How does an environmental test chamber work?

When you know that a given product will be used or installed outdoors and that it needs to withstand the harshest of elements, guessing or hoping for its success simply won't do. You need a solution that can help you determine the item's resilience.

An environmental test chamber can provide some much-needed intelligence. Used in a variety of industries – especially among automakers and parts manufacturers – an environmental test chamber is an enclosed space that essentially recreates conditions to determine how a subject will respond to those simulated conditions. These may include extreme heat, sub-zero temperatures, relative humidity, dew point or wet environments in which corrosion tends to thrive.

"Environmental test chamber manufacturers produce these units so business owners can more accurately judge the mettle of whatever it is that they're assessing."

Environmental test chamber manufacturers and environmental chamber suppliers produce a variety of these units – which come in many different sizes and shapes – so business owners can more accurately judge the mettle of whatever it is that they're assessing.

It raises a key question, though: How does an environmental chamber function, from a practical standpoint? In other words, what technologies or systems allow for the simulation of certain environments?

How does an environmental chamber work?
Describing how environmental test rooms go about assessing an item's resilience all depends on what the user wants to find out. For example, say the test subject in question is an automobile and the manufacturer wants to see if the high-grade aluminum it was installed with will be able to withstand corrosion, which typically develops over time as a result of wetness or acidic substances (e.g. road salt). To recreate such corrosive effects, an environmental test chamber may use salt spray, which coats the item in a fine mist by leveraging compressed air and a nozzle that channels the salt spray. This can be done at regularly occurring intervals to expedite the corrosion process, which under normal circumstances would happen on a much slower, more progressive basis.

The rate at which corrosion takes place can provide manufacturers with insight as to what additional treatments may be needed to increase the aluminum's resilience to chemical breakdown. A given make or model's resistance to corrosion can not only enhance the visual appeal of a motor vehicle, but the life of it as well. The lifespan of light cars and trucks on the road has risen consistently for several years in a row. Indeed, according to IHS Markit, the average age in the U.S. among light vehicles is 11.8 years.

"Better technology and overall vehicle quality improvements continue to be key drivers of the rising average vehicle age over time," said Mark Seng, directors of IHS Markit's automotive aftermarket division.

These quality improvements include corrosion resistance.

"Temperature chambers leverage electric heaters or refrigeration units to induce warmth or cold."

Temperature is another condition that environmental test chambers analyze. Temperature chambers leverage electric heaters or refrigeration units to induce warmth or cold, respectively. Maintaining a particular temperature over a prolonged period of time enables producers to see how the test subject responds to stress and whether cracking, for example, may result and the extent of that cracking. Unsurprisingly an environmental oven is used primarily for inducing warmth.

Altitude, sudden temperature changes – known more formally as thermal shock – electromagnetic radiation, weathering, and UV exposure are some of the other conditions that environmental test chambers can replicate to see how they might impact a given subject.

What items can be tested in test chambers?
Be it devices, components, materials or machinery, virtually anything that is physically tangible can enter a test chamber to undergo analysis. The goods that manufacturers develop run the gamut and are exposed to a variety of conditions. Whatever those happens to be, an environmental test chamber can replicate them and do so in an accelerated fashion so users can see how the item responds in real-time.

Generally speaking, telecommunications, auto manufacturers, aerospace and defense contractors tend to use environmental test chambers the most often, given what they deal with and develop on a daily basis. However, food manufacturers do as well in order to assess shelf life and the rate at which perishable items like fruits and vegetables spoil. Contractors and developers may also seek chamber equipment to stress test wood, aluminum siding or other building materials to see how they respond to weathering.

What is chamber insulation?
When it comes to maintaining the comfortable temperature of a house in the dead of winter or the oppressive heat of summer, its capability largely hinges on its insulation. Air naturally escapes, but insulation helps keep hot or cold air bottled up.

The same standard applies to environmental chambers. From urethane foam to fiberglass, the insulation that pads chamber equipment helps to maintain a constant temperature, humidity level or dew point so the results of testing can be more precise and representative of real-life situations. Environmental chamber manufacturers and suppliers must satisfy the standards and compliance protocols established by governing bodies, such as the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology, ASTM International and Underwriters Laboratories. These organizations may also have rules and methods that help ensure the units have the proper amount of airflow so conditions can be as representative of what is true to life. Airflow is especially important when analyzing relative humidity and how it affects a given test subject. Adequate air is also an important component to the formation of water droplets, which is another environment that a test chamber can recreate.

What kinds of environmental test chambers are there?
Environmental test chambers can recreate many different scenarios to stress test all types of products, tools and devices. However, there are some that are very specific in terms of what they test for. A classic example is a multi-gas test chamber. For instance, here at Auto Technology, our multi-gas test chambers perform moist sulfur dioxide tests to mimic some of the characteristics that are commonly found in certain industrial settings. We can simulate the manifestations of SO2 (e.g. acid rain) by leveraging state-of-the-art technology and adhering to the protocols of DIN 50017, DIN 50018 and ASTM G87 guidelines.

There are several styles or classifications of environmental test chambers. A few of the most common include reach-in, walk-in and thermal shock. Unlike reach-in chambers – which are by definition smaller in size – both walk-in as well as thermal shock chambers can be quite large, big enough to hold large pieces of equipment. And while a walk-in chamber may be able to run many different kinds of tests, a thermal chamber is usually confined to testing temperature extremes, both in Celsius or in Fahrenheit. Temperatures can go from well below freezing to the triple digits in mere seconds.

Why choose Auto Technology?
When it comes to seamlessly and accurately assessing the quality of your products, you can't settle for anything less but the best. That's why more companies choose Auto Technology for all of their corrosion and other environmental testing needs. With more than 1,200 cubic feet of available testing space, over 75 years of experience and access to testing equipment you won't find with original equipment manufacturers, we can customize the conditions that you're looking to examine so you can determine what you need to do to make your products top of the line. Our tests include, but are not limited to, salt spray, saltwater immersion, thermal shock, relative humidity, conductivity, UV exposure, gravity and cyclic corrosion. These relative humidities can range from a low of 10% to a high of 90%.

Plus, our testing procedures are in accordance with industry standards for automakers like Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and more.

However, if you're looking to replicate conditions or testing equipment that may be unusual or lesser-known, that's not a problem. We work with each client as if they are our one and only. We're not happy until you're happy.

For more information or to schedule a meeting, contact us today.