Icepak in Ansys Electronic Desktop – Why should you know about it?

The role of Ansys Electronics Desktop Icepak (hereafter referred to as Icepak, not to be confused with Classic Icepak) is in an interesting place. On the back end, it is a tremendously capable CFD solver through the use of the Ansys Fluent code. On the front end, it is an all-in-one pre and post processor that is streamlined for electronics thermal management, including the explicit simulation and effects of fluid convection. In this regard, Icepak can be thought of as a system level Multiphysics simulation tool.

One of the advantages of Icepak is in its interface consistency with the rest of the Electronic Desktop (EDT) products. This not only results in a slick modern appearance but also provides a very familiar environment for the electrical engineers and designers who typically use the other EDT tools. While they may not already be intimately familiar with the physics and setup process for CFD/thermal simulations, being able to follow a very similar workflow certainly lowers the barrier to entry for accessing useful results. Even if complete adoption by these users is not practical, this same environment can serve as a happy medium for collaboration with thermal and fluids experts.

Figure 1: AEDT Icepak interface. The same ribbon menus, project manager, history tree, and display window as other EDT products.

So, beyond these generalities, what does Icepak actually offer for an optimized user experience over other tools, and what kinds of problems/applications are best suited for it?

The first thing that comes to mind for both of these questions is a PCB with attached components. In a real-world environment, anyone that has looked at the inside of a computer is likely familiar with motherboards covered with all kinds of little chips and capacitors and often dominated by a CPU mounted with a heatsink and fan. In most cases, this motherboard is enclosed within some kind of box (a computer case) with vents/filters/fans on at least some of the sides to facilitate controlled airflow. This is an ideal scenario for Icepak. The geometries of the board and its components are typically well represented by rectangular prisms and cylinders, and the thermal management of the system is strongly related to the physics of conjugate heat transfer. For the case geometry, it may be more convenient to import this from a more comprehensive modeler like SpaceClaim and then take advantage of the tools built into Icepak to quickly process the important features.

Figure 2: A computer case with motherboard imported from SpaceClaim. The front and back have vents/fans while the side has a rectangular patterned grille.

For a CAD model like the one above, we may want to include some additional items like heatsinks, fan models, or simple PCB components. Icepak’s geometry tools include some very convenient parameterized functions for quickly constructing and positioning fans and heatsinks, in addition to the basic ability to create and manipulate simple volumes. There are also routines for extracting openings on surface, such as the rectangular vent arrays on the front and back as well as the patterned grille on the side. So, not only can you import detailed CAD from external sources, you can mix, match, and simplify it with Icepak’s geometry, which streamlines the entire design and setup process. For an experienced user, the above model can be prepared for a basic simulation within just a matter of minutes. The resulting configuration with an added heatsink, some RAM, and boundary conditions, could look something like this:

Figure 3: The model from Figure 2 after Icepak processing. Boundary conditions for the fans, vents, and grille have been defined. Icepak primitives have also been added in the form of a heatsink and RAM modules.

Monitor points can then assigned to surfaces or bodies as desired; chances are that for a simulation like this, temperature within the CPU is the most important. Additional temperature points for each RAM module or flow measurements for the fans and openings can also be defined. These points can all be tracked as the simulation proceeds to ensure that convergence is actually attained.

Figure 4: Monitoring chosen solution variables to ensure convergence.

For this simple system containing a 20 W CPU and 8 RAM modules at 2 W each, quite a few of our components are toasty and potentially problematic from a thermal standpoint.

Figure 5: Post-processing with Icepak. Temperature contours are overlaid with flow velocities to better understand the behavior of the system.

With the power of a simulation environment in Icepak at our fingertips, we can now play around with our design parameters to improve the thermal management of this system! Want to see what happens when you block the outlet vents? Easy, select and delete them! Want to use a more powerful fan or try a new material for the motherboard or heatsink? Just edit their properties in the history tree. Want to spin around the board or try changing the number of fins on the heatsink? Also straightforward, although you will have to remesh the model. While these are the kinds of things that are certainly possible in other tools, they are exceptionally easy to do within an all-in-one interface like Icepak.

The physics involved in this example are pretty standard: solid body conduction with conjugate heat transfer to a turbulent K-Omega fluid model. Where Icepak really shines is its ability to integrate with the other tools in the EDT environment. While we assumed that the motherboard was nothing more than a solid chunk of FR-4, this board could have been designed and simulated in detail with another tool like HFSS. The board, along with all of the power losses calculated during the HFSS analysis, could have then been directly imported into the Icepak project. This would allow for each layer to be modeled with its own spatially varying thermal properties according to trace locations as well as a very accurate spatial mapping of heat generation.

This is not at all to say that Icepak is limited to these kinds of PCB and CCA examples. These just often tend to be convenient to think about and relatively easy to geometrically represent. Using Fluent as the solver provides a lot of flexibility, and there are many more classes of problems that could be benefit from Icepak. On the low frequency side, electric motors are a good example of a problem where electronic and thermal behavior are intertwined. As voltage is applied to the windings, currents are induced and heat is generated. For larger motors, these currents, and consequently the associated thermal losses, can be significant. Maxwell is used to model the electronic side for these types of problems, where the results can then be easily brought into an Icepak simulation. I have gone through just such an example rotor/stator/winding motor assembly model in Maxwell, where I then copied everything into an Iecpak project to simulate the resulting steady temperature profile in a box of naturally convecting air.

Figure 6: An example half-motor that was solved in Maxwell as a magnetostatic problem and then copied over to Icepak for thermal analysis.

If it is found that better thermal management is needed, then extra features could then be added on the Icepak side as desired, such as a dedicated heatsink or external fan. Only the components with loads mapped over from Maxwell need to remain unmodified.

On the high frequency side, you may care about the performance of an antenna. HFSS can be used for the electromagnetic side, while Icepak can once again be brought in to analyze the thermal behavior. For high powered antenna, some components could very easily get hot enough for the material properties to appreciably change and for thermal radiation to become a dominant mode of heat transport. A 2-way automatic Icepak coupling is an excellent way to model this. Thermal modifiers may be defined for material properties in HFSS, and radiation is a supported physics model in Icepak. HFSS and Icepak can then be set up to alternately solve and automatically feed each other new loads and boundary conditions until a converged result is attained.

What all of this really comes down to is the question: how easy is it for the user to set up a model that will produce the information they need? For these kinds of electronics questions, I believe the answer for Icepak is “extraordinarily easy”. While functional on its own merit, Icepak really shines when it comes to the ease of coupling thermal management analysis with the EM family of tools.

ANSYS Icepak: Diverging Residuals, Find and Fix the Problem!

Over the past week I have found myself dealing with a stubborn natural convection ANSYS Icepak model with convergence plots that would have been more aptly named divergence plots that looked like this:

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In this post I’m going to show you the process I went through to find and fix my problem.

First, a few things to know about Icepak:

  • Many of the problems associated with your Icepak model are very likely mesh related.

  • If the bad elements are in a solid, you are probably OK, but if they are in the fluid, watch out!!

So, what is the conclusion? I have a mesh problem.

Second, how do you find the problem?

According to the above “convergence” plot, the continuity equation is diverging (or to my frustrated, on-a-deadline mind, it was GOING CRAZY). Well, a diverging continuity equation indicates that I have a conservation of mass problem. After consulting with one of my more experienced colleagues, Clinton Smith, he suggested that I do the following to work towards pin-pointing the problem:

  • Plot the gravity direction velocity (in my case, this was Uy)

  • Look for the Minimum and Maximum Uy locations in the model

Plotting Uy along a cut plane produced this:

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As Clinton thought, plotting Uy instantly showed me the section of my model that was producing un-physical results. Next, I looked for the maximum and minimum velocity locations because this would further show me problems.

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Next, I need to determine why this area of my model is the problem. Like I said above, it is likely a mesh problem. In the Mesh Control panel under the Quality tab checking the Face alignment values often help to locate very bad elements:

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Clicking on the pink block above displays the elements in the graphics window and it was instantly obvious that my problem was due to distorted elements in my area of interest:

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When I look at these elements with a perspective of my model geometry I see that the elements are obviously in the fluid domain:

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I have found my problem.

Third, how do I fix the problem? Well, the location of my bad elements happens to lie on a CAD body in Icepak. This means that I am limited in my ability to control the mesh on the actual body. So, though there are likely multiple ways that this problem could be solved, I had the idea to create an air block in the area above that I could much more easily control from a meshing perspective. Having a real Icepak primitive in that space would force the mesher to conform to the boundary of the CAD body.

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Like I thought, the air block worked!

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I should note that in order to get the mesh to conform exactly, I had to put the air block into its own meshed-separately assembly. And now my residuals look much better!

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Summary:

  • Diverging continuity residuals indicate a conservation of mass problem

  • Plot velocities to locate problem region

  • Plot min/max velocity to further identify problem

  • If bad elements are in the fluid region, they must be fixed

  • Consider creating an air block in the region of interest to more finely control the mesh