In this paper we investigate the source of failure in commercial, microchannel cooled CW diode bars placed in 12 bar horizontal arrays. The arrays were used to pump Nd:YAG rods in our 10 kW developmental laser. The laser was operated at low duty factor over a period of over 2 years. Experimental evidence indicated that the sudden, catastrophic failure was because of degraded cooling. We used optical microscopes, an X-ray microfocus imager, and a thermal neutron scattering camera to look inside the microcoolers. Our investigations revealed only one possible failure mechanism: cooling flow reduction because of delamination of the Au coating the walls of the microcoolers and the entrapment of Au flakes within the microchannel structures. We observed blisters in the microcoolers under working bars, and flake-like structures in the microcoolers under burnt-out bars (all taken from the laser). We observed no evidence of either massive blockages because of electrochemical deposits, or of corrosion/erosion in the microchannel walls. Integral operation times of the high flow-rate cooling system and of the diodes themselves were too short by one and two orders of magnitude, respectively, to explain the observed failures. Microchannel immersion times in the deionized water were, however, long enough to allow for corrosion of metals that may have been exposed through defects in the Au coatings. Three-dimensional heat flow simulations showed that blockage of multiple microchannels towards the edge of a bar can easily lead to catastrophic temperature increases. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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