Hot tips for cool, calm sourcing

Director of supplier marketing for thermal management, Aldo Guarino

With increased functionality and further miniaturization on the horizon, the need for innovative thermal management continues apace. Sager Electronics’ Aldo Guarino highlights the issues getting buyers hot and bothered in this area.

Procuring electronic products, materials and systems that combat unwanted excess heat has experienced an upsurge in recent years. The need for increased functionality in a single device, as well as the miniaturization of each unit, has accelerated the need for innovative thermal management technologies.

Consequently, there are several distinct types of thermal management products available. Broadly speaking, these can be categorized as air-moving products, such as fans and blowers, or natural convection products, such as heatsinks and thermal extrusions. Other cooling technologies include liquid cooling and fluid phase change products, such as liquid cold plates, heat pipes, vapor chambers and heat exchangers.

Thermal interface materials make up another category of cooling products. This can encompass phase change materials, thermal gap fillers, graphite sheets, electrically insulating thermal pads, thermally conductive grease and thermally conductive PCB hardware. Thermal electric modules make up the final category, including solid-state Peltier heat pumps and assemblies.

When sourcing any of these thermal solutions, there are a number of issues procurement professionals should consider. Availability, product shelf life and modified or custom products can all introduce variables into the purchasing process.
Lead time
Although many thermal management solutions utilize standard products, modifications, or even outright custom solutions, are common. Unfortunately, either one can impact product availability. Ensuring a proper inventory strategy with supply chain partners is therefore critical to reducing potential lead times. Another crucial factor is manufacturer location, since lead-times can be substantially increased when products are manufactured outside of North America.

Despite the trend toward mini and compact fans and blowers, certain applications require large and extra-large frame solutions that can range anywhere from 200mm to upwards of 1,250mm. Storage space may therefore be a concern if your cooling application needs larger fans or blowers. Additionally, certain thermal interface materials may require a temperature and moisture stable environment, so identifying your manufacturers’ and supply chain partners’ warehousing capabilities is essential.

Be aware that thermal interface materials such as thermal tapes, gap fillers, greases, pastes and
putty, tend to have a shelf life, typically of around one to two years. In the case of thermal tapes, shelf life can be impacted by the adhesives used to apply these materials. Products such as gap fillers tend to come in rolls and sheet form, while thermal pastes and putty are typically dispensed products stored in cartridges or syringes. These rolled, sheet and dispensed products can also be subject to some shelf life issues.

Fans, blowers and thermal extrusions can range in size and weight dramatically, which means packaging can vary widely. Understanding how a product is packaged helps determine how the product should be shipped. Proper packaging and repackaging efforts by suppliers can help ensure the integrity of the product during shipping.

Standard packaging quantity and minimum order quantity can also impact the purchase of products like fans and blowers. Understanding the carton sizes and quantities within those packages is a critical factor in maintaining the integrity of these products during shipping. Identifying the proper SPQs can help in selecting appropriate shipping methods as well.

The weight of a product can have a substantial impact on the landed cost of heavier air-moving solutions such as fans and blowers. With most manufacturers of these solutions operating outside North America, typically in Asia and Europe, utilizing airfreight can shorten lead times by four to five weeks, but can also increase the landed cost of the product.
Not only is product weight a consideration when importing, but it should also be considered when determining shipping within North America. These products are best shipped ground freight when shipping larger volumes to ensure the product integrity.

Adding value
In many instances, manufacturers or qualified supply chain partners can add value to a thermal management solution by undertaking secondary operations. Adding connectors, shortening or replacing wires on fans and blowers, die-cutting specific thermal interface materials, or cutting thermal extrusions to proper lengths, are just a few of the value-added services that can be offered by partners.

With customization a common theme in thermal management, many products are single sourced, however, products like compact fans and blowers, board level heat sinks and certain thermal interface products can be multi-sourced. With lead times historically long on most thermal products, proper planning with manufacturers and supply chain partners can pay off.

By considering the guidelines listed above, and by planning with authorized distributors that specialize in thermal management, it is possible to avert potential obstacles in the procurement process. Sager Electronics and its Sager Power Systems group offer solutions from a variety of suppliers such as ebm-papst, Sanyo Denki, Sunon, NMB, Aavid Thermalloy, Wakefield and Laird Technologies. This ensures the company can provide a diverse range of air moving products and cooling solutions.

In addition to its off-the-shelf inventory, Sager’s power supply and thermal management sales engineers can also provide design assistance. Field and sales representatives can help buyers navigate the challenges presented when sourcing thermal management solutions. The company can also work with customers through its manufacturers and value-add Power Solutions Center in Carrollton, Texas to address any application requirements that an off-the-shelf thermal solution can’t solve. With the need for thermal management solutions expected to increase as technology advances, buyers may well be looking for just such support.