LTspice: SOAtherm Support for PCB and Heat Sink Thermal Models

The SOAtherm model distributed with LTspice software and simplifies Hot Swap and Surge Stopper designs by verifying directly within a circuit simulation that a particular MOSFET’s Safe Operating Area (SOA) is not exceeded. This article assumes a basic understanding of the SOAtherm model. If you are not familiar with SOAtherm, please refer to LTspice: Modeling Safe Operating Area Behavior of N-channel MOSFETs.

Typically, a circuit designer uses the LTspice SOAtherm-NMOS symbol standalone to verify that a particular MOSFET’s SOA is suitable for a given application; no additional heat sink or PCB thermal model is necessary. However, in some particularly demanding applications, especially those where high power transients last longer than 10 milliseconds, it may be desirable to take advantage of the extra thermal capacity and dissipation provided by a heat sink or the PCB. Previously, this was implemented by connecting a resistor-capacitor network to the SOAtherm-NMOS model’s Tc pin.

Now, with the SOAtherm-PCB and SOA-HeatSink symbols, it is possible to model heat sink and PCB thermal behavior by specifying a few physical parameters rather than calculating an array of component values from formulas.


To use the SOAtherm-PCB symbol, connect it to the Tc pin of the SOAtherm-NMOS symbol as shown below.

SOAtherm-PCB Symbol

In most simulations, it is only necessary to provide the following information:

Parameter Description Examples
Area_Contact_mm2 Area of the exposed pad/tab that contacts the PCB (mm2) Power-SO8: 15, D2PAK: 70
Area_PCB_mm2 PCB copper area dedicated to MOSFET power dissipation (mm2) 50mm × 50mm: 2500
Copper_Thickness_oz PCB copper thickness (ounces) 1 oz. copper plane: 1
Tambient Ambient Temperature (°C) 85°C: 85
LFM Airflow (LFM) 100LFM: 100
PCB_FR4_Thickness_mm Thickness of the PCB (mm) 2mm thick FR4: 2

When using the SOAtherm-PCB symbol, a conservative practice is to change the SOAtherm-NMOS RthetaJA parameter to a large value, such as 1k, to eliminate the MOSFET’s default power dissipation value from the simulation.

SOAtherm-PCB Component Attributes

Keep in mind that thermal behavior, especially with airflow, involves complex interactions between many variables. While SOAtherm-PCB is a useful tool in the circuit designer’s arsenal, it is not meant as a substitute for more sophisticated software that implements finite element analysis of a PCB layout in conjunction with three-dimensional airflow behavior and radiation to adjacent components.


To use the SOAtherm-HeatSink model, connect the symbol to the Tc pin of the SOAtherm-NMOS symbol.

SOAtherm-HeatSink Symbol

You can specify whether the heat sink is copper or aluminum by right-clicking on the heat sink symbol, and then double-clicking on the “SpiceModel” field to produce a drop-down menu.

SOAtherm-HeatSink Symbol Component Attributes

In most simulations, you only need to provide the following information:

Parameter Description Examples
Area of the MOSFET tab that contacts the heat sink (mm2) TO-220: 100, TO-3P: 200
Volume_mm3 The total volume of copper or aluminum that forms the heatsink (mm3) Aavid ML26AAG TO-220 heat sink: 1800
Rtheta Thermal resistance of heatsink including airflow (°C/W). Do not include the interface material’s resistance Aavid ML26AAG TO-220 heat sink with 200 feet per minute of airflow: 10
Rinterface (optional) Thermal resistance of the interface material (°C/W). Default is (100°C/W) / Area_Contact_mm2 100mm2 of Bergquist Sil-Pad 400: 7
Tambient Ambient Temperature (°C) 85°C: 85

Note that Rtheta is the thermal resistance found in the heat sink datasheet and includes the effects of airflow. For example, in the Aavid ML26AAG datasheet, the following plot is provided.

Aavid ML26AAG Thermal Resistance Plot

At 200 feet per minute air velocity, the thermal resistance is 10°C/W.

With this information, the SOAtherm-HeatSink model is able to provide a first-order estimate of the transient thermal behavior of the heat sink. It is not meant to replace more sophisticated finite element software.

Advanced Topics

The above information is sufficient to begin running SOAtherm-PCB and SOAtherm-HeatSink simulations, but the diligent engineer will soon question what is being modeled and what simplifications have been made.

SOAtherm-HeatSink model

The SOAtherm-HeatSink model is fairly straightforward. It pretends that the heat sink forms a bar of copper or aluminum with a cross section that matches the contact area of the MOSFET tab (Area_Contact_mm2). The length of the bar is determined from the specified volume of the metal (Volume_mm3) divided by the contact area. The thermal interface material (thermal grease, sil-pad, etc.) is modeled by a single resistor of the value provided by the Rinterface parameter. If that parameter has not been specified, a default value is calculated based on (100°C/W) / Area_Contact_mm2. The opposite end of the bar connects to the ambient environment through a single resistor of value Rtheta. That models the power dissipation to the environment, as described above.

Since the bar is modeled as a series of resistor-capacitor taps in a Cauer thermal model, the transient as well as steady state behavior is reflected in this simple model.

SOAtherm-PCB model

The SOAtherm-PCB model assumes that the PCB has only a single layer of copper on one side of the PCB, and the total area of that copper is defined by the Area_PCB_mm2 parameter. The copper is modeled as a circle with the MOSFET in the center. The copper circle is further divided into ten concentric circles, with the smallest circle’s inner radius determined by the Area_Contact_mm2 parameter. The SOAtherm-PCB thermal model lumps each circle’s thermal resistance and thermal capacity into an R-C pair forming one of the ten taps of the Cauer thermal model.

The power is assumed to dissipate from the top and the bottom of the PCB through both convection and radiation. The convection and radiation are modeled independently at each of the ten taps of the Cauer model described above. This provides a more accurate result than closed form equations that attempt to describe convection and radiation of an entire PCB.

Note that a natural convection (no airflow) heat transfer coefficient value of 1.1625e-5 W/(°C•mm2) is assumed in the default convection model. This value may vary depending on the structure shape, orientation of the PCB, laminar vs. turbulent airflow, etc. If desired, this value may be overridden with the hconv0 parameter.

Airflow is modeled by adjusting the heat transfer coefficient of the convection model according to the equation below:

hconv = hconv0 (1 + 0.013 • LFM0.8)

A complete set of parameters that can be used with the SOAtherm-PCB model are listed below. In most cases, only the subset of parameters listed in the previous section of this document are necessary.

Parameter Description Examples
Area_Contact_mm2 Area of the exposed pad (or tab) that contacts the PCB (mm2) Power-SO8: 15, D2PAK: 70
Area_PCB_mm2 PCB copper area dedicated to MOSFET power dissipation (mm2) 50mm × 50mm: 2500
Copper_Thickness_oz PCB copper thickness (ounces) 1 oz. copper plane: 1
Tambient Ambient Temperature (°C) 85°C: 85
LFM Airflow (LFM) 100LFM: 100
PCB_FR4_Thickness_mm Thickness of the PCB (mm) 2mm thick FR4: 2
 Enable_Radiation Used to enable or disable the modeling of thermal radiation. Values greater than zero enable radiation. Default 1 (Enabled).  Disable Radiation: 0

Enable Radiation: 1
 TambientRadiation The temperature of the target of the thermal radiation model (°C). Default Tambient.  85°C target: 85
 TambientConvection The temperature of the ambient environment used in the convection model (°C). Default Tambient.  85°C ambient environment: 85 
 emissivity The emissivity of the PCB used in the thermal radiation model. Default 0.8.  Soldermask: 0.8

Oxidized copper: 0.8

Polished copper: 0.05
 hconv0  Specifies the natural convection (no airflow) heat transfer coefficient used in the convection equation. Default 1.1625e-5 W/°C∙mm2. 1.1625E-5 

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Dan Eddleman

Dan Eddleman is an analog engineer with over 15 years of experience at Linear Technology as an IC designer, the Singapore IC Design Center Manager, and an applications engineer.

He began his career at Linear Technology by designing the LTC2923 and LTC2925 Power Supply Tracking Controllers, the LTC4355 High Voltage Dual Ideal Diode-OR, and the LTC1546 Multiprotocol Transceiver. He was also a member of the team that designed the world’s first Power over Ethernet (PoE) Controller, the LTC4255. He holds two patents related to these products.

He subsequently moved to Singapore to manage Linear Technology’s Singapore IC Design Center, overseeing a team of engineers that designed products including Hot Swap controllers, overvoltage protection controllers, DC/DC switched-mode power supply controllers, power monitors, and supercapacitor chargers.

Upon returning to the Milpitas headquarters as an applications engineer, Dan created the Linduino, an Arduino-compatible hardware platform for demonstrating Linear Technology’s I2C- and SPI-based products. The Linduino provides a convenient means to distribute C firmware to customers, while also providing a simple rapid prototyping platform for Linear Technology’s customers.

Additionally, in his role as an applications engineer, he conceived of the LTC2644/LTC2645 PWM to VOUT DACs, and developed the XOR-based address translator circuit used in the LTC4316/LTC4317/LTC4318 I2C/SMBUS Address Translators. He has applied for patents related to both of these products. Dan has also developed multiple reference designs that satisfy the onerous MIL-STD-1275 28V military vehicle specification.

Dan continues to study Safe Operating Area of MOSFETs, and has created software tools and conducts training sessions within Linear Technology related to SOA. His SOAtherm model distributed with LTspice allows customers to simulate MOSFET SOA within their Hot Swap circuit simulations using thermal models that incorporate Spirito runaway.

He received an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and B.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering from the University of California, Davis.