Environmental chambers, also frequently called environmental test chambers and sometimes called climatic or climate chambers, are test chambers that assess product quality and reliability. In order to do so, chambers replicate certain environmental conditions within an enclosed space, where they monitor and evaluate the long term impact of these conditions on the product inside. Common environmental conditions that chambers simulate include normal and extreme pressures, altitudes, temperatures and humidities. By subjecting products and equipment to extreme environmental conditions and changes, manufacturers are able to catch and correct weaknesses and flaws before they are sent on to their chosen markets.
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Purpose of Environmental Chambers
Environmental chambers have applications within several industries, such as: construction, pharmaceuticals, medical processing, food processing, automotives, engineering, consumer goods and services and packaging. Generally, environmental chambers are used to test objects like biological items, electronic products and components and industrial products. Specifically, some products that undergo testing include: makeup, medicines, car parts, cigarettes and kitchen appliances. How exactly are these items tested for effectiveness and durability? Well, medicines, for example, can undergo temperature testing in environmental chambers called temperature chambers, where manufacturers determine their optimum storage temperature. Or, take the example of car parts. Car parts are often placed in chambers where they are subjected to changing levels of salt spray and humidity; this allows automotive manufacturers to test the corrosion resistance of their parts and products. Kitchen appliances can undergo a variety of tests that gauge their durability. Vibration tests, for example, can reveal how well they respond to extended periods of vibration.
Design of Environmental Chambers
Test chambers range widely in size and design, thanks to the vast range of the product sizes and applications they serve. They range from, at their largest, drive-in chambers that fit aircrafts, to, in the middle, complex walk-in chambers, to, at their smallest, simple benchtop chambers. Most test chambers also have some kind of viewing access point, whether that be a physically accessible area, like a viewpoint such as a window, or a remotely accessible area, like viewing feed displayed in a control room. In addition, some test chambers have a "reach-in" capability that allows an engineer to reach into the chamber to handle the material inside. Controls are another variable feature of environmental chambers. The choices available range from simple analog indicators to modernized digital readouts displayed on LCD screens. Environmental chambers may also be controlled via a computer, network or web-enabled program. Furthermore, they may or may have interior visual lighting installed.
Other conditions that environmental chambers replicate include: thermal shock (caused by sudden and extreme temperature variations), electromagnetic radiation, dust and sand, rain, vacuums, UV degradation (caused by sun exposure) and weathering. They can also replicate multiple conditions at once, since often, in the real life of a product, one exposure, such as heat, will accompany another, such as humidity. Thermal shock, radiation and vacuum tests are all frequently used for the assessment of aerospace applications, like space shuttle components.
Standards and Specifications of Environmental Chambers
To suit the needs of the customer and ensure quality, environmental chambers may be manufactured to meet the requirements of any number of temperature control, construction or engineering tolerances standards, such as those set by: ASTM International, Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology (IEST), Underwriters Laboratory, Canadian Standards Association, NSF International, Factory Mutual, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (formerly known as the American Refrigerant Institute) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
Things to Consider When Choosing Environmental Chambers
The reliability of environmental test results are incredibly important, which is why the right choices of design and construction are so important as well. Consistency is key; the conditions of an environmental chamber should remain as uniform as possible. To maintain accuracy, it is important for operators to remember to calculate in any variances that may alter results, such as pre-existing environmental conditions, bers man-made interferences (which are to be avoided) and, if applicable, heat generated by interior lighting. Properly observed, calculated and evaluated testing results will offer invaluable information to product manufacturers. Armed with test results, they can fix flaws or faults and retest their products until they are ready to be released. With higher quality products, manufacturers will save on potential repair costs and they will have fewer warranty reimbursements to process. The purchase and use of environmental chambers, while somewhat expensive and tedious, are important steps for any serious business to take, because consumer safety and satisfaction are crucial to success. What’s more, the savings from the results of proper testing quickly outstrip the purchase cost of test chambers. having to process fewer warranty reimbursements.