Cambridge Nanotherm expands manufacturing capability to enable a new generation of high-power LED designs

Thermal management specialist Cambridge Nanotherm announced yesterday that it has built significant additional capability and capacity into its manufacturing base to meet rising demand for its award-winning thermal management solutions.

The company is focused on providing its thermal management solutions into the LED market, both for level 1 LED packaging and level 2 module and chip-on-board applications. They are working with most of the top 10 LED manufacturers, initially focusing on applications such as UV LED and chip scale packaging modules.

John Cafferkey, marketing manager at Cambridge Nanotherm, said: “The market seems to be moving very much in our favour at the moment. In applications as diverse as general lighting, automotive and UV, LEDs are getting smaller but more powerful which is increasing the thermal challenge, which, from our perspective, is very handy. As temperature rises we are finding more and more people knocking on our door.”

From LED chip packaging to high-brightness modules, thermal management is becoming a limiting factor as customers demand ever brighter LED devices in ever smaller footprints. To meet these requirements LED manufacturers are being pushed into using more thermally effective substrates to ensure that LEDs stay cool enough to meet their advertised lifespan. Historically that meant switching from cost effective MCPCBs to expensive and difficult-to-work-with ceramics such as alumina and aluminium nitride.

“It’s the age-old struggle where manufacturers want more for less,” said Andy Matthews, COO at Cambridge Nanotherm. “LED manufacturers are trying to squeeze more lumens out of their LEDs whilst squeezing them into smaller modules. This massively increases the thermal challenges which is pushing manufacturers to use higher performance substrates. The problem is cost is still the overriding factor, so it’s an incredibly competitive market. We offer a middle way between MCPCBs and expensive ceramics, and one of the unique things that we can provide with our technology is scale. A ceramic tile like aluminium nitride can only be manufactured in a relatively small size. Our material can be made on panels that are far larger bringing economies of scale that simply didn’t exist previously to the market.

“The other thing is that we are rugged. If you pick up one of our circuits and whack it on the table, it doesn’t break. Whereas if you did that with aluminium nitride, you will end up with a lot of crumbs. This opens up new applications for our customers.”

Sitting at the heart of high-power LED applications, Nanotherm LC and Nanotherm DM technologies are enabling a new generation of products that rely on effective thermal management to operate successfully. Cambridge Nanotherm’s manufacturing capabilities now include everything from fast turnaround prototyping, high-definition thin-film circuitisation, speciality manufacturing, through to high-volume mass production.

Nanotherm’s patented ECO process involves converting the surface of the aluminium core of the MCPCB, which acts as a heat spreader, into an electrically insulating but thermally conductive nanoceramic that offers outstanding thermal performance. Depending on the circuitisation route that is chosen, composite thermal performance of the resulting Nanotherm MCPCB ranges from 115 W/mK to 152 W/mK.

Whilst the company is headquartered in the UK there are plans for a new production facility in Asia.

“Certainly the strategy of the company is that the UK remains our head office where we’ll maintain our research and development and product development,” added Matthews. “But ultimately to be able to serve our customers, particularly the key LED manufacturers, we’ll need a production facility in Asia. We have to shorten our supply chain so our strategy is to establish an entity in the Asia region which will handle the high-volume, low-mix products.”

Matthews added: “If we look at the top 10 LED manufactures, one of them is in the US, one of them is in Europe and the rest are in Asia. Even the European and US manufacturers have their production facilities out in Asia and we need to be close to them to be as competitive as possible.”

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