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From Wikipedia the common temperature range for electrical components is:

Commercial: 0 to 70 °C

Industrial: -40 to 85 °C

Military: -55 to 125 °C

I can understand the lower part (-40°C and -55°C) as these temperatures do exist in cold countries like Canada or Russia, or at high altitudes, but the higher part (85°C or 125°C) is a bit confusing for some parts.

Transistors, capacitors, and resistors heating is very understandable, but some ICs have approximately constant low heat generation (like logic gates)

  1. If I am considering a microcontroller or operated in a Sahara deserts at 50 °C ambient ( I don’t know if there is higher temperature on earth) why would I need 125 °C or 85 °C? The heat built up from power loss inside shouldn’t be 50 °C or 70 °C otherwise the Commercial part would fail immediately in for example, 25 °C environment?

  2. If I live in a moderate climate where the temperatures can only fluctuate in the 0–35 °C range all year around, and designing industrial products for the same country only (no export) could I use commercial grade components (assuming no certification, legislation, and accountability exist and only engineering ethics govern your actions)?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Try sitting in a car sometime with the windows rolled up and the AC off. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton May 28 '16 at 9:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ All those transistors and resistors that you heat up, are you planning on putting them in the same box as your controller, or will you just all dangle them out the edge? \$\endgroup\$ – Asmyldof May 28 '16 at 9:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Install a temperature monitoring program on your computer and you'll see how much heat electronics can generate. My gaming laptop sometimes reaches 85 C. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeanne Pindar May 28 '16 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ The internal probe on my computer's graphics card reports 100 degrees C. \$\endgroup\$ – JDługosz May 29 '16 at 8:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Even in temperate climate, when summer temperatures are in 30°C range, trains are delayed because rails easily get to 50°C. Temperate, as in New York or Paris, you don't need Sahara for that. \$\endgroup\$ – Agent_L May 29 '16 at 17:11

10 Answers 10

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The maximum temperature the silicon experiences can be much more than ambient. 50 °C ambient certainly happens. That's only 122 °F. I've personally experienced that in the Kofa Wildlife refuge north of Yuma Arizona. You need to design to worst case, not wishful case. So let's say ambient can be 60 °C (140 °F).

That by itself isn't much of a problem, but you don't get that by itself. Take the same thermometer that reads 60 °C in open air and put it in a metal box sitting on the ground in the sun. It's going to get much hotter.

I've seen someone fry a egg on the hood of a car in the sun in Phoenix AZ. Granted, this was a stunt deliberately set up for this purpose. The car was parked at the right angle, the piece of hood was tilted at the right angle, and painted flat black. However, it still shows that just a piece of metal sitting in the sun can get really hot.

I once left a car parked at the Las Vegas airport for a few days. I had left one of those cheap "stick" ballpoint pens on the dashboard, partly sticking out over the side. When I got back the pen was bent at 90° over the lip of the dashboard. I don't know what temperature such pens melt at, but clearly it gets a lot hotter than ambient under common enough conditions in a enclosed box.

If you left some cheap piece of consumer electronics on the dashboard in the sun and it didn't work, you'd probably be a little irritated, then toss it and replace it. If the controller for your oil pump stopped working in the summer because it got too hot, you'd lose a lot of money, be pretty upset, and probably buy the replacement from a different company that takes quality more seriously. If your missile defense system stopped working because you deployed it in the desert of Iraq instead of some nice comfy test range in Massachusetts where it was developed, you'd be dead. The procurement officers that don't get fired will be extra careful to require all electronics to work at high temperature, and insist it get tested under those conditions.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can add to this by saying (admitting) to several times frying a peace of non-trivial electronics by leaving it on or out while in a car in FL. Many CD players, laptops, MP3 players, etc., all ruined because a normal car, in direct sunlight, with the windows up on a summer day would exceed normal temperature ranges. Now replace car with tank, and hot FL summer with Hot Iraq Summer..... \$\endgroup\$ – coteyr May 29 '16 at 7:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know from personal experience that at least one car maker specified that the electronics should not fail up to 85 °C in-car temperature. and recover when the temperature falls below 80. That's right up to the industrial range. \$\endgroup\$ – MSalters May 29 '16 at 11:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Back in the 90s I had a Psion personal organiser destroyed by sunlight just sitting on an (inside) window ledge on a sunny day. \$\endgroup\$ – Ian Bland May 30 '16 at 14:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Adding to the missile example, we need to consider cold temperatures at high altitudes too. \$\endgroup\$ – lnafziger May 30 '16 at 17:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ This explains the why but doesn't explain the how. How were these temperature values chosen? I mean, why not 90C or 130C, or 91C or 131C?or 80C or 120C? Why 85C and 125C? How did this particular temperature range become the industrial standard? \$\endgroup\$ – user97662 Jan 14 at 8:00
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First of all, military equipment is expensive. You can afford to actually test things for high temperatures only if your customer is willing to pay. Military customers tend to have budgets that normal people can only dream of.

Then, obviously, if you put an IC into a missile, you might not want that thing to fail if your missile gets hot from its burning end or from its air-frictioning end. Same goes for things that might be put in a satellite, intercontinental rocket etc: as soon as you hit space, and are in the shadow of earth, things can get really cold. Military and Aerospace (which typically are mostly the same companies) are the typical place where you'd expect a device to withstand a lot of G of acceleration, be hot-cold-hot-cold-hot within seconds, still need to be extremely well integrated and lightweight, and where costs just don't really matter much compared to risk:

The main difference (aside from how temperature management is done physically), though, is simply that these three groups of applications do a different kind of risk assessment:

  • consumer/commercial grade device: 1/5000 of your TVs fail within the five years because some IC baked in heat too long. Bad thing. Many customers will just get a new one. For the remaining 1/10,000 customers, you'll have to do service (calculate that into your product cost) or live with a degraded image (which you don't really have to, because your competitors do the same). So, having more security margin in your designs doesn't make much sense, as little as testing components to the edge of the assumable environmental conditions. You're in a market where price is most important, and failure rate is mainly a concern for the manufacturer's finances.
  • industrial grade device: Your customer is someone who's hinging a possibly very expensive production line on your product. Let's say Volkswagen's production line stands still for 8h because your IC failed to function. That's a very solid amount of loss you've just caused. VW will be willing to pay extra just to make sure that its suppliers make sure you tested the components for all the environments that are likely to occur, and quite a bit beyond, to keep that risk manageable.
  • automotive grade device: Human lives are at stake. That's not as important as the fact that cars vibrate like hell, are complex as hell, get partially hot as hell, and are rolled out in millions, meaning that figuring out that whatever component gets a little hot to work reliably (even if it's just something non-critical to safety) means you might need to service a lot of cars, which is really expensive, and you actually risk your brand image. Every country has its own prejudices against "that car manufacturer with shoddy reliability and bad electronics", and it's seriously hurting their sales.
  • military grade device: Well, the promise of military is to be ready whenever for whatever. They will not risk anything failing just because they didn't ask all suppliers to fulfill extreme environmental specs. That's how they roll – don't leave anything to risk, especially if your application is expensive as hell anyway (think fighter jets) or gets deployed in tens of thousands and is still life- and mission-critical (think military communication equipment).
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    \$\begingroup\$ A note, each military spec device that I've used has been tested, and validated, and we have the tracking documentation and testing documentation. Often, they are not on silicon substrates either, and we'll use something with a direct bandgap to get the higher temperature range. \$\endgroup\$ – b degnan May 28 '16 at 12:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Military equipment budgets are not as high as they used to be a few decades ago and although they are still high compared to industrial and consumer equipment, suppliers (such as the one I work for) often use industrial and automotive grade parts where possible. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Smith May 28 '16 at 16:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I assume "costumer" wasn't intentional. On the other hand... \$\endgroup\$ – Damian Yerrick May 30 '16 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, that wasn't intentional, @DamianYerrick :) \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller May 30 '16 at 22:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Fat32 is that... a well-tempered pun? Cool! \$\endgroup\$ – Marcus Müller Nov 4 '18 at 21:26
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Military (and aerospace in general) equipment is often:

  1. In an unpresserised bay which means cooling the equipment is by conduction. Convection cooling loses meaning at 30,000 feet as there are very few air molecules to transfer heat by convection. It is much more difficult to effectively transfer heat by conduction only.

  2. In a glare zone (think just under the canopy in a fighter aircraft) and this area can be very hot.

  3. In a bay where the ambient temperature may be in excess of 70C.

  4. In the leading edge of a wing, which can range in temperature from icing conditions (well below zero) to very hot (at Mach 2 or so, the friction of even the few molecules available is still very high; that is why the space shuttle had elaborate heat management for re-entry).

It is not unusual to have a card edge temperature requirement of 85C for short periods (30 minutes typically) and it does not take much processor (to name but one device type) activity to raise the junction temperature to 120C or more.

In summary, military and aerospace environments are really harsh (as are down hole applications incidentally).

As noted by others, fully qualified military grade parts can be expensive (as much as 10x the cost of the commercial equivalent and in some cases more); in response to that some manufacturers have instituted screening programmes for plastic parts which still have a premium, but not as much as the previous solutions.

[Update]

In response to the comment on card edge temperatures, here is a typical conduction cooled chassis:

Conduction cooled chassis

The outer part of the chassis is known as a cold wall (where we can know the temperature) and it may simply be metal or have other methods of maintaining a reasonably well known temperature.

Now here is a typical card, with heat ladders:

Conduction cooled card

These are often made of aluminium (it is cheap and has decent thermal parameters) and the ladders are in contact with the side edges of the enclosure above; as there will be some heat differential between the outside and inside of the box, the temperature withstanding requirement for the PCB is set at this internal heat ladder, which is, as you can see at the card edge.

As the heat must get from the components to this point, it is not unusual for the PCB at a hot component (such as a processor or GPU) to get to 95C or more with a card edge temperature of 85C (which is often a specific requirement).

The thermal resistance of most flavours of FR-4 is \$0.4 \frac {W} {mK}\$ so lots of internal metal layers will exist in this type of card.

In some situations, we may need to use thermally clad PCBs which although expensive may be the only way of getting the heat out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you explain what "card edge temperature requirement" means? \$\endgroup\$ – pipe May 29 '16 at 19:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have updated the answer with a card edge explanation. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Smith May 30 '16 at 10:07
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Several other comments and answers have mentioned that electronic circuits need to be in enclosures and their own heat production makes it hot in there. That has not been stressed enough. For industrial, commercial and automotive equipment, electronic circuits often need to be sealed up in tightly sealed enclosures to keep out all sorts of contaminants. In addition, higher power levels are common. There are a lot of motor controls, process heating controls and powerful actuators of various kinds. Micro controllers need to be able to operate in the same enclosures with that kind of equipment. In commercial buildings, motor controllers and micro controllers for heating ventilating and refrigeration equipment is often installed in rooftop enclosures that are not temperature controlled.

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Common industrial equipment gets hot because of its own heat. A typical temperature rise inside an enclosure is 20-30 degrees C. If put in a building without air conditioner, the temperature easily goes towards 70-80 degrees, and sometimes even industrial range is not enough. In such cases all kinds of cooling are used: passive convection, forced convection, water cooling, etc.

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Why are they so high? because the environment is high & not everything will be sat in a nice temperature controlled environment... Humans need it, electronics don't Take an aircraft... parts attached to the engine cowl will experience an ambient of 85C. At altitude parts of the fuselage will experience -55C.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "the environment is high"? Altitude? Temperature? Or something else? \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Mortensen May 28 '16 at 19:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ The point of discussion is temperature and thus that is what I a rendering to. Equally the higher ambient temperature was stated. \$\endgroup\$ – JonRB May 28 '16 at 19:38
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It's all about burn-in testing. The silicon wafer has some defects when produced, and each element has to pass a final inspection. Therefore they have a so-called burn-in chamber for testing (I don't know for the existence of freeze-in, probably not needed) where different temperatures are set, according to the market destination.

In consumer, most of ICs survive also if there is a defect. In industrial, those with a large defective wafer will fail, in military burning room, those with just a small defect will fail.

So if you are lucky, you can get a consumer part that is good as military. I forgot to mention- the test is usually destructive for defective parts.

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As I see it, you are making 3 questions. One main question and 2 sub-questions (1,2).

The answer to the main question is that the industrial and military products may actually experience the specified temperature range, and the users want to be assured that the products will not fail, if used within the given temperature range.

The answer to sub-question 1 is that there are two additional parameters that need to be considered: a)power dissipation, b) safety margin.
In order for a chip to be able to dissipate power, its ambient temperature should be 35C lower than its inside temperature. Also, one should allow a safety margin of 25C lower than the max temperature required. To account for these requirements, a product to be use with an ambient temperature of 50C needs to be able to work at no less than 110C (50 + 35 + 25). So, requiring components that operate at 125C, seems very reasonable.

The answer to sub-question 2 is no, you should not use commercial grade components, it leaves no margin of safety! You need to use industrial grade, or better.

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The simple answer (on the hot side, which is where your question is focussed) which is at best tacked on to some of the existing answers is that device power dissipation can easily get the temperature of the device up to (or beyond) the rated temperature. The designers' job is to try and keep the device in a functional range; if the device is rated for 50C and operating in a 50C environment, it can't dissipate ANY power, so it can't actually operate without some active cooling system.

A 125C device in the same 50C has 75C of thermal headroom allowing power to be dissipated at whatever thermal resistance applies to the system.

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Another reason is : because they can be!

For space applications they'ld surely like it higher (for a much lower temperature).

Edit because of unexplained downvote:

Maybe this answer was too short for somebody. Let me explain a bit more.

Here is a page giving some indications too.

  • The upper limit of the actual silicon itself is typically 150°C. So the limit of the package can not be 150°C - 125°C is a reasonable limit if the packaging and power consumption allows it.
  • The lower limit of the actual silicon itself is according to the above link about -117°C (100°C). In practice too far of the design point of the integrated circuits.
  • If the limits for commercial and industrial circuits are larger, then there is the question of economics: more devices would have to be thrown away. So again - to keep products économically interesting for commercial and industrial applications, the operating limits have to be limited - the can not be economically higher (which is less true today than it was in the past when these limits were defined).
  • There are no space grade because the market is small and also because they have learnt to work with the other classes - for instance the electronics is placed in the center of the satellite where the temperature is within bounds and does not vary too much. They also use specific designs - radiation hardened devices in particular [radiation can get to the core of the satellite] and technology that is less subject to radiation.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ Half your edited answer is about space applications, which isn't even mentioned in the question. Not sure why you bring that up. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe May 29 '16 at 18:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ The question listed only 3 operating ranges which might be supposed "complete". Therefore I also mentionned space applications to show that another grade does seem necessary. By asking why there are these three ranges, one should also explain why there are not less and not more. The most popular answer also mentions automotive grade which was not in the question either. \$\endgroup\$ – le_top May 29 '16 at 23:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ tnx for the link \$\endgroup\$ – MolbOrg Dec 21 '16 at 0:08

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