Virtual prototyping for thermal and EMC - Embedded.com

Virtual prototyping for thermal and EMC

Flomerics is a leading player in the rapidly expanding field of'virtual prototyping' &endash; the provision of software that enablesengineers to test virtual models of their equipment on a computerbefore building expensive physical prototypes. Flomerics' tools focuson two areas of particular relevance to embedded system designengineers – thermal analysis and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC)analysis.

What makes Flomerics' approach to the virtual prototyping marketdifferent is its focus on providing software for designers ratherthan software specialists. Flomerics' focus on 'demystifying' thecomplex mathematical analysis and making it available to engineers ina form they can use safely and effectively day-to-day is described as'Design Class Analysis'.

Design Class Analysis recognises that the engineering world isdriven by design and that analysis must seamlessly reflect the designflow. Flomerics bridges the gap between science and industry byembedding complex analysis and optimisation software deeply into thedesign process &endash; thereby speeding time to market, improvingproduct quality, and enhancing the productivity of engineeringdesigners.

Underlying Flomerics' business is the strategy of applyingadvanced analysis techniques to address critical design bottlenecksin product design. Virtual prototyping enables designers to test andoptimise their designs in a virtual software environment, prior toany build and test.

Flomerics has built a product portfolio that addresses the broaderdesign needs for the 'physical design of electronics'&endash; thatis, all aspects of the design concerned with the physical hardwarerather than the electronics circuitry. Specifically, two of the mostcritical needs here are thermal design (ensuring that the equipmentdoes not overheat), and electromagnetic design (which includeselectromagnetic compliance – EMC &endash; i.e. prevention orcontainment of unwanted electromagnetic emissions from the equipment,and also the design and optimisation of antenna devices).

Thermal design

Flotherm has, over the last decade, become established as aleading thermal design tool in the electronics industry. It enablesdesigners of electronic equipment to improve the thermal design oftheir equipment. Heat affects the reliability and lifetime ofelectronic equipment, and as processing speeds rise, functionaldensity increases, and equipment becomes smaller, thermal problemsintensify. Through techniques of computational fluid dynamics (CFD),Flotherm predicts the temperatures throughout a system. This enablesthe engineer to identify the source of any over-heating, and todevise and test appropriate design modifications.

The electromagnetic radiation emitting from a heat sink in atelecommunications design.

Electromagnetics design

On the electromagnetic design front, Microstripes is targeted atthe design of antennae systems and microwave devices, and FLO/EMCtargets the problem of electromagnetic radiation and interference -or EMC.

EMC is one of the most critical problems facing the electronicsindustry today. The same design trends that are driving the thermalproblem – faster processing and increased functional density – alsoproduce increased electromagnetic emissions. These emissions caninterfere with, and affect the performance of, other equipment;hence, for example, the restrictions on using laptop computers andmobile phones on aeroplanes. Because of this, unlike thermal design,EMC is governed by stringent EU and US FCC regulations limiting thepermitted levels of emissions, and all electrical equipment has to betested and certified before it can be sold. Overall EMC is even morecritical to the electronics industry than the thermal problem.

Thermal versus EMC

Interestingly, these two seemingly distinct design needs aredriven by exactly the same market demands and technology trends&endash; the universal market pressures for more speed and volume.The need may be faster processing of more data (in heavyweight dataprocessing applications), for greater bandwidth (in communications ofall kinds), or for 'smarter' embedded and handheld devices. Alltranslate into 'more data, faster'. Nowhere is this drive moreapparent than in the computer, telecom, networking, and semiconductorsectors, which form the heart of Flomerics' markets.

Within embedded systems these demands translate directly intohigher clock speeds (now into the gigahertz range, and rising) andincreased functional density (more gates per device). The inevitableconsequences of both of these are higher power densities, and henceescalating thermal problems and intensified problems ofelectromagnetic emissions (greater intensities, and more-troublesome,high-frequency emissions).

Projections show power densities and processor speeds increasingby a further factor of 10 or more over the next decade. Theconsequence will be that, rather than being simply a designbottleneck (albeit an important one) as at present, thermal andelectromagnetic design will become two of the most critical factorsin dictating whether future generations of electronics equipment canbe produced at all.


The design of embedded antenna

Microstripes software was used recently on behalf of GE Plasticsto assess the performance of Bluetooth antenna designs for closerange wireless communications. When an antenna is installed inside asystem, the surrounding structure and materials may 'load' and affectthe antenna performance considerably.

The Microstripes software is capable of simulating arbitraryshaped antenna structures and casings, thus accurately predicting thereturn-loss and radiation characteristics. In particular, GE Plasticswanted to investigate the effect of a sheet of engineeringthermoplastic material (GE Plastics' Cycoloy Resin) touching the topof the antenna. The model and results clearly demonstrated thecapability of Microstripes to simulate complex antenna structures andembedded antenna designs.


Published in Embedded Systems (Europe) June 2002

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