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 Knowledge about FR4 Thermal Conductivity for Your PCB projects

Knowledge about FR4 Thermal Conductivity for Your PCB projects


With the growing use of integrated electronics. the total power density of electronic components will rise up. and the size of electronic components and devices become smaller and smaller. This will cause the heat flow density around the device to go up. which can affect how well the electronic components work. Because of this, we need to find a better way to control heat conductivity. In the next part, we’ll talk about the most common FR4 thermal conductivity and what we know about it.

What is the thermal conductivity of PCB?

Thermal conductivity in PCBs refers to the ability of the PCB material to conduct heat. PCBs often generate heat during their operation. especially in devices with high power components such as microprocessors or power electronics. Efficient dissipation of this heat is crucial to prevent overheating. which can negatively impact the performance and reliability of electronic components.

The thermal conductivity of a PCB material determines how effectively it can transfer heat. from the heat-generating components to the surrounding environment. It is typically measured in units of watts per meter-kelvin (W/m·K) or joules per second-meter-kelvin (J/s·m·K). The higher the thermal conductivity, the better the material is at conducting heat.

FR4 thermal conductivity

How do you calculate thermal conductivity of PCB?

The formula is:

Thermal conductivity (k) = Heat flow (q) × Sample thickness (d) / (Temperature difference (ΔT) × Sample area (A))

Ensure that the units of measurement are consistent throughout the calculation. It’s important to note that this method provides an approximate value of the thermal conductivity. as it assumes the PCB material is homogeneous and isotropic. In reality, PCBs often consist of multiple layers with different materials. Such as copper traces, and components that can affect heat conduction. However, this method commonly used for estimating the thermal conductivity of PCB materials.

What types of PCB materials may affect thermal conductivity?

Several types of PCB materials can significantly affect thermal conductivity. Here are some common examples:

FR4 (Flame Retardant 4):

FR4 is the most widely used PCB material. due to its affordability and electrical properties. However, it has relatively low thermal conductivity compared to other materials. The thermal conductivity of FR4 typically ranges from 0.25 to 0.35 W/m·K.


Metal-Core PCBs (MCPCBs):

MCPCBs have a metal core, usually aluminum or copper. which provides excellent thermal conductivity. The metal core acts as a heat spreader. efficiently dissipating heat generated by components. The thermal conductivity of MCPCBs can range from 1 to 10 W/m·K.. Depending on the metal core thickness and composition.

Ceramic-Based PCBs:

Ceramic materials, such as aluminum oxide (Al2O3) . or aluminum nitride (AlN), offer high thermal conductivity. These materials used in applications that require superior heat dissipation. The thermal conductivity of ceramic-based PCBs can range from 20 to 200 W/m·K.

Thermal Interface Materials (TIMs):

While not PCB materials per se, TIMs are often used between electronic components. and the PCB to enhance thermal conductivity. TIMs, such as thermal greases, pads, or phase change materials, fill gaps. and irregularities between the component and the PCB, ensuring efficient heat transfer.

What is FR4 thermal conductivity?

FR4, also known as Flame Retardant 4. That is a commonly used electrical insulation material in the manufacturing of PCBs. It is a type of glass-reinforced epoxy laminate that possesses several desirable properties. Here are some key properties of FR4:

The thermal conductivity of FR4 is typically around 0.25 to 0.35 W/m·K. This value indicates that FR4 has relatively low thermal conductivity. That compared to other materials commonly used in PCBs.

What is the coefficient of thermal expansion of FR4 PCB?

The coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) of FR4 materials. That can vary depending on the specific formulation and manufacturer. However, a typical range for the CTE of FR4 PCB is approximately 13-18 parts per million per degree Celsius (ppm/°C). in the X and Y directions (in-plane) and around 60-70 ppm/°C in the Z direction (out-of-plane).

It’s worth noting that the CTE values can also specified as per the IPC-4101 standard. which provides guidelines for various laminate types used in PCB fabrication. For FR4 laminates, the IPC-4101B standard specifies a CTE range of 13-17 ppm/°C . in the X and Y directions and 60-70 ppm/°C in the Z direction.

The CTE of FR4 PCB materials is an important consideration. especially in applications where the board subjected to temperature variations. Mismatched CTEs between the PCB and the components or the surrounding environment. that can lead to mechanical stress, delamination. and potentially affect the performance and reliability of the PCB assembly.

What determines FR4 laminates' thermal conductivity?

The thermal conductivity of FR4 laminates is primarily determined by the properties of the materials. The key factors that influence the thermal conductivity of FR4 laminates are:

Resin System:

FR4 laminates consist of a resin system, typically epoxy. that serves as the matrix material. The thermal conductivity of the epoxy resin plays a significant role. in determining the overall thermal conductivity of the laminate.

Fiberglass Reinforcement:

FR4 laminates incorporate a woven fiberglass reinforcement material, usually made of glass fibers. The type, density, and orientation of the fiberglass layers. that can impact the thermal conductivity of the laminate. The fiberglass layers provide mechanical strength to the laminate. but generally have lower thermal conductivity than other materials like metals or ceramics.

Filler Materials:

FR4 laminates often include filler materials to enhance specific properties. such as flame retardancy, electrical insulation, or dimensional stability. These filler materials, which can be in the form of powders or fibers. can influence the thermal conductivity of the laminate.

Manufacturing Process:

The manufacturing process used to produce FR4 laminates. including the resin impregnation and curing process. can also affect the resulting thermal conductivity. Variations in process parameters can impact the distribution of resin. and filler materials within the laminate, which, in turn, affects its thermal properties.

It’s important to note that the thermal conductivity of FR4 laminates. that is generally low compared to materials specifically designed for high thermal conductivity. such as metal-core PCBs or ceramic-based PCBs. If thermal management is a critical consideration, alternative materials may be more suitable.

What factors should you consider while designing FR4-based PCBs for thermal conductivity?

When designing FR4-based PCBs for thermal conductivity. it’s important to consider several factors. to optimize the heat dissipation capabilities of the board. Here are some key considerations:

Copper Plane Design:

Incorporate copper planes or thermal pads in the PCB layout. Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, and large copper areas. That can help spread and dissipate heat effectively. Design copper planes in areas where heat generated or needs to dissipated. such as under power components or in high-current areas.

Thermal Vias:

Utilize thermal vias to enhance heat dissipation. Thermal vias are copper-plated holes. that establish a thermal connection between different layers of the PCB. facilitating the transfer of heat. Place thermal vias strategically near heat sources or in areas. that require improved thermal conductivity.

Heat Sinks:

Consider the use of heat sinks in areas where significant heat generated. Heat sinks are metallic structures that increase the surface area available for heat dissipation. Attach heat sinks to components that generate substantial heat. such as power devices or voltage regulators, to help dissipate heat efficiently.

Component Placement:

Plan the placement of heat-generating components to optimize heat dissipation. Distribute heat sources across the PCB to prevent localized hotspots. Ensure there is sufficient spacing between components to allow airflow and heat dissipation. Avoid placing sensitive components near high-heat areas.

PCB Layer Stackup:

Optimize the layer stackup of the PCB to improve thermal conductivity. Consider placing a ground plane or power plane next to heat-generating components to act as a heat spreader. A properly designed layer stackup can help dissipate heat more effectively.

Thermal Relief:

Use thermal relief connections for components and vias. Thermal relief is achieved by adding spokes or thermal bridges to copper pads or vias. reducing the amount of copper in direct contact with the component or via. This allows for better soldering and thermal expansion. reducing the thermal stress on the PCB.

Enclosure and Airflow:

Consider the overall system enclosure and airflow. Ensure that the PCB is properly integrated into the system’s thermal management strategy. Design the enclosure to facilitate adequate airflow around the PCB. allowing heat to carried away from the board effectively.

Simulation and Testing:

Utilize thermal simulation tools or conduct physical testing. to assess the thermal performance of the PCB design. Thermal simulations can help identify potential thermal issues. optimize the layout, and ensure effective heat dissipation. Physical testing, such as thermal imaging or temperature measurements. can validate the performance of the PCB in real-world conditions.

By considering these factors during the design phase. you can improve the thermal conductivity and heat dissipation capabilities of FR4-based PCBs. helping to prevent overheating and ensure the reliability. and performance of the electronic system.

What’s FR4 in the PCB Lamination Process?

In the PCB (printed circuit board) lamination process. FR4 refers to the specific type of laminate material. used as the core material in the construction of the PCB. FR4 is a composite material consisting of a glass fiber reinforcement. embedded in an epoxy resin matrix. It is a widely used and standardized material for PCB fabrication.

During the lamination process, FR4 laminates stacked together with layers of copper foil and prepreg. (a partially cured resin) to form the multilayer structure of the PCB. The process typically involves the following steps:


The FR4 laminate sheets cut to the required size. and cleaned to remove any contaminants or residues.

Copper Foil Preparation:

Copper foil laminated onto both sides of the FR4 laminate sheets. The copper foil serves as the conductive layer for the PCB’s circuitry. and is typically bonded to the FR4 using heat and pressure.

Layer Stacking:

The FR4 laminates with copper foils stacked together with layers of prepreg. which are essentially uncured epoxy resin sheets. The copper layers and prepreg layers aligned. to ensure proper electrical connections and circuitry.


The stacked layers, consisting of FR4 laminates, copper foils. and prepreg, placed in a lamination press. Heat and pressure applied to the stack, causing the prepreg to flow and cure. bonding the layers together and forming a solid composite structure.


The lamination process followed by a curing process. where the entire stack of materials heated at a specific temperature. and duration to fully cure the epoxy resin. ensuring the structural integrity and stability of the PCB.

The use of FR4 as the core material in the lamination process provides several benefits. It offers excellent electrical insulation properties. flame retardancy, mechanical strength, and thermal stability. making it suitable for a wide range of PCB applications. The use of FR4 laminates also facilitates the manufacturing process. as they can be easily machined, drilled. and etched to create the required circuit patterns and features.

Quality control and testing for FR4 PCB

Quality control and testing are essential steps in ensuring the reliability and performance of FR4 PCBs . Here are some common quality control measures and tests for FR4 PCBs:

thermal conductivity

Visual Inspection:

Visual inspection performed to check for any visible defects. such as cracks, delamination, warping, or irregularities in copper traces. It ensures that the PCBs meet the required dimensional and visual standards.

Electrical Testing:

Electrical testing involves a series of tests. to verify the functionality and integrity of the PCB. This includes tests such as continuity testing, insulation resistance testing. and circuit impedance measurements. Electrical tests performed manually or using automated test equipment (ATE). to check for shorts, opens, or electrical faults.

Solderability Testing:

Solderability testing ensures that the PCB’s copper pads. and component leads have good solder wetting properties. Various methods, including dip testing or solderability test coupons. can employed to evaluate the solderability of the PCB surface finish.

Thermal Testing:

Thermal testing evaluates the PCB’s performance under different temperature conditions. This can include thermal cycling, where the PCB subjected to repeated temperature changes. to assess its ability to withstand thermal stress without degradation or failure.

Environmental Testing:

Environmental testing involves subjecting the PCB to different environmental conditions. to assess its durability and reliability. This can include tests like temperature and humidity cycling. thermal shock testing, salt spray testing, or exposure. to specific chemicals to simulate real-world operating conditions.

Mechanical Testing:

Mechanical testing evaluates the PCB’s mechanical strength and durability. This can involve tests like bend tests, flex tests. or drop tests to assess the PCB’s ability to withstand physical stress. and mechanical shocks without damage or failure.

IPC Standards Compliance:

PCB manufacturers often adhere to the standards set by the Institute for Printed Circuits. Compliance with IPC standards, such as IPC-A-600 (Acceptability of Printed Boards). and IPC-6012 (Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid Printed Boards). ensures that the PCBs meet the industry’s quality requirements.

Reliability and Endurance Testing:

Reliability testing involves subjecting the PCBs to accelerated aging conditions. or prolonged operation to assess their long-term reliability and performance. This can include tests such as temperature and humidity testing. thermal cycling, or high-voltage testing.

These quality control measures and tests help identify and rectify any issues with the FR4 PCBs. ensuring that they meet the required standards. and perform reliably in their intended applications. It’s important to follow appropriate testing protocols. and standards to ensure accurate and consistent results.

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