Auto-grade products. Companies like National Semiconductor, NXP, Altera and Bosch offer ‘automotive-grade products,’ which generally means that these adhere to Automotive Electronics Council (AEC) standards for humidity, temperature, stress and other factors. There are various levels of auto compliance such as Q100, Q200 and so on. NXP, for example, complies with AEC-Q100. Within AEC-Q100, there are fiv grades (0-5) for operating temperature, representing lower limits from -40°C to +150°C on the upper end. So when choosing an auto-grade product, one needs to check its compliance with the required standard/grading.

Test and measurement systems. When using electronics for critical applications, reliability is very important. In order to test and ensure non-failure, constant test and measurement is required, which means that the test system for such electronics should also be able to endure the same temperature conditions as the electronic components. NI’s CompactRIO is designed for such applications in harsh environments and small places.

“Size, weight and I/O channel density are critical design requirements in many such embedded applications. Taking advantage of the performance and small size of FPGA devices, CompactRIO is able to deliver unprecedented control and acquisition capabilities in a compact, rugged package with extreme industrial certificationsand ratings for operation in harsh industrial environments,” says Raghavan.

With a variety of connectivity options, NI CompactRIO can be interfaced with most of the industrial sensors like pressure transducers, magnetic pickup sensors, digital encoders, temperature sensors, accelerometers, nuclear densitometers and magnetic flowmeters. It is programmed with NI LabVIEW graphical programming tools. A bare-board version of the CompactRIO, the NI Single Board RIO, is also available.

“Korea Gas Corporation has used CompactRIO to develop a safety management system to monitor exposed city gas pipelines attached to bridges. Ventura Aerospace was able to develop an intelligent fire monitoring and suppression control system for FedEx Express using NI LabVIEW software and NI Single-Board RIO hardware to prevent catastrophic fireswithin freight aircraft and keep pilots, packages and planes safe from fire that may start in shipping containers. Similarly, Lime Instruments, LLC, built an advanced monitoring system that could be mounted directly on an oil well servicing pump in a rugged environment, to perform advanced analysis on sensor data,” adds Raghavan.

Power equipment. Power equipment such as UPS are also available that can operate at extreme temperatures, when deployed in military out-posts or industrial environments.

Sriram Ramakrishnan, CEO of Consul Consolidated, an Indian player in this space, says, “Consul offers UPS systems and inverters that can with-stand extreme temperatures. These are custom designed and manufactured to meet the requirements of the order. Consul has supplied custom-built UPS for various defence applications to operate with defence equipment in extreme temperature conditions, as per JSS specifications.”

All components used in defence applications meet MIL-grade specifcations instead of commercial grade to operate in extreme temperature conditions. All the cables used in the cabinet are of shielded type for reducing the EMI and RFI interference.

Due to the need to operate in extreme conditions and other special needs, the cabinets are also constructed of higher-grade steel, with special surface treatment for conductivity. The layout of the internal components has also been changed to meet the RFI and EMI specifications.

“Apart from materials, you also need to consider self-contained cooling and ventilation for the UPS system to operate successfully,” adds Ramakrishnan.

Consul has also worked closely with DRDO on some of DRDO’s missile projects, and with the Brahmos team to create prototypes of UPS systems to be used in the early stages of the project. They have worked right from the design stage to the fabrication of prototypes and fieldtesting of the UPS.

More to come
There are many more such extreme-temperature products available in the market today. There is also a lot of research happening across the world to understand and improve low- and high-temperature operation of electronics, hermetic packaging, cryogenic electronics, etc.

 [stextbox id=”info”]There is also a lot of research happening across the world to understand and improve low- and high-temperature operation of electronics, hermetic packaging, cryogenic electronics, etc[/stextbox]

For example, in March 2013, Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) announced that it has developed a gold-silver-germanium alloy that is capable of withstanding high temperatures and pressures. The melting point of the alloy is around 450°C, making it suitable for use as a solder for electronics in high-temperature environments, such as those in geothermal wells. Current brazing processes occur at temperatures above 750°C, and the materials used are generally not suitable for electronics. Similarly, soldering occurs at temperatures below 350°C, which is also unsuitable for high-temperature electronics. Therefore SNL believes that its new alloy will filla niche for high-temperature soldering.

Similarly, last year scientists at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, discovered the self-cooling effects of graphene transistors, which could do away with the need for heat sinks and other cooling mechanisms in high-temperature operating environments.

As electronics finds its way into more and more niche applications, there will be all the more need for it to work in cooler and hotter environments—and more scope to put specialised extreme-temperature electronics and research prototypes to good use!

The author is a technically-qualified freelance writer, editor and hands-on mom based in Chennai


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