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Thermal Contact Conductance
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In these composite systems, the temperature drop across the interface between materials may be appreciable. This temperature drop is characterized by the thermal contact conductance coefficient , h c , which is a property indicating the thermal conductivity, or ability to conduct heat, between two bodies in contact. While extensive databases exist on the thermal properties of bulk materials, similar databases for pressed contacts do not. The contact resistance depends on the surface roughness to a great extent.
The pressure holding the two surfaces together also influences the contact resistance. Thermal contact resistance is observed to decrease with decreasing surface roughness and increasing interface pressure.
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This is attributed to the fact that the contact surface between the bodies grows as the contact pressure grows. When two such surfaces are pressed against each other, the peaks will form good material contact but the valleys will form voids filled with air. These voids filled with air act as insulation because of the low thermal conductivity of air. The limited number and size of the contact spots results in an actual contact area which is significantly smaller than the apparent contact area.
Thermal contact conduction | DSPE, your portal for precision engineering
In case of metallic composite material, which is placed in a vacuum, thermal conduction through the contact spots is the primary mode of heat transfer, and the contact resistance is generally greater than when the composite material is in the presence of air or other fluid. Moreover, thermal contact resistance is significant and may dominate for good heat conductors such as metals but can be neglected for poor heat conductors such as insulators. The thermal contact resistance can be minimized by applying a thermally conducting liquid called a thermal grease such as CPU grease on the surfaces before they are pressed against each other.