Cooling technology for modern servers, workstations and desktop computers has just begun a period of rapid change. As processor powers approach 100 watts, longstanding limits on air cooling are being challenged. The most recent changes are in the heatsinks themselves, as the longstanding manufacturing process of extruding is no longer capable of meeting new performance requirements.

This study focuses on the history of creating an effective organization for bringing the skive heatsink to market, concentrating on development of a start-up unit within the company and a host of relationships, both technical and business, outside the company. Metals companies in Japan have long been accustomed to the necessity of constant innovation. Heatsinks fall into the vague category of a semi-custom product — each customer has almost the same requirements, with slightly different exceptions to a standard part. Additionally, a product lifetime may be measured in months rather than years.

In heatsinks, the high thermal conductivity, low density and low material cost of aluminum preclued serious competition from other materials. The computer market is dominated by large players but the size distribution tails off very slowly. 51% of the market is held by 6 companies, the largest with 14%. The remaining 49% features a wide distribution of market share and technical capabilities. This results in some customers with large staffs specializing in cooling technology, others with a small number (sometimes 1) of multidisciplinary mechanical/thermal engineers, and others with no engineering staff other than system integrators.

The presence of other materials is increasing, as heatsinks for the highest power processors will soon need copper bases and, ultimately, two-dimensional heatpipes known as vapor chambers. This integration of components represents a significant departure from the previous norm of attaching a one-dimensional tube heatpipe to an all-aluminum heatsink. In some cases ownership of development and production is the responsibility of the heatsink maker, in other cases the heatpipe or, in the case of an integrated cooling fan, the fan maker.

In order to address this wide and rapidly moving market, we have made alliances with makers of other electronics cooling components (fans, plastic housings, thermal interface materials), jointly developed products with computer and processor makers, and co-sponsored university research. This year (2000) saw a large-scale entry into the Gigahertz processor cooling market, with a focus on high level visibility at technical conferences and trade shows. As thermal concerns move from a final step in the design cycle to a initial consideration, educating customers about the potential contributions of the skive heatsink has become a major effort in our technical marketing campaign.

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