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Flatpack Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor Lifetime & Reliability Calculator

Links to the Flatpack applet:

Double Applet (recommended for large screens such as desktop and laptop computers)

Single Applet (recommended for smaller screens such as tablet computers)

Sections to Intro:

· New Calculators! New Features

· Overview

· How the Applet Works

· About JavaScript

· Browser Requirements

· Using the Applet Effectively

· Special Notes for the Flatpack Applet

· Applet Limitations and Cautionary Notes

· Legal Disclaimer

New Calculators! New Features!

Cornell Dubilier is in the process of developing new life modeling tools with increased functionality and ease of use compared to the Java life-modeling applets we first deployed in 1999. These new calculators offer new capabilities without requiring browser plug-in's such as Java or Flash, while preserving the look and feel of the legacy calculators. We have avoided the Java security and compatibility issues altogether by re-writing the code purely in HTML and JavaScript. Of course, you must keep JavaScript enabled in your browser, which is generally the default setting. While our old calculators only supported Internet Explorer, these new calculators have been developed for and tested in Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Safari and Microsoft Edge. They even work on smart phones and tablets, including iPhones and iPads.

The Flatpack modeling applet models the lifetime of our Flatpack style electrolytic capacitors, from the legacy 85 ºC rated aluminum-cased MLP and 125 ºC stainless-steel-cased MLS to the newer, longer-lifetime MLSG and its slimmer (25.4 vs 44.5 mm width) MLSG-S, to the glass-to-metal, hermetically sealed MLSH. All five of these series (“types”) have 12 mm pitch, but there are two additional, even newer series of capacitors, the 85 ºC rated Type THA which offers up to 1 J/cc energy density, and its stainless-sleeved brother the THAS, rated to 105 ºC. The THA and THAS series feature 8.2 and 9.0 mm pitches, respectively.

Tool Tips explain the purpose of each button or field in the applets as they are pointed to with the mouse. Once the user gains familiarity, this feature may be turned off by unchecking the Tool Tips checkbox in the applets. Message boxes are more informative and easier to read and to close. There's a feature in these Tool Tips that displays the 85 ºC load-life ripple current and temperature when the mouse hovers over the CDE part number.

Another feature is that reliability (MTBF) and failure rate (FIT) as well as core-to-case and case-to-ambient thermal resistances are displayed right on the calculator output field. Hovering the mouse over the lifetime in hours displays the lifetime in years.

There is a feature in the double applets that allows you to copy the information from the left pane to the right or vice-versa; just click the arrow button corresponding to the desired copy direction. This is great for playing "what-if" scenario analysis in order to home in on the best solution to your application challenges. In fact, we recommend always using the "double applets" if you are using a desktop monitor. The "single applets" are best only for small screens in portrait format, such as tablet computers.

For the Flatpack life calculator applets, the sequence for modeling the capacitor is fairly straightforward. You may first choose one of our prismatic capacitor types from the drop-down list. Our types are listed in order of their development and release time period, and the ToolTip over each Type in the dropdown list will display the features of each series such as rated lifetime, temperature and range of voltages and case sizes that are available in the series. After the type series is chosen, select the rated voltage and then the length. The Flatpack Applet native units are metric, but there is a ToolTip that displays the English equivalents. Presently there is only one capacitance available in the chosen type, voltage and length combination, and it will be automatically selected; otherwise a list of case sizes will be displayed so you can choose. The part number and typical ESR will be displayed. Mousing over the part number displays the rated load-life ripple current.

The database search occurs automatically in the background and is much faster than the previous Java applets, generally milliseconds instead of seconds.

You can type over and replace the calculated ESR at either or both frequencies at the calculated core temperature if you uncheck the "Calc ESR?" box. This feature can enhance the applet's accuracy if you have measured the actual ESR of our capacitor at the temperature and frequency. Otherwise the applet displays its automatically-calculated ESR's so you can see the effects of frequency and temperature.


This is a JavaScript applet that calculates temperature rise above ambient from the capacitor's thermal resistances and the ripple-current power. Then it calculates the expected operating life for the core temperature, adjusted for ESR increase over life.

How the applet works

The applet calculates core temperature based on a new Lumped-Parameter Thermal Model. The model parameters are based on extensive thermal tests and our latest finite element analysis thermal models. These build off of earlier techniques discussed at:

First, the applet calculates axial and radial thermal resistances from the core of the capacitor element using the capacitor element size, can size and type of construction. It also calculates the thermal resistance from the four can side walls to the ambient air if no heatsink is applied, or to an isothermal heatsink if the heatsink option for that side is chosen. It expresses the thermal loop equations in terms of these many resistances, the generated power, and the air temperature to obtain the core temperature.

To calculate the dissipated power caused by the ripple current, the applet first calculates the ESRs at Frequency 1 and Frequency 2 at room temperature. Then it calculates the power and ESRs at actual core temperature as an iterative loop including both the electrical and thermal circuits because the ESR depends on the core temperature, the core temperature depends on the power and the power depends on the ESR. The total power is the sum of the two ripple-current powers.

Finally, the applet calculates average core temperature over life by bumping the temperature rise up 50% to adjust for possible ESR increase during life. While room-temperature ESR can more than double during a capacitor's life, the hot ESR increases more slowly, and we believe that increasing the delta-T by 50% is a reasonable approximation to the expected average increase in the hot ESR over its lifetime.

The applet calculates expected life as Lb x Mv x 2^((Tmax-Tcore)/10) where Lb is the base life, Tmax is the maximum permitted core temperature, Mv is a voltage-derating multiplier and Tcore is the average core temperature over life. See the Application Guide in our Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors catalog and on our website for a full discussion of this approach:

About JavaScript

JavaScript is a scripting language with C-like syntax and is ubiquitous to web browsers. The applet itself is downloaded to your computer and the execution and modeling takes place locally on your computer.

The implementation of JavaScript varies slightly from browser to browser, but the life calculator applets have been tested in recent releases of the five most popular browsers as of 2015. The slight variations from one browser to another are generally in applet appearance (e.g., sizes of fonts and textboxes) and should not yield different life predictions. In Opera we have observed that the text fields do not highlight when the user enters an invalid entry.

Browser requirements

This applet requires a recent browser for full performance. We recommend using Chrome, Firefox, Edge browsers of 2015 or later vintage. Opera and Safari also appear to work satisfactorily.

If your browser allows enabling and disabling of JavaScript, obviously this setting must be enabled.

Using the applets effectively

The “double’” side-by-side applets are useful not only in comparing different capacitor types such as the MLS vs MLSG, but also in determining what ESR and life characteristics are needed. For example, if the typical ESR is 38 milliohms and the life of a MLS in your conditions is too low, you may play what-if and evaluate a higher-grade capacitor such as an MLSG. Alternatively, if even the long-life MLSG cannot handle your ripple current load, you can experiment with case size, airflow, and heatsinking. If the estimated lifetime is close but not quite what you need, you can even lower the hot ESR's by manually entering them, and advise us of the lifetime requirements and application conditions. You can e-mail via your design to us using copy/paste from the Printable Form, or alternatively use a screen cap. Be sure to include your name, company name, address, phone and e-mail address in your inquiry, along with your specific questions. We'll promptly propose a capacitor for your requirements.

Air is assumed to contact the parts of the can that are not attached to a heatsink. Adjust air speed if a significant portion of the can is insulated, or add to the thermal resistance characteristics on the corresponding surface of the heatsink. Use 0 m/s for free convection cooling, and higher values for forced airflow, up to 25 m/s (approximately 5000 LFM).

The 'Printable Form' command button below the applet(s) opens a new browser window with the applet results displayed as a text summary which can be saved as a text file or readily printed or cut/paste into an e-mail, etc. This form adds some additional information such as the rated ripple current, ESR limit, and gives the lifetime model results in units of both hours and years. Also, both metric and English units are displayed in the summary.

Our aluminum electrolytic capacitors are often used in DC link applications where there are usually two groups of frequency harmonics, those drawn from the rectified mains and supplied to the inverter. The frequency and temperature variation of the ESR of a capacitor is discussed in our paper at:

and has two predominant terms, one fairly constant with frequency and the other proportional to 1/f. Therefore the ESR typically decreases with increasing frequency. The applets allow for the application of two frequencies, so the best approach is to enter an rms current value for Ripple 1 that accounts for all low-frequency harmonics and enter an rms value for Ripple 2 that accounts for all high-frequency harmonics. Note that entering the fundamental frequency values of the rectified mains ripple (i.e. twice the mains frequency for single-phase and six times the mains frequency for three-phase) and of the inverter switching rate will generally be a good approach, as it will be slightly conservative.

Note: The single applet displays one instance of the applet in the browser window and is better for small or low-resolution monitors or for portrait-orientation displays such as tablets, while the double applet displays two instances of the applet to facilitate side-by-side comparison and parameter transfer of results from different capacitor and thermal scenarios.

Bookmark this page and return as often as you like for your capacitor life calculations. We'll be adding additional prismatic form factor capacitor series throughout the coming years.

Special Notes for the Flatpack Capacitor Applet

Our Flatpack capacitor types are able to offer very impressive ripple current performance if heatsinking is used, compared to the ripple ratings in natural convection. In fact, in some cases, the limitation to the ripple current is not an excessive core temperature but rather the current-carrying capability of the capacitor leads, which is 20 amps for most of the Flatpack series, except 15 amps for the smaller-leaded THA and THAS series.

When a heatsink is specified, the heatsink isothermal temperature must be specified in the “Heatsink Temp (ºC)” field. This may be the same as the “Air Temperature (ºC)” field, or it may be different. If these two user-specified temperatures are the same, the case-to-ambient thermal resistance is meaningful and will be reported. If these temperatures are different, then only the core-to-case thermal resistance is reported.

Applet Limitations and Cautionary Notes:

The applet comprises three models: impedance, thermal, and life. None of these models is perfect or exact. Since lifetime is an exponential function of temperature, the error in predicting the life will be an exponential function of the error in predicting the core temperature. The ESR and thermal models (core heat rise above the ambient temperature) are generally each within 15% but have sometimes erred as much as 30%. For most applications where the ripple current is modest, this error does not cause an appreciable reduction in accuracy, but when the initial core rise is over 20 ºC, the possible error in calculating the lifetime can be significant. Another source of error may arise when multiple capacitors are used in a bank or when the capacitors are placed in proximity to other hot components. These effects should be taken into account when entering the ambient air temperature around the capacitor. We encourage you to use the applet as a tool of modeling effects of airflow and capacitor characteristics, but we strongly recommend that you follow up with evaluating actual capacitors with thermocouples, especially if you are designing close to the performance limits. The same cautions apply even more when heatsinking is used. It is very important to verify that the core temperature is really running as cool as the model predicts, because temperatures errors are exponentiated into lifetime prediction errors.

Also, note that there is little or no conservatism built into the applet, and the typical ESR is not a maximum ESR limit, so remember to look at what the performance would be if the ESR were 40% higher than typical. Even though today's aluminum electrolytic capacitors are far advanced compared to the glycol-borate capacitors of the 1970's, the physics are essentially the same, and therefore the same old rules of thumb about 'lytics still apply: Derate the voltage and don't run them really hot if you want long life, good reliability, and robustness. Derating the DC voltage allows capacitors to handle line surges in modern systems with poor power quality, even when the capacitors are hot. Ensuring the capacitors run well below maximum temperature rating will not only make them last longer by extending the wearout period, but will also keep your system out of trouble resulting from random capacitor failures. Our Flatpack aluminum electrolytic capacitors will generally run at failures rates in the 1-30 FIT (failures per billion unit hours) range at rated voltage, 45 ºC, but like wearout (life), the reliability is an exponential function of temperature, and a large bank (say 32 capacitors) running near rated voltage at 100 ºC is a recipe for a high rate of field failure, like 10% per year system failure rate. A discussion of our lifetime and reliability models may be found at:

This applet is only valid for Cornell Dubilier capacitors, as our construction and characteristics are unique.

The lifetime is calculated on the assumption of continuous duty. If the capacitor is only energized a few hours per day or only one day per week, it may last longer than predicted due to benefits from the reduced duty cycle. However, extended periods (e.g. years) with no application of DC bias exposes the capacitor to "Shelf Effect" which may cause deterioration in certain properties and may cause reduced reliability during subsequent initial charge-up. Generally storage for up to 5 years at up to 40 ºC is permissible without the requirement of re-aging or reconditioning the capacitors. For further information please contact us.

Capacitors with low applied stress will last a very long time. Although we are not aware of ultimate limitations to our life models, please note that lifetime predictions longer than 200,000 hours (23 years) have not yet been validated and are displayed as a relative figure-of-merit only.

Legal Disclaimer:

The CDE Capacitor Thermal/Life Calculator applets are not a contract, license, or authorization of any kind. Specifications and model are subject to change without notice. Cornell Dubilier assumes no liability on accuracy, completeness or suitability for any application. The only warranty is the one-year, application express warranty (copy available upon request).