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Tools & Technical Reference


Realize the Benefits of "Right-Sizing" Components & Systems

Chiller depicting an oil filter with stainless steel housing Chiller depicting an oil filter
with stainless steel housing

Designers sometimes oversize components in order to build in a margin of safety. However, this safety factor can add quite a bit to the cost of operating your system. What may be less obvious, perhaps, is how this safety factor can also add significantly to the cost of designing, manufacturing, and/or shipping your component or system, as well as to the indirect cost of taking up valuable real estate.

Preventing a Technology Jump

When designing a cold plate, heat exchanger, or cooling system, altering your specifications to include a large safety factor can cost you. For example, calculations that include a large safety factor may indicate that you need a plate-fin heat exchanger, when in fact a less expensive flat tube heat exchanger would more than meet your requirements. In addition, by overstating your performance requirements, you may incur more design costs, as more performance may require more engineering design time. For example, a vacuum brazed cold plate requiring more performance may require a more complicated fluid route than a cold plate requiring less performance. With electronics cooling in particular, the heat load listed for a component is often the maximum heat load generated by the component versus an average or an activity based breakdown of heat loads. Therefore, the thermal performance requirements can be significantly overestimated, especially when the heat loads of many components are being tallied for an overall system solution. This might be the case with computer servers within a data center, where one cooling system might be providing cooling for many servers.

Conserving Valuable Real Estate

Over-sizing may unnecessarily expand the footprint or space claim of the component or system too. Smaller components can sometimes provide more room for other more important components, or may even allow for a smaller overall system design. With most technology today, a smaller size provides a competitive advantage. By reducing your overall component or system footprint, you may also reduce your shipping costs.

Reducing Weight & Transportation Costs

Over-sizing may result in a heavier component or system, potentially adding to transportation costs and to the environmental impact. If you are an OEM that is shipping and receiving thousands of products per year, even a small difference in shipping can add up quickly and cut into profits. In addition, a heavier product may be less desirable to the end customers because of the product’s portability or weight load, such as with large systems or equipment going into hospitals or data centers. Another example is on military and commercial aircraft, where smaller and lighter is better due to power and weight limitations and the cost of jet fuel. (See Aircraft Liquid Cooling.) This also translates to energy efficiency – the less weight, the less fuel consumed by the plane.

Saving Energy

Of course, we can’t overlook the obvious and aforementioned benefit of energy savings realized by right-sizing your component or system. Smaller components or systems usually require less energy to produce them, less energy to ship them, and less energy to run them. A smaller cold plate or heat exchanger, for example, may also be able to provide sufficient cooling with a smaller pump or a smaller fan. Conserving energy is beneficial from an environmental perspective as well as a financial one.

Instead of over-sizing your component or system, right-size it instead. Size your component or system with as small a safety factor as possible. By using the most accurate thermal design data, the most experienced engineers, and the most reliable suppliers, you can minimize the margin of safety needed when designing custom components and systems.