Can your product withstand expected environmental exposure? Testing in an environmental chamber simulates the climatic conditions and mechanical stresses that your product may experience during its lifetime. It also helps in simulating the life cycle environment that the product encounters. Therefore, the reliability and lifespan of your product can be checked by environmental testing.

All your questions about environmental testing are answered in today’s guide. Whether you want to know the definition, purpose, or benefits, you can find it all here. Read on to learn more.

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1. What is environmental testing?

What is environmental simulation testing? In short, the simulated test environment is to prepare for the actual use of the product. This is achieved by gaining as much testing experience and performance data as possible early in the product life cycle. For simulated environment testing, artificial environments are often created to determine the expected resilience of the test item.

A typical example of environmental simulation testing is testing satellite components. Components used in satellites are exposed to extreme temperature changes multiple times every 24 hours. When the module is exposed to direct sunlight, its temperature can reach as high as 120°C. They can get down to -100°C when they are in the shade.

A satellite orbiting the Earth approximately 14 times per day will experience over 50,000 thermal cycles between these extremes during its lifetime! Cycling between extreme conditions often changes material properties and wears down equipment prematurely.

Environmental Test guide

The component of a satellite most affected by thermal cycle abuse is the solar panel. Solar panels are made of multiple layers of material that are exposed directly to sunlight. This makes the part particularly susceptible to thermal stress.

Solar panels are also a very important component as they power the satellite, meaning that the useful life of any given satellite is directly dependent on how long the solar panels last during use. The longer the useful life of a satellite, the more cost-effective its operation will be. To predict the life expectancy of solar cells (also known as coupons), NTS tested different solar cells to simulate the temperature cycles they would experience in orbit.

In an environment test, they put some coupons in a chamber with a nitrogen atmosphere and heated them up using special lamps. After heating, we quickly cooled the nitrogen atmosphere to cool the samples. Multiple times in rapid succession, this process simulates roughly 1.5 times the number of thermal cycles expected over a satellite’s lifetime.

Certain types of coupons pass the test, while others don’t. As a result of our testing, we were able to identify the best candidate materials and exclude those that were most likely to experience unacceptable failures early on in the satellite’s lifecycle.

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2. Why Need Environmental Testing?

Environmental testing sounds simple in theory, but there are some real challenges when trying to design a product for its environment. How can engineers predict the performance of a particular product design before it will actually be used for a period of time? Designing for an operational environment is essentially educated guesswork without a carefully planned environmental testing strategy.

There is too much risk if you bring an untested or lightly tested product to market. Time to market, on the other hand, is a real concern for companies looking to remain competitive. In other words, companies don’t have enough time to build prototypes and test their life expectancy in normal use before bringing them to market. That’s why a better strategy is needed—preferably one that reliably and adequately accelerates the aging and wear and tear of test items.

There are several good reasons for your company to conduct environmental simulation testing, which is especially important to the overall success of your business. These reasons include:

1) Need to test

Testing against specific standards and requirements is almost always a requirement of doing business. Customers such as Boeing and Airbus require testing to DO-160 standards. DoD contracts require compliance testing to MIL standards such as MIL-STD-810 for any system or subsystem used in defense.

2) You want to stand out from the competition

Even if mil-spec testing is not required for your particular market, many consumer electronics and devices are still marketed as mil-spec compliant, giving them a distinct competitive advantage.

3) You want to avoid lawsuits

Many lawsuits are frivolous and utterly unjust. Few people want to argue that point, but lawsuits are a fact of life. Testing a product to ensure it meets specifications is the best way for a company to avoid lawsuits. That way, accidents due to product defects are less likely, and even if something goes wrong, the company can prove in court that it did its due diligence and should not be held liable for the failure.

4) The standard requires environmental testing

In some cases, there is no explicit requirement for environmental testing to meet legal or contractual requirements. However, to comply with established standards, you need to conduct environmental testing of your products. Voluntary adherence to established standards and certification against them will increase the marketability and credibility of your products, thereby gaining a competitive advantage over manufacturers who do not bother to test or certify their products.

5) You want to improve reliability or validate the design

You can identify many design flaws early in the design process so that designers can fix them or make improvements by using the simulation environment. Likewise, environmental testing can uncover defects in the manufacturing process, allowing your company to make necessary corrections and avoid excessive warranty claims in the future.

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6Plus are well-known examples of how environmental testing can uncover design flaws. These phones are notoriously prone to bending and breaking because people are used to keeping them in their back pockets. New designs should be evaluated in all environments, including the back pocket.

Environmental Test guide

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4. What are the benefits of environmental testing?

If environmental testing is not required by contract or law, the greatest benefit is increased product reliability and reduced risk associated with product development. But what about the cost?

The cost of some environmental tests can be quantified, while others cannot. Costs that can be quantified are the estimated cost of environmental testing plus the total cost of recalls, warranty claims, lost productivity, and other damage from defective products.

These are values that can be quantified from existing data. The benefits of environmental testing rely on business dynamics that did not exist prior to the implementation of the environmental testing program, and it is unlikely that competitors will share any internal data on these matters.

The best way to see if a simulated environment test plan is economically viable is to see if the estimated cost of testing is less than the total cost of failure. Simulated environment testing introduces negligible risk in the production lifecycle and also reduces overall risk.

An environmental testing program would allow companies to reduce product development time and costs simultaneously.  Once a product is developed, you should know the expected life of the product and be able to reduce the number of warranty claims due to quality improvements. This reduces maintenance and customer support costs. Sales also increase since better products tend to generate higher customer satisfaction. All of these benefits lead to greater profitability for your company.

To further reinforce this idea, clients tend to focus on negative traits rather than positive ones. Because bad news travels quickly and efficiently, you must invest in maintaining your name and reputation. One way to invest in maintaining your company’s name and reputation is to invest in continuous product improvement. To invest in continuous product improvement, you may consider investing in the types of testing that enable realistic design validation and facilitate effective quality control.

Properly validated products are less likely to be negatively impacted by lawsuits, bad reviews, negative press, and disgruntled customers.

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6. How is the simulated environment test carried out?

For decades, environmental test engineers have designed many types of tests aimed at simulating the type of wear and tear the environment would expect to cause on an item of interest. Typically, environmental simulation testing attempts to accelerate the wear process so that a given test item can experience the wear and tear of its entire life cycle in days or weeks. This is exactly what we achieved when we tested satellite solar cells.

From time to time, companies may utilize certain types of testing equipment to demonstrate the durability of their products. For example, Ford Motors, even if you don’t build cars, different applications require different types of tests. This is where we come into play. In the field of simulated environmental testing, our engineers can simulate many types of conditions. Here are some examples.

1) Dynamic testing 

It is to test items under conditions such as acceleration, vibration, fatigue, impact, and drop. The basic idea is to apply various types of physical pressure to an item and see if the item can withstand it. In addition to swinging a pickup on a centrifuge, we can simulate the stresses involved in rocket launches, fast flight maneuvers, shocks, pressure changes, and more. We can even design special tests for special applications.

2) EMC/EMI Testing

Throughout history, electronic components have become smaller and more sensitive to electrical disturbances.  Other types of radiation can also affect certain types of electronic components. At the same time, electronic components have been used in more safety and mission-critical applications. Therefore, electrical and electronics engineers need to take special care to ensure that their designs are EMI-immune and fault-tolerant.

3) Materials and Chemical Testing

The best way to see if a material is suitable for its environment is to exaggerate the environmental conditions it will experience in a given application and see how the material changes its properties. During satellite solar panel testing, the goal is to determine whether the solar panel material can withstand repeated thermal cycles. Other environmental tests can measure corrosion or chemical resistance and response to UV exposure.

Testing hazardous materials is another category of materials and chemical testing. If a material is suspected to be hazardous, its properties need to be quantified and identified so that appropriate handling can be implemented.

Some known hazardous materials also need to be packaged in a manner that is safe for transport. The only way to determine if they are safe to ship is through environmental testing. To ensure nothing bad happens during transit, packages should be exposed to temperature changes, drops, shocks, vibrations, and simulated changes in altitude.

4) Other Types of Environmental Testing

Almost every type of testing involves manipulating environmental factors in order to determine whether a product is performing satisfactorily. Environmental testing is a broad category. Environmental simulation testing may involve changes in heat, pressure, humidity, moisture, UV exposure, weathering, etc., and these environmental simulations can be performed in conjunction with any combination of kinetic and material testing.

Environmental Test guide

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7. Conclusion

All laboratories are equipped to simulate different environmental conditions to find out the effect on product/component performance. According to IS, JSS, MIL, IEC, and other standards, it can simulate high temperature, low temperature, humidity, corrosion, low pressure, vibration, shock (repeatable and non-repeatable), and other environmental conditions. Get indoors in a multi-variable environment that simulates real-life usage conditions.

Linkotest can evaluate products/components for vibration, bump, shock, drop, topple, salt spray, splash, and rain tests. Ingress protection testing against water and dust is also possible.

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