Thermal Protection (decoder)

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Thermal protection is a method of protecting electronic devices from damage due to excessive heat.

Purpose of Thermal Protection

When current flows through an electrical or electronic device, some energy is lost in the form of heat. Excessive current can cause damage by creating excessive heat that the device cannot withstand.

Electronic devices do not like excessive heat. Long periods at elevated temperatures will degrade them, shortening their lifespan. Excessive heat above their design limits will often shorten their life dramatically or lead to failure in a very short period of time.

Implementation

Thermal management is planned during the design of electronic devices. Laying out the components to allow for adequate airflow, selecting appropriate devices for the power they will handle, and the addition of passive and active cooling systems such as heatsinks and fans reduce the temperature of the device when in operation. Devices such as transistors and integrated circuits are easily damaged or destroyed by excessive heat, either created by their operation or the ambient temperature.

The thermal capability of a semiconductor can be increased by the addition of a heatsink, either by attaching it to a metal component such as the chassis, or by adding a small metal heatsink. Further improvements can be made by managing the air flow around the device.

Devices such as multifunction decoders are often installed in small spaces with limited airflow. As a result, thermal management becomes important. For further protection, some electronic devices such as regulators or integrated circuits include circuitry to monitor their temperature. Should the temperature exceed a design limit, the device is shut down to protect it from damage.

Some command stations/boosters have a visible heatsink as part of their enclosure. The heatsink relies on natural convection to eliminate heat produced by the power transistors driving the track bus. Some modellers add an additional fan for forced convection, further reducing the temperature. If the DCC system is enclosed, a fan forcing air in or drawing it out of the enclosure is beneficial, with appropriate vents.