Putting a Price on Thermal Failure

4 March, 2019

Today’s electronic engineers face challenges coming at them from all angles. Balancing power, heat and performance in designs is no easy feat. As technology advances, devices have become more compact and more complex. Thermal performance has risen in importance as excessive heat holds a risk of higher failure rates.

In the face of these issues, some engineers still remain reluctant to use simulation. More often than not, this reluctance comes down to the high initial investment associated with many traditional thermal simulation packages. This investment however is nothing compared to the potential, long-term costs involved in failing to address thermal complications throughout a design.



Figure 1. Simulation (as seen above) can address the long-term costs of thermal complications throughout the design process.

For both manufacturers and design engineers, the financial cost of a design failure can be catastrophic. We reached out to experts in the industry to find the true cost of design failure, and our research suggests that what started as an averagely budgeted endeavor can end up costing a team upwards of three times the initial price — even before a working prototype has been produced. (You can read more specifics concerning these costs here.)

By failing to uncover issues early on in the design process, engineers may have to go back to the original design, identifying and addressing the causes of the failure and then embark on rebuilding a new prototype from scratch. Any fixes made to the design will then need to be tested in order to confirm that the problem has been solved. This is a process that could take weeks, months, or maybe even longer.

By going back to the drawing board in this way, engineers inevitably rack up significant additional costs, whether through the purchase of additional materials for multiple prototypes, or simply the human hours put in to perfecting a flawed design. In the case of system designs with multiple parts, this cost can inflate hugely, with many people or teams needing to be involved in the redesign process.

Figure 2. Redesigning due to thermal complications can add up considerably—especially when the product contains multiple parts.

When we factor in other measures, such as the cost of creating one-off PCB’s, enclosures and assemblies as well as the environmental testing required, the total cost of a prototype-level design failure skyrockets. In fact, our research suggests that a singular design failure can cost upwards of $13-26,100 or £10-20,000 simply to rectify.

While it would be easy to assume that such design failures are uncommon, our recent The Heat is On research project found that 99.5% of engineers have experienced such a failure. Despite this fact, 75% of these engineers still don’t test the thermal operations of their designs until after their first prototype is complete. In the best case scenario, this can lead to costly redesigns. In the worst, it could result in a total product recall.

The irony, of course, is that in many cases such costly failures are occurring as a result of engineers trying to save money. Rather than paying up-front for effective thermal simulation software, too many engineers rely on thermal complications simply emerging during the prototyping phase of their designs.

This not only results in costlier, more time-consuming design processes, but it can also result in lower quality electronics and, ultimately, less reliable end products.

Blog written by: Tom Gregory, Product Manager

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