Original Date: 07/14/1997
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Thermacore, Inc. began as an engineering development company in 1970. Its founders pursued new developments in heat pipe technology by addressing various temperature regimes, envelope materials, and fluid media. During the 1980s, grants and contracts enabled Thermacore to commercialize its technology. By the end of the decade, the company began developing designs using copper tubes and sintered copper powder wicks that provided thermal power dissipation characteristics an order of magnitude beyond those achieved by earlier designs. In the early 1990s, Thermacore developed a manufacturing base, but continued to maintain a strong research and development emphasis. Today, the company is a world leader in heat pipe technology.
Besides its manufacturing operations, Thermacore provides expertise on state-of-the-art heat pipe technology and real-world solutions for practical thermal management to its customers. The company’s two most notable examples are a Thermacore heat pipe for Pratt & Whitney which can transport more than 100,000 watts per square centimeter; and a Thermacore porous metal heat exchanger for the Department of Energy which can exceed 4,000 watts per square centimeter using helium. Both solutions are believed to be world records. Thermacore has also built heat pipes and systems that range from liquid oxygen for cryogenic temperatures to molten silver for operation in excess of 2,000°C.
Thermacore, a subsidiary of DTX Corporation, is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The company encompasses 56,000 square feet of building area, employs 115 personnel, and achieved $13 million in revenues in 1997. Applications for Thermacore’s products include notebook computers; desktop computers; workstations; power electronics; telecommunications; mold cooling; and heat exchangers. Among the best practices documented were Thermacore’s heat pipe wick structure; material tracking high volume line; and international competitiveness.
Selecting the proper wick structure based on the application is an important design aspect. Thermacore has determined that sintered powder metal is the optimum wick structure for cooling electronic components in computer products (e.g., notebooks, laptops, desktops, high-end servers). This exclusive wick structure enables heat pipes to operate effectively in any orientation, and permits them to be bent into various heat sink shapes without any significant reduction in performance.
Thermacore developed a disciplined process for tracking in-process work, scrap rates, and finished products on its high volume manufacturing lines. This material tracking high volume line system can handle controlled quantities, evaluate performance throughout the manufacturing process, trace problems to a root cause, and ensure that Thermacore’s customers always receive defect-free products. Since implementing the system, Thermacore has reduced its scrap rate from 30% to less than 1%.
From the start of its great production surge, Thermacore was an international competitor. Computer manufacturers all over the world became greatly interested in Thermacore’s products for Pentium chip cooling applications. Thermacore has steadily been taking market share from its competitors, and has now captured more than half of the heat pipe market in Taiwan, where more than 40% of the world’s laptop computers are manufactured.
Thermacore’s success demonstrates how a small, high tech, U.S. company can be an effective global competitor by maintaining a strong emphasis on technology, and applying it to meet market-driven needs. From the outgrowth of more than 30 years of engineering development, Thermacore created a superior product which surpassed other available options in the marketplace. This solid technology base is the cornerstone and foundation of Thermacore’s competitive edge. The BMP survey team considers the following practices to be among the best in industry and governme
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