3 Types of High Thermal Conductivity PCBs for Power Devices

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What are High-Conductivity PCBs?

High-conductivity PCBs, also known as thermal management PCBs, are specialized circuit boards designed to efficiently transfer heat away from critical components. These PCBs feature materials with high thermal conductivity, such as copper, aluminum, or ceramics, which allow heat to flow more easily from the heat source to the surrounding environment.

The thermal conductivity of a material is measured in watts per meter-kelvin (W/mK). For reference, here are the thermal conductivities of some common PCB materials:

Material Thermal Conductivity (W/mK)
FR-4 0.3
Copper 400
Aluminum 200
Alumina 30

By incorporating these high-conductivity materials into the PCB design, engineers can create a more efficient thermal management solution for power devices.

The Importance of Thermal Management in Power Devices

Power devices, such as MOSFETs, IGBTs, and power diodes, generate significant amounts of heat during operation. This heat, if not properly managed, can lead to several issues:

  1. Reduced efficiency: As the temperature of a power device increases, its efficiency decreases. This means that more energy is wasted as heat, reducing the overall system performance.

  2. Decreased reliability: High temperatures can accelerate the aging process of electronic components, leading to premature failures and reduced reliability.

  3. Limited power density: To prevent overheating, designers may need to limit the power density of their devices, resulting in larger, heavier, and more expensive solutions.

By utilizing high-conductivity PCBs, designers can mitigate these issues and create power devices that are more efficient, reliable, and compact.

Type 1: Metal Core PCBs (MCPCBs)

Metal Core PCBs (MCPCBs) are a popular choice for high-power applications due to their excellent thermal conductivity. These PCBs feature a metal substrate, typically aluminum, which serves as a heat spreader. The metal substrate is sandwiched between a thin dielectric layer and a copper circuit layer.

Advantages of MCPCBs

  1. High thermal conductivity: The aluminum substrate provides a low-resistance path for heat to flow away from the power components.

  2. Improved reliability: By efficiently removing heat from the components, MCPCBs can help extend the life of power devices and improve overall system reliability.

  3. Reduced size and weight: MCPCBs allow for higher power densities, enabling designers to create more compact and lightweight solutions.

Disadvantages of MCPCBs

  1. Higher cost: The specialized materials and manufacturing processes used in MCPCBs make them more expensive than traditional FR-4 PCBs.

  2. Limited design flexibility: The presence of the metal substrate can limit the routing options and component placement on the PCB.

Applications of MCPCBs

MCPCBs are commonly used in applications such as:

  • Power supplies
  • LED lighting
  • Automotive electronics
  • Motor drives

Type 2: Direct Bonded Copper (DBC) Substrates

Direct Bonded Copper (DBC) substrates are another high-performance option for thermal management in power devices. These substrates consist of a ceramic base material, typically alumina (Al2O3) or aluminum nitride (AlN), with a layer of copper bonded directly to each side.

Advantages of DBC Substrates

  1. Excellent thermal conductivity: The ceramic base material and direct copper bonding provide a highly efficient thermal path.

  2. High electrical isolation: The ceramic base offers excellent electrical isolation, making DBC substrates suitable for high-voltage applications.

  3. Matched thermal expansion: The thermal expansion coefficient of the ceramic base is closer to that of the copper layer, reducing thermal stresses and improving reliability.

Disadvantages of DBC Substrates

  1. Brittle ceramics: The ceramic base materials used in DBC substrates are brittle, making them more susceptible to mechanical stress and damage.

  2. Limited design flexibility: The rigid nature of DBC substrates can limit the design options for component placement and routing.

Applications of DBC Substrates

DBC substrates are often used in high-power, high-voltage applications such as:

  • Power modules for electric vehicles
  • Renewable energy inverters
  • High-frequency power converters

Type 3: Insulated Metal Substrates (IMS)

Insulated Metal Substrates (IMS) are another type of high-conductivity PCB that offers a balance between thermal performance and design flexibility. IMS PCBs consist of a metal base layer, typically aluminum, a thin dielectric layer, and a copper circuit layer.

Advantages of IMS PCBs

  1. Good thermal conductivity: While not as high as MCPCBs or DBC substrates, IMS PCBs still offer significantly better thermal performance than traditional FR-4 PCBs.

  2. Improved design flexibility: The thin dielectric layer allows for more flexible routing and component placement compared to MCPCBs and DBC substrates.

  3. Lower cost: IMS PCBs are generally less expensive than MCPCBs and DBC substrates due to simpler manufacturing processes.

Disadvantages of IMS PCBs

  1. Lower thermal conductivity: Compared to MCPCBs and DBC substrates, IMS PCBs have lower thermal conductivity due to the presence of the dielectric layer.

  2. Limited voltage isolation: The thin dielectric layer in IMS PCBs provides less voltage isolation than the ceramic base in DBC substrates.

Applications of IMS PCBs

IMS PCBs are used in a wide range of power applications, including:

  • Industrial motor drives
  • Automotive electronics
  • Power supplies
  • LED lighting


1. How do I choose the right high-conductivity PCB for my application?

The choice of high-conductivity PCB depends on several factors, including the power level, voltage requirements, thermal performance needs, and design constraints. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type and consult with a PCB manufacturer to determine the best option for your specific application.

2. Can high-conductivity PCBs be used in high-frequency applications?

Yes, high-conductivity PCBs can be used in high-frequency applications. However, designers must consider the effects of the metal substrate on signal integrity and electromagnetic interference (EMI). Proper layout techniques and material selection can help mitigate these issues.

3. Are high-conductivity PCBs more expensive than traditional FR-4 PCBs?

Yes, high-conductivity PCBs are generally more expensive than traditional FR-4 PCBs due to the specialized materials and manufacturing processes involved. However, the improved thermal performance and reliability offered by high-conductivity PCBs can lead to cost savings over the life of the product.

4. Can high-conductivity PCBs be used in combination with other thermal management techniques?

Yes, high-conductivity PCBs can be used in conjunction with other thermal management techniques, such as heat sinks, thermal interface materials, and forced air cooling. By combining these methods, designers can create even more effective thermal management solutions for their power devices.

5. Are there any environmental concerns with using high-conductivity PCBs?

Some high-conductivity PCBs may contain materials that are subject to environmental regulations, such as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. It is essential to work with a PCB manufacturer that is compliant with relevant environmental standards and can provide documentation to support the compliance of their products.


High-conductivity PCBs are a critical component in the thermal management of power devices. By understanding the three main types of high-conductivity PCBs – Metal Core PCBs, Direct Bonded Copper substrates, and Insulated Metal Substrates – designers can select the most appropriate solution for their specific application. Each type offers unique advantages and disadvantages in terms of thermal performance, electrical isolation, design flexibility, and cost.

As power devices continue to push the limits of performance and power density, the role of high-conductivity PCBs in thermal management will only become more important. By staying informed about the latest developments in PCB technology and working closely with experienced PCB Manufacturers, designers can create power devices that are efficient, reliable, and capable of meeting the demands of today’s most challenging applications.