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What Is Environmental Testing?

An image of an environmental chamber floating above an image with a cold snowy landscape on the left and hot sunny landscape on the right.

Environmental testing is an essential practice that cannot be overlooked. Whether your business deals with manufacturing products or consumer goods, conducting thorough environmental testing is crucial. That includes packaging, electronics, pharmaceuticals, automotives, aerospace, defense and military, energy storage, and medical devices, as well.

Otherwise, you open your company up to expensive litigation, increase the risk of undermining your brand’s integrity, and miss out on the competitive advantages that come with environmental testing.

It’s integral to becoming an innovative leader in your industry. Plus, most commercial industry regulations require some form of environmental testing.

What Is Environmental Testing?

Environmental testing is the process of evaluating products under different climatic conditions and mechanical stressors that products are likely to experience during their lifetime. Sometimes called climatic testing, this rigorous process exposes weaknesses in a product’s design or performance that could occur in service, particularly at extreme levels.

Labs use test chambers to evaluate the performance, durability, reliability, and safety of products and materials under different climatic scenarios.

Organizations’ environmental testing varies significantly depending on their industry, products, and standards to which they’re testing (such as those set by the ASTM, IEC, ISO, and more).

Testing may include the following aspects:

Cycling: Cycling involves exposing devices under test (DUTs) to alternating conditions, such as extreme temperatures or high and low humidity. This can be done quickly or over time in what’s called ‘soaking,’ maintaining set conditions then swiftly shifting the conditions.

Steady-state testing: The nature of steady-state testing, also known as stability testing, is right in its name. Organizations expose DUTs to the same conditions for a set period of time.

Thermal shock testing: The key difference between thermal shock testing and cycling is time. In thermal shock testing, DUTs are rapidly transferred between two zones, set to extreme, opposite conditions. Thermal shock testing can also include a third ambient zone.

Corrosion testing: A salt spray chamber creates corrosive conditions. This is particularly important to identify the performance of phosphated surfaces (with subsequent paint/primer/lacquer/rust preventive); zinc and zinc-alloy plating (see also electroplating); electroplated chromium, nickel, copper, and tin; coatings not applied electrolytically (such as zinc flake coatings); organic or paint coatings, and batteries.

Companies can also incorporate sand, dust, and vibrations, or simulate altitude as part of their environmental testing. No matter the conditions, though, they rely on environmental test chambers for precise control.

Types of Environmental Test Chambers

Central to environmental testing, environmental test chambers are designed to simulate the environmental conditions that a device under testing (DUT) may be exposed to during use. Also known as climatic chambers, test chambers can simulate temperature extremes, humidity, salt spray, vibration, and other environmental factors.

These highly sophisticated pieces of equipment are also used for further research and development, for instance, in extending the charge range of electric vehicle (EV) batteries and to conduct work in university labs.

Often equipped with heating and refrigeration systems, water demineralizers, forced air circulators, remote monitoring technology, and a humidity system in a self-contained workspace, environmental test chambers can create and control various environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, pressure, and mechanical stress for testing products or materials.

You’ll encounter a variety of environmental test chambers, each with a wide range of uses and purposes.

Temperature-only chambers create a wide range of temperatures from sub-zero to high heat and are often employed in temperature cycling and steady-state testing. These chambers can reach temperatures from -37°C to +180°C (-34.6°F to +356°F) with a single-stage compressor and -70°C to 180°C (-94°F to 356°F) with a cascade refrigeration system.

Temperature and humidity chambers give the user control of both the temperature and humidity levels inside a contained workspace. They have a standard temperature range matching a temperature-only chamber with a standard humidity range between 10% and 95% relative humidity. This range can be extended to 5% RH with the use of optional dry air or dry nitrogen purges.

Thermal shock chambers work by transferring the product between two or three separate conditioned zones. They are used for thermal shock testing to evaluate the resistance of the product to sudden temperature changes. They can typically create a wide range of temperatures from -73°C to +200°C (-99.4°F to +392°F).

Salt spray chambers expose DUTs to salt spray or corrosive gasses to simulate marine or industrial environments. As you might imagine, they are used for corrosion testing to evaluate the resistance of the product to harsh conditions.

Liquid-cooled ovens typically cool DUTs with liquid nitrogen (LN2) or liquid carbon dioxide (CO2). Also used for high-temperature testing, they can simulate temperatures from -184°C to +350°C (-299.2°F to +662°F).

Laboratory ovens are ideal for heating, drying, curing, batch processing applications, and more. Similarly, they are used for high-temperature testing and can reach temperatures ranging from +15°C to +350°C (+59°F to +662°F).

Walk-in and drive-in chambers accommodate large or otherwise bulky items, or large amounts of samples. As with the variety of smaller climatic chambers, they can create diverse environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity.

Radio frequency shielding chambers can block radio frequency energy inside and outside the workspace with independently certified attenuation performance. They are used for radio frequency shielding testing to evaluate the electromagnetic compatibility of products and devices.

Battery test chambers have a comprehensive collection of advanced safety features that enable organizations to safely and effectively test batteries. Some battery test chambers can be integrated with testing systems—such as the patented ATPPRIME or patent-pending ATPHEAVY ADAPTABLE— that accommodate nearly all cell types, including prismatic, cylindrical, and pouch.

These chambers are employed to evaluate the performance, safety, and reliability of the batteries under different environmental conditions while monitoring their electrical characteristics such as voltage, amperage, current, and capacity.

The Importance of Environmental Testing

Environmental testing is not only a crucial process for commercial industries to determine how well their products withstand different environmental conditions, but it can also help you comply with industry standards and regulations, improve your product design and quality, and gain a competitive edge in the market.

Naturally, this raises a few questions.

How do you conduct environmental testing effectively and efficiently? How do you find the right test chamber for your specific application? How do you monitor and control your test chambers remotely and conveniently? How do you extend the life and value of your test chambers?

An experienced environmental chamber manufacturer will help you navigate the purchasing process and help you find the proper solution.

If your lab is in need of an innovative ally with hyper-responsive customer service, then look no further than Associated Environmental Systems (AES®). With more than 65 years of experience as an industry leader in environmental testing, AES is well-equipped to help your lab succeed.

A pioneering manufacturer of environmental test chambers, AES test chambers are designed and manufactured to meet the highest standards in quality and reliability. We are UL and CSA certified and comply with various international testing standards. AES test chambers are also equipped with advanced technology such as AESONE CONNECT®, enabling remote monitoring and control of the test chambers from anywhere in the world. Saving your lab time and money.

AES can also retrofit other manufacturers’ chambers with AESONE CONNECT®, as well.

Through working with customers on the frontlines of today’s most demanding lab environments, Associated Environmental Systems is able to gain a first-hand understanding of the challenging environments in which our chambers must not just survive but thrive. Contact us today to learn more about which environmental testing solution is right for you.