You would have felt your smartphone or laptop getting a bit too hot at some point. Heat sinks are often the components in that area of your devices, and they let out the excessive heat to retain the integrity of other components in your device. But do you know that there are different types of heat sinks? Well, the aim of this piece is to acquaint you with the two main types of materials – aluminum and copper, used for heat sinks. We will explore the differences between the two options and find out which one reigns supreme at the end of this article. If you’re ready, let’s go.
I. What are Aluminum Heat Sinks?
In the metallurgical and materials industry, Aluminum is well known for its use in making heatsinks. Majorly, it possesses an increased thermal conductivity which is why the heat generated from your electronic devices can be extracted as it serves as a cooling agent and permits your device’s optimal functionality. Aluminum is likewise less corrosive, making it a lot more durable. It is also a type of metal that can be easily shaped into a thin metallic component which makes it workable in smaller electronic devices like mobile phones, computers, and TVs.
II. What are Copper Heat Sinks
Why are copper heat sinks so special, you ask? Well, copper is pretty good at resisting corrosion. Its anti rust properties make it suitable for use practically any electronic device including marine electronic devices that form the bulk of instruments sailors use at sea without the fear of rust-induced malfunctions. Also, it has antimicrobial properties that make it suitable for use in medical instrumentation and other health-related devices. Copper heat sinks are more effective than aluminum and that’s why they are more suited for heavy devices.
But here is the catch. Due to its weight, copper is more expensive than aluminum and is often restricted to industrial environments including power stations where it is required to dissipate a lot of heat.
III. How do Aluminum and Copper Heat Sink work
All heat sinks, no matter the material including copper and aluminum, take up the responsibility of dissipating the heat generated internally by electronic devices into the environment. This process ensures that devices don’t get fried or malfunction as a result of excessive heat. Consequently, heat sinks work to improve the performance of devices as their absence can lead to some serious performance issues which nobody wants for their devices. Again, the intensity of heat generated is usually proportional to the level of activities going on internally in a device. These activities often inform the type and size of heat sink required to effectively dissipate the heat into the surrounding environment.
IV. The application of heat sinks
While heat sinks might be out of sight as they are located internally in devices, their work is often externally visible. However, their application is wide despite being common in electronic devices. These devices include computers, smartphones, and TVs. Also, for larger devices like vehicles, heat sinks are often present to ensure that heat from internal components and instruments remain cool to improve its performance and elongate its lifespan. But while aluminum heat sinks generally adorn smaller devices, they still find usability with medium devices also. However, when larger devices including solar panels and power stations are involved, copper heat sinks become more practical since they have higher thermal conductivity and durability.
V. Manufacturing types
While you may want to keep manufacturing methods like plastic injection molding to plastic manufacturing, it is important to consider the most suitable manufacturing process for heat sinks. The following are the major manufacturing types.
- Extruded heat sinks: This is a type of heat sink produced using hot aluminum bars through the steel material that forms the desired heat sink design.
- Bonded heat sinks: The uniqueness of this heat sink type is in its 3 parts which consist of a base, attached fins, and an adhesive substance which is often the reason for its name As it binds the part together.
- Forged heat sinks: The forging process in this case refers to a technique known as cold forging. Cold forging is done by using a low thermal condition and increased pressure to forge the heat sink. Typically for copper heat sinks.
- Stamped heat sinks: This is a type of heat sink produced in both aluminum and copper materials and it is a double-layer heat sink held in place by a fin zipper.
- CNC machining heat sinks: This is a type of heat sink manufactured using CNC machining processes. It is typically used with aluminum materials as copper may be too hard to fabricate the desired heat sink using a precision machine.
- Zipper fin heat sinks: This type is formed from single metal sheets, stacked together by a coupling method used to mesh them together.
VI. What are the Differences Between Aluminum and Copper Heat Sinks?
The properties of the individual heat sink materials are the primary identification for its differences. These differences include the following.
- Heat dynamics: The extent of heat dissipation for each heat sink is satisfactory for an extensive heat generation situation and for a wide variety of devices. The only noteworthy difference here is that aluminum’s efficiency is in lower heat-intensity devices such as smartphones, computers, and other smaller electronic devices. But copper on the other hand, due to its expansive quality dispels higher heat radiation generated in larger electronic tools. However, copper sinks satisfies the requirements for heat dissipation in large devices.
- Thermal conductivity: With thermal conductivity, it shouldn’t be a surprise to us to know that copper also has a better thermal conductivity compared to aluminum. It’s almost one and a half times that of aluminum making a better heat transfer medium than aluminum. Additionally, because the heat transfer for copper is higher, that is why they are suitable for high-power electronic equipment.
- Cooling: Copper heat sinks take another win when it comes to cooling. This is because of its higher heat distribution. The faster the heat generated is distributed the cooler your device gets. Even with a smaller area, copper heat sinks can still take on more heat coming from a device than aluminum heat sinks. This means that copper heat sinks can be smaller and more efficient than aluminum heat sinks.
- Build and extrusions: Aluminum is more malleable than copper, which makes it easier to extrude and form into different shapes and sizes which helps in rapid prototyping. Also, it weighs less than copper. With a heavier copper, it’s no wonder it can withstand severe heat generated by electronics. And even when aluminum is lighter, copper is superior in performance. Additionally, aluminum is easier to work with and more efficient. Therefore, you have to decide which you’d prefer depending on the adaptability of both heat sinks to the device.
- Extrusion: In the case of extrusion, aluminum is the best choice because of its soft quality. Aluminum is able to merge with other forms of material, thereby offering a wider option of materials to work with. In addition, aluminum heat sinks commonly follow mold design processes as their extrusion is like making a mold. Also, there is no risk of damage to the equipment, but this is not the same for copper which requires machining of a block of material.
VII. Selection of a suitable sink type
Identifying and selecting the appropriate heat sink shouldn’t be too tasking. Although certain conditions must be factored in. These conditions include.
- Type of heat transfer: Heat transfer type is a primary determinant in selecting your heat sink. This parameter is reliant on how much conduction and the amount of radiation is generated from the electronic device, and the direction in which the heat must be dispelled. Aluminum and copper both work effectively, all we need to know is the kind of device that needs a heat sink.
- The temperature of the situation: This parameter often refers to the level of heat generated depending on the situation and the device in question. This will significantly inform your selection of a suitable heat sink. Choosing a low thermal conductivity material will not suffice for situations where a huge amount of heat is generated.
- Price and sink type weight: As mentioned earlier, we know now that the heavier the material, the costlier it gets. And again, the size of the electronic and heat transferred will guide your decision on whether you need a copper heat sink or an aluminum heat sink. However, because aluminum is lighter it costs less than copper.
In a nutshell, aluminum heat sinks are as effective and efficient in various capacities, so are copper heat sinks. They are both quite similar yet different. Aluminum is known for its popularity, malleability, and availability. However, copper possesses a higher workload in heat transfer and distribution due to its density, better heat dynamics, thermal conductivity, and rapid cooling also in a larger capacity. Consequently, before you select your heat sink, it will be better to identify its purpose by assessing your electronics and understanding its functions. This will guide your selection of whether you need a copper heat sink or an aluminum heat sink.