Environmental Test Chambers: Make the Best Product Possible

by Rebekah Fuller, Editor at IQS

With your company’s reputation on the line, especially in this unstable economy, the functionality and reliability of your products need to be rock-solid. Whether you’re refining existing products or developing new, you can’t waste valuable time on the wrong product testing procedure. Beyond simply meeting the standards for your industry, you want to stand out from the competitors by offering superior performance for the long run. Proper environmental testing is key during research and development; you want the confidence of going to market with documented proof that your product is the best it can be. After all, consumers will love the great warranties you will be able to offer, and why leave the door open for costly, time-consuming recalls?

How do you know if your product should go through an environmental testing process? Well, will it ever be affected by temperature, humidity, altitude, vibration, solar UV rays, wind, rain, dust, electromagnetism, radio frequency interference or corrosive elements like salt spray? The question is not if you should test but rather which test chamber manufacturer to choose. Before you make your decision you will need to thoroughly define your unit under test (UUT), including weight, dimensions, quantity, orientation, average specific heat, surface area and live load, plus how your product will need to be loaded and/or mounted in the chamber. Of supreme importance is specifying the type and degree of conditions to which you want your product submitted, so you can receive the most relevant results to determine necessary modifications and improvements.

Some test chambers are meant to push products to the breaking point, as in Highly Accelerated Stress Testing, or HALT. This is generally done during the prototyping process to reveal any flaws in your basic design by rapidly cycling through the spectrum of temperature, shock and multi-axis vibrations. A similar form of testing is Highly Accelerated Stress Screening, or HASS; however, this is when the design integrity has been verified but production units still need to be screened regularly. Specific testing for electronics is called Environmental Stress Screening or ESS, which is done during the production process, not to do damage, but to speed up any defects that may occur, particularly in the solder joints, utilizing temperature, vibration and possibly humidity cycling. ESS is done alongside production to correct any defects before sending the products out to consumers.

Environmental testing is not all about how external factors affect the product; you should also be concerned with how your product will affect its surroundings under various conditions. For example, building materials should be tested for any pollutants they might emit. To avoid Sick Building Syndrome or SBS, including allergic reactions, which could prove very costly and just might get you sued, small environmental test chambers are ideal – accelerating the effects of environmental factors over time – to evaluate any toxin(s) that might be released from construction or ornamental building materials.

Emissions that manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment and devices have to deal with are electromagnetic waves from sources such as light, microwaves, x-rays and TV and radio transmissions. Regulations demand that digital devices give off a limited amount of radiated and conducted emissions; so manufacturers not only have to ensure that their products comply, but also that they can withstand incoming electromagnetic inference.

Successful manufacturers understand the extreme importance of proper environmental testing. General Motors dedicated 4,000 acres and 5,000 employees to its Milford, Michigan “Proving Ground”.

So, whatever environmental simulation you need to put your product through, there is a custom test chamber manufacturer ready to build to your specifications and offer testing consultation and services. And it makes me wonder how the test chamber manufacturers test their test chambers.

The smallest test chambers are generally referred to as bench top test chambers, which are compact and great for laboratory use. Many are similar in size and appearance to a microwave oven or a mini-fridge, and some are even clear boxes.

If you need to test a small amount of a substance or material or little products, components or sub-assemblies, no matter how rigorous the testing, these bench tops are a great choice.

For larger unit testing in industries such as automotive, electronic and aerospace, manufacturers offer walk-in testing rooms of various sizes.

Environmental rooms can also be engineered for maintaining sensitive objects such as photos and film, so you are able to satisfy all your controlled environment needs – from incubators and insect rearing chambers to machine testing enclosures, curing chambers and storage rooms.

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Environmental Chambers – Russells Technical ProductsEnvironmental Chambers – Cincinnati Sub-ZeroEnvironmental Chambers – Weiss Technik North America, Inc.