So there is a heat management option which is called ‘Thermally Conductive Potting Compound’. From what I’ve read and been told, it apparently works very well to effectively draw out any parasite heat away from the components and transfer it to the case material (metal being the best option as far as this goes) to be shed into ambient air.
I haven’t used it yet, but will be able to determine if we need to use it for all or some applications once we see how the test articles subjected to the stress testing regimen tolerate the simulated austere conditions. There are some very valuable tangential protective benefits for all the components which go beyond just heat management.
The compound is a 2-part, 1 : 1 ratio mix, silicone based material which seems to have the consistency of fresh construction adhesive. Once properly mixed, the thick liquid compound is poured into the enclosure fully submerging all of the components which have been already properly configured, connected, filling as much of the empty volume as possible.
I read somewhere that it takes a LONG time to fully cure, and should be left unmolested for at least 96 hours before being ops tested and put into service. Once finished curing, as expected with a silicone based material, the compound forms into a rigid rubbery cacoon and provides the desired heat management benefits, but also protects all encased components and their physical connections from water or moisture and sand infiltration, as well as from sudden kinetic shock to a certain extent.
With all that goodness, are there any drawbacks? Well, while the components are Fort Knox level pprotected from the elements they would eventually succumb to on a long enough timeline, any hardware troubleshooting, repairs, or component replacement that may be needed will have a few more steps added to that process, steps which create various risks if damaging more components in the process. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to carefully carve something out of a hard rubbery material, multiple inches thick, and containing various circuit boards and integration cables, because I haven’t, and it sounds awful.
But before we even get to the opportunity to break them so they need fixing, there is one concern I have which we’ll just need to wait until we have a fully assembled and compound cured test article in hand. The potting compound, being silicone based, would be a poor conductor of heat, cause the components to retain their parasite heat energy, and likely result in component overheating and premature failures of the sensor system. The color of the potting compound on both it’s cured and uncured state, is a dark muted gray, which I’m concerned is the result of some sort of metallic additive which is used to act as the thermally conductive material when combined with the silicone.
The enclosure case being used is manufactured to act as a large heat sink surrounding these components. The requirements include the ability to connect OTA using Wi-Fi protocols, a function normally handled without issue by the appropriately equipped Raspberry Pi board in most scenerios. That said, early testing of this set-up was conducted to determine if the metal case would cause a significant degradation of RF signals being transmitted and recieved by the onboard Wi-Fi radio, and the results were encouraging. There was a curtailment of the Raspberry Pi’s Wi-Fi signal strength as expected, but remained at levels within what was needed to move ahead with no changes. Now we’re introducing a thick layer of material which is possibly saturated with metallic particles, and it’s unclear whether silicone’s lack of electrical conduction includes radio frequency energy or not. There are certainly mitigation options if the 2.4GHz signals being recieved and transmitted through the Raspberry Pi’s native onboard Wi-Fi antenna are unable to penetrate the compound and case materials, but the preference is always to use the least number of unique components and physical connections while still meeting the stated requirements of the build.
I’m really looking forward to getting the opportunity to tinker with and develop an understanding of the capabilities of a new material which can provide a working solution to multiple challenges which were addressed individually in the past.
I’m a Certified FLIR sUAS Thermographer, so I’ll be capturing a number of Thermal-JPEG images as one element of our analysis of the stress test data. I’ll let you know how it all pans out when we know more.