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MCPCB - Do You Need Metal Core PCBs for Thermal Management?

PCBONLINE Team

Thur, Jun 23, 2022

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MCPCB

MCPCBs are widely used for thermal dissipation applications, such as LED lamps, automotive/industrial controllers, etc. Is MCPCB, FR4 PCB, or ceramic PCB the best for a thermal management project? The one-stop PCB manufacturer PCBONLINE reveals MCPCBs and a comparison among them for your reference.

Part 1. What is MCPCB

MCPCB is a metal core PCB, a printed circuit board that uses copper or aluminum as its substrate material. The metal substrate was designed to replace the FR4 material because metal conducts heat a lot faster than FR4. An MCPCB is composed of a metal core, thermal isolation/prepreg layers, and copper circuit layers.

The metal core of MCPCB is usually aluminum or copper. Iron rarely is used for MCPCBs. From PCBONLINE, you can also have PCBs that use phase-change materials in the PCB substrate manufactured, such as copper/FR4, copper/ceramic, aluminum/FR4, etc.

MCPCB thermal dissipation

Thermal dissipation is the core advantage of MCPCBs. For normal MCPCBs, thermal conducts from electronic components to the copper layer, prepreg layer, and the metal substrate. We all know that copper and aluminum conduct heat quickly, but the prepreg material conducts thermal much slower. So the prepreg material determines the thermal conductivity of MCPCBs.

At PCBONLINE, we use the same prepreg material for aluminum and copper MCPCBs. It is a special polymer filled with epoxy resin composed of aluminum oxide and silicon powder. The thermal resistance of the prepreg material is small than normal FR4 material.

The thermal conductivity of regular MCPCBs is 1W/mK to 9W/mK. If a regular MCPCB has multiple PCB layers, the heat conductivity effect will be not very good. So regular MCPCBs usually are designed to have only 1 or 2 PCB layers.

But for copper MCPCBs, the thermoelectric separation technology provides more possibilities. The thermal conductivity of copper MCPCBs from PCBONLINE can reach 400W/mK.

Part 2. Copper MCPCB vs Aluminum PCB

Copper base PCBs and aluminum PCBs are both widely used MCPCBs for thermal dissipation devices. Which is the best PCB option for your design? Please check copper MCPCBs and aluminum PCBs.

Copper MCPCBs

copper MCPCB

Regular copper MCPCBs are single-sided and 1 or 2-layer. Compared with single-sided 1or 2-layer aluminum PCBs, regular copper base PCBs don't have many advantages, and the price is higher.

However, it becomes another story when you design thermoelectric separation copper MCPCBs.

Thermoelectric separation copper MCPCBs can have up to 8 PCB layers. And the thermal conductivity is the same as copper!

thermoelectric separation copper MCPCB

Thermoelectric separation means the circuity and thermal conductivity are separated. The copper traces conduct electricity, and the prepreg only isolates adjacent copper layers. Thermal conducts directly through the copper vias under the components to the copper substrate. Around the copper vias, the resin is filled to isolate the copper vias and the circuit layers.

If you can design the thermoelectric separation copper MCPCB, you don't need to worry about thermal management anymore. PCBONLINE will fabricate copper MCPCBs using thermoelectric separation technology. If you have problems in designing or don't have a design, PCBONLINE can also provide you with PCB design services.

Aluminum PCBs

aluminum metal-core PCB

Aluminum PCBs can be single-sided or double-sided. The PCB layers can be up to 4. The thermal conductivity of aluminum is lower than copper, so compared with single-sided 1 or 2-layer copper base PCBs, single-sided aluminum PCBs conduct thermal a little slower.

But the aluminum PCB price is much lower than copper MCPCBs. From PCBONLINE, you can order bulky aluminum PCBs for only $30/㎡.

For LED lamps, the aluminum PCB is the most cost-effective PCB option.

Copper MCPCBs vs aluminum PCBs

The thermal conductivity of regular copper MCPCBs is a little better than aluminum PCBs, and the thermal expansion of copper base PCBs is smaller than aluminum PCBs, but the price is higher. And copper MCPCBs are only single-sided, but aluminum PCBs can be single-sided or double-sided.

However, copper MCPCBs can be designed and fabricated to be thermoelectric separated. In such cases, the thermal conductivity of copper MCPCBs can reach 400W/mK.

Part 3. MCPCB vs Ceramic PCB vs FR4 PCB

MCPCBs are a common PCB choice for thermal management solutions, but ceramic PCBs may be more effective. Sometimes, FR4 PCBs can also serve the thermal dissipation purpose if they are artfully designed.

Please check a comparison among MCPCBs, ceramic PCBs, and FR4 PCBs below.

MCPCB
Ceramic PCB
FR4 PCB
PCB layer number

Regular copper MCPCB: 1 or 2

Thermoelectric separated copper MCPCB: 1 to 8

Aluminum PCB: 1 to 4

1 or 2
No limit, but for thermal management, the PCB layer number is the smaller the better
Thermal conductivity

Regular MCPCB: 1W/mK to 9W/mK

Thermoelectric separated copper MCPCB: 400W/mK

Aluminum nitride PCB: 180W/mK

Alumina PCB: 20W/mK

About 0.3W/mK
Components mounting side

Copper MCPCB: single-sided

Aluminum PCB: single or double-sided

Single-sided
Single or double-sided
Thermal expansion coefficient
Large; the CTE of copper MCPCB is smaller than aluminum PCB
Small and close to semiconductor (IC)
Largest
Fabrication cost

Copper MCPCB price is higher than aluminum PCB

MCPCB price is lower than ceramic PCB

Highest
Depending on the fabrication complexity

Besides the above PCBs, PCBs with phase-change substrate materials can also be a choice for thermal dissipation solutions. For example, the below PCB used for an air condition system has a copper and FR4 phase-change substrate.

phase-change MCPCB

MCPCBs provide reliable and cost-effective options for thermal management. Besides MCPCBs, ceramic PCBs may be a better option for high-power devices, especially when the PCB has ICs. To choose the best PCB for your project, you need to make a good balance between thermal conductivity, thermal expansion, and budget. But whatever the PCB substrate and requirements of your design are, PCBONLINE can meet your fabrication requirements.

Part 4. Why PCBONLINE for MCPCB Fabrication

PCBONLINE provides one-stop thermal management solutions for power devices. We fabricate and assemble regular copper MCPCBs, thermoelectric separated PCBs, aluminum PCBs, FR4 PCBs, and phase-change-substrate PCBs. If you don't have a PCB design, our professional engineers can also design for your project. Besides, we provide value-added services, such as conformal coating, IC programming, mechanical boxes, and box-built.

PCBONLINE thermal conductivity solutions

Here are reasons why you choose to work with PCBONLINE for MCPCB fabrication:

    • For regular MCPCBs, we can customize the thermal conductivity within the 1W/mK to 9W/mK range.
    • We grasp the core technology of thermoelectric separation for copper MCPCBs and can make up to 8 layers.
    • For aluminum PCBs, we've already achieved fully automatic fabrication and reduced the aluminum PCB price to $30/㎡ for bulky production.
    • PCBs with phase-change substrate materials are also available, such as copper and FR4 substrate PCB, copper and ceramic substrate PCB, etc.
    • Provide free professional one-on-one engineering support throughout your project.

If you have a thermal management project that needs one-stop fabrication, please feel free to contact PCBONLINE by email at info@pcbonline.com.

Extension - Thermal Management Solution Examples

PCBONLINE has rich experiences in providing thermal management solutions for our clients around the globe, from PCB design, fabrication, and assembly, to end product delivery.

Example 1 - thermoelectric separation copper MCPCB

copper base PCB

This is an 8-layer thermoelectric separation copper base PCB. The copper thickness of the inner and outer layers is 12oz. From the cross-section, you can see very even electroplated via copper and layer copper. Our PCB lamination has a perfect quality.

Example 2 - immersion gold FR4 LED PCB

thermal management FR4 PCB

These are two 6-layer FR4 substrate PCBs for LED lamps. The edges of the PCBs are coated with copper and then immersion gold. An electricity network for thermal conductivity close to the edges was designed for each PCB layer and interconnected with the aluminum heat sink of the mechanical box. The fabrication was complicated, but this solution did solve the thermal dissipation of multilayer FR4 PCBs.

Example 3 - aluminum nitride PCB RGBW COB LED solution

RGBW ceramic PCB

This is a one-stop custom RGBW COB LED solution by PCBONLINE. We designed the COB LED PCB, sourced matching LED dies, wire-bonded, and packaged the dies on the aluminum nitride PCB we manufactured. The COB LED module's brightness reaches 8000 lumens. The module can mount on an MCPCB.

If you have any interest in MCPCBs and thermal management solutions, welcome to contact us online or by email.

Conclusion

MCPCBs are a cost-effective PCB option for devices that require good thermal dissipation. Copper MCPCBs have faster thermal conductivity and smaller thermal expansion than aluminum PCBs, but the price is higher. Besides MCPCBs, you can also consider ceramic PCBs and FR4 PCBs. If you need the design and fabrication of thermal management projects, don't miss the 23-year-old source factory PCBONLINE.


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