Breaking Down the Cost of Test Chambers: What You're Paying For
It’s difficult to answer succinctly how much test chambers cost. They range so much in performance and size—from benchtop to walk- and drive-in models—that no single formula exists to help you calculate how much you should be paying for one. If you’re purchasing a new model, expect to spend a lot of money.
Instead of focusing solely on price tags, though, you should answer these questions: Do you anticipate conducting repeated, ongoing tests beyond the present? More importantly, what standards are you testing to?
The latter will determine your test chamber needs (including potential add-ons such as boost cooling), and the former will help you decide if it’s worth ponying up for a higher-performing model. It’s an important decision, one that requires collaboration from all parties involved as well as an experienced test chamber manufacturer.
We encourage you to read our test chamber buying guide. In the meantime, let’s look at some of the general testing options, when they make sense, and when you should consider an alternative.
Rate: $1,500/Day (Varies depending on test type)
Why You’d Outsource
The biggest reason you’d outsource testing to a lab is you don’t have in-house capabilities. Outsourcing gives you a short-term budget advantage over purchasing a test chamber (or investing in an engineering team) while also enabling you to focus on what your company does best. You can get the details of the product design and marketing just right and pass off testing to experts.
Some of the biggest names in the tech industry outsource their testing, so it’s not something that’s limited to smaller shops. Have a plan, know exactly what you need from a vendor, and make an educated decision.
Downsides of Outsourcing
Anytime you transfer control outside of your operations, you assume risks. Something could disrupt the testing lab, changing your timeline. If additional tests are required, or they need to be restarted, the costs add up quickly.
There’s also this: Liability stays with the manufacturer. That means if your battery catches fire, for example, your company is on the hook. That’s why vetting all serious vendors is so crucial.
Rate: $1,500/Month or More
Why You’d Rent
Renting is a popular option among startups. If you’re in the ‘proof of concept’ stage, you’ll invest resources into a lot of research and development testing upfront. Once you’re satisfied with the results, reassess your testing needs, and see if purchasing a test chamber is right for you.
Some manufacturers also offer rent-to-own test chambers that provide companies with another option to fit their budgets.
Downsides of Renting
You really have to stick to a strict timeline. Once you rent a test chamber for six months, you’ve hit the cost of purchasing a new one. Manufacturers also require you to continue preventative maintenance while the rental is in your lab. If you don’t have room in your budget and have the means to maintain the test chamber, then renting is your best option. If you find yourself renting multiple times a year, however, consider purchasing your own test chamber.
Used Test Chambers
Price: Varies Widely
Why You’d Buy a Used or Refurbished Test Chamber
The more research you put into finding an operational test chamber, the more cost effective the purchase could prove to be. On one end of the spectrum, reputable manufacturers offer previously rented models for sale (even if they don’t publicize it). On the other, you can take your chances on eBay.
If you’re working with a limited budget, trust your research and the seller, and plan to conduct less strenuous testing, a used or refurbished test chamber could be the right call. Besides, instrumentation and fixtures can be retrofitted, if necessary.
Downsides of Buying Used or Refurbished
For new test chambers, you can expect a 10- to 15-year operational lifespan. That’s not the case with used models, especially if the previous owners neglected proper maintenance. Even if the test chamber works well, you run the risk of needing to replace obsolete parts. Each cost to keep it operational (service, repairs, added fixtures) might make the purchase of a new chamber the better choice, even if it’s not reflected in the short term.
Standard New Models
Price: $14,000-$20,000 (Varies by test chamber type)
Why You’d Buy A Standard Model
Simply put, you get a test chamber that’s brand new from the manufacturer with support options: installation, service plans, and extended warranties (AES, for example, offers six months of free parts and labor). It’s a safer investment than going with a used model, and produces a better ROI than renting.
That’s the budgeting side. Let’s talk about performance. Consider AES’s LH-1.5 (part of the LH Series). It’s a benchtop, temperature and humidity chamber ideal for limited testing at steady temperature and humidity levels. If you expect those testing needs to stay the same over time, a standard model is a sound purchase.
Downsides of Buying Standard
New companies, in particular, tend to settle on buying test chambers that fit their current requirements without focusing on what’s to come. So if you suddenly need to test in extreme conditions with temperature cycling, you’ll wish you had a higher-performing test chamber.
Why You’d Buy A Higher-Performing Model
The highest-performing test chambers are built to conduct the most basic tests and the most rigorous. They enable repeated testing in extreme conditions. As such, they’re smart investments for companies who test often and whose testing needs might change over time.
Higher-performing models feature faster pulldown and ramp-up rates as well as compressors to support stress testing.
Downsides of Buying High-Performance Model
If you plan on limited testing over a short period, there’s probably little need to commit upwards of $20,000 to a test chamber that exceeds your requirements. There’s also a level of responsibility that comes with such a purchase. The test chambers require regular preventative maintenance and need to run even if it’s outside of testing. Think of a high-performance car that sits in a garage: You need to get it out on the highway to keep the systems strong.
Having said that, once you space out the costs over a 10-year period (theoretically, the life of the test chamber), it becomes a more palatable purchase, especially when you couple it with a service plan.
It comes down to educating yourself and the rest of your team. As with any large capital expense, the manufacturer matters. They can steer you in the right direction and provide maintenance that ensures the long-term operation of your test chamber.