Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has received a patent for a new design to improve the cooling efficiency of a removable electronic module through improvements to its physical design, and has begun to license it to other companies.
The company received U.S. Patent Number 7,995,346 for the "ruggedized, self-aligning, sliding air seal for removable electronic units." The invention improves the air cooling of advanced electronic modules that incorporate an air-flow-through, compact core style heat exchanger design.
As a result, the invention has been incorporated into VITA 48.5, the mechanical standard which governs electronic plug-in units that use air-flow-through cooling. VITA, formerly known as the VMEbus International Trade Association, operates the VITA Standards Organization, which is accredited as a standards development organization by the American National Standards Institute.
"This innovation opens the door to developing more powerful, rugged electronic systems across the military and commercial electronics fields," said Pat Antkowiak, vice president and general manager of Northrop Grumman's Advanced Concepts and Technologies Division. "This improvement in a key method of cooling electronic modules can serve a wide variety of applications."
Northrop Grumman is now looking to license the technology to other companies in both the military and commercial electronics markets.
Electronic devices require cooling because they consistently generate heat, which can lead to damage or failure if it accumulates unchecked. Traditionally, commercial electronic devices, such as personal computers, have been cooled through a process known as Direct Forced Air (DFA), in which a fan blows air over a circuit board. As electronics became more sophisticated, designers turned to more advanced approaches such as Air Flow Through (AFT) cooling, spray cooling and Liquid Flow Through (LFT) cooling.
Military contractors generally adopted AFT cooling because their products were designed for use in a wider range of rugged operating conditions than most commercial products. Northrop Grumman was among the industry leaders in developing the AFT module technology for use in high-performance military systems. AFT technology enables a much more efficient transfer of heat into the cooling air than the DFA approach. This efficiency enables much higher power density, as well as improved overall product reliability, most notably in severe environments. AFT cooling is the next level in performance over DFA for systems or products that cannot employ spray or LFT cooling, or afford their additional cost.
This invention also allows the AFT module to be cooled without the air coming into direct contact with the electronics. This eliminates the risk of exposure to contaminants in the air, which is an occasional peril in DFA-cooled systems for both commercial and military applications. This is accomplished through the use of sliding air seals at the inlet and outlet of AFT cards. This allows the modules to be removed and replaced in the field, which can be a priority for military systems.
The VITA 48.5 standard was developed to provide a technical solution for a wide range of both military and commercial products. Possible future uses of this technology include blade servers and server farms. These systems will likely require denser and higher heat-dissipating central processing units. AFT module cooling technology would be an effective method of meeting those cooling needs.
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