Cooling without a fan

November 25, 2013 // By Steve Elliott
Cooling without a fan
Steve Elliott of XP Power examines the issues surrounding why you should try to avoid using a fan to cool a power supply.

When choosing a power supply for a given application, there are many reasons why you may want to avoid using a fan to cool it.

The audible noise coming from a fan can be a deal-breaker. For equipment destined for laboratory or control room environments, where the operator is in close proximity to the equipment at all times, minimal audible noise is a very desirable characteristic. Medical equipment that is used near to the patient, such as patient monitors and infusion pumps that are near the patient for a long period of time, also need to be as quiet as possible.

Another downside of fans is their reliability. The low lifetimes of these mechanical components can mean they fail in use, leading the power supply to overheat, or require more frequent maintenance or replacement before the end of their life.

For systems which require a high IP-rating, fans are clearly out of the question, since very little ventilation is permitted in order to keep solid and liquid contaminants out. For example, any equipment used in food processing areas will need to have a high IP rating as there will be solid and liquid contaminants present in the environment. Lower IP ratings, perhaps enough to keep out dust from industrial equipment, may condone use of a fan, but often air filters are required. These filters will need scheduled maintenance to clean or replace them periodically, which may be undesirable.

Convection cooling

If your application restricts the use of a fan, you’ll need to look at convection or conduction cooling.

Conduction cooling involves bolting the unit to a large heat sink or metal box so the heat is transferred to the outside of the equipment. This is usually reserved for high power applications with larger levels of waste heat, as it can be complex and expensive to achieve. This article will instead focus on convection cooling as a simple approach for lower

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