the last few years. When it comes to design, the demand is for portable but powerful devices that are sleeker and slender. As individual component parts get smaller, new devices and product iterations are expected to provide increased computational power: this poses a significant challenge to designers and engineers.

IMPACT OF SMALLER DESIGNS A recent survey conducted by 6SigmaET confirms the impact that this trend will have; engineers are now looking for methods by which they can manage their designs’ temperature and heat flow. As miniaturisation integrates itself permanently, engineers are tasked with placing components closer together, on smaller packages. Due to the restrictions on size, the subtlest change in temperature can derail a product, even endangering its future reliability. Other factors are increasing the complexity of heat management within designs. The incorporation of IoT, AI and 5G into devices are all considerations that increase the risk of device failure, due to overheating.

LATE-STAGE THERMAL ISSUES According to 6SigmaET’s ‘Heat is On’ report, 99.5 per cent of cases where products are held back is as a result of late design complications. When evaluating these anomalies, one in five respondents claimed that thermal issues were a common cause of the delays. To avoid further interruptions in

the production flow, design engineers should consider thermal simulation as


a solution, to address thermal factors from the outset.Thermal simulation software allows engineers to test and refine the devices’ internal layout, prior to the production of a physical prototype. Manufacturers can then test their product, adjust the position of components for improved heat flow and ensure that it meets all of the necessary standard requirements.

THE IMPACT OF VR When it comes to virtual reality (VR), the technology is currently demonstrating its functional influence across industries with real use cases. It has already made a valuable impact across the industrial sector, being used throughout complex assembly and equipment maintenance. Design and prototyping are areas within electronics that have the potential to flourish from the capabilities that VR can offer. For thermal engineering, as a prime example, VR is significant because it can offer a fresh perspective to engineers, allowing them to see electronic designs in a warmer light. By rendering thermal factors into an immersive 3D image, VR has the potential to enhance engineers’

visual judgement, spotting minor fluctuations in heat flow that may have been missed otherwise. The results of thermal simulations have traditionally been viewed using a desktop or laptop computer. These typically come in the form of 2D planes or 3D streamlines. 6SigmaET believes, however, that they could soon see VR being used to visualise the flow of air and heat within such designs, by allowing engineers to electronically shrink themselves down and ‘climb inside’ their electronic devices. Such technology may sound like science fiction, but it is already in the trial stage at 6SigmaET, to help engineers immerse themselves in their design.

THE BENEFITS OF VR As VR technology advances, and high- intensity processing hardware grows smaller and more portable, using virtual reality to interact with complex electronics simulations is rapidly becoming a feasible reality. The biggest benefit of VR is that it offers engineers a completely new perspective, encouraging them to think differently, ask alternate questions, and ultimately generate a plethora of solutions. It also offers a new way to engage with non-technical stakeholders who may previously have struggled to collate thermal data onscreen. While there is still some way to go before these technologies are adopted into the mainstream, such trials are an important step towards considering new and innovative solutions for electronics prototyping and design.


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