The Who, What and How of Temperature Chambers

From clean energy-producing windmills that bake under the searing sun, to NASA space shuttles that rip through the earth's atmosphere toward temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero, extreme conditions require resilient materials for assets to perform in punishing conditions. A temperature chamber is a type of climate chamber that can establish if said materials are built to withstand what the environment throws at it. If you've heard of a temperature chamber, or are unfamiliar with this kind of testing equipment, we'll walk you through some of the details of what it is, how it works and why Auto Technology is your one-stop destination for high quality environmental chambers and reliable, accurate performance testing results.

What is a temperature chamber?

A temperature chamber goes by many names, from temperature chamber, to test chamber, to environmental chamber. Regardless of its name, they all have one overarching purpose, which is to stress test an object's ability to withstand the effects of specific temperatures and temperature ranges – from the very hot, to the very cold to somewhere in between.

Think about all the items, features or pieces of equipment that are subjected to the unpredictabilities of the climate: street signs, lamp posts, turbines, solar panels, metal roofing, steel doors, copper wiring, playground equipment, swing sets … the list is endless. Manufacturers can't just guess or hope that their products will perform and last when they're under stress, and certainly not when they make guarantees that they're built to last. Developers have to be sure, or find a solution that will enable their materials to hold up if testing results suggest they don't have what it takes. A temperature chamber offers a glimpse into how specimens will respond by reproducing the conditions that said specimens are likely to encounter when installed, driven, placed, relocated or otherwise used. This is made possible by a test chamber being a controlled environment. The ability to introduce humidity, frigid cold air, hot air or intense moisture enables organizations to see the effects of weather in real time. But the tests have to be performed accurately – and the temperature test chamber must be of premiere quality for the test to be meaningful and truly reflective of what would occur in real life.

What specific industries or businesses make use of temperature chambers?

Product-based industries are typically the ones that get the most productive and informative use out of temperature chambers. Stakeholders take advantage of them to lengthen their products' lifespan so that they remain as productive and useful as possible. This translates to improved customer satisfaction for the user and also helps to lower operational expenses for producers.

Here are a few of the kinds of business that rely on temperature chambers:

  • Pharmaceutical makers
  • Medical device manufacturers
  • Automakers
  • Electronics developers
  • Federal government
  • Military
  • Telecommunications providers and manufacturers
  • Plastics makers
  • Lighting companies (e.g. light bulbs, light emitting diodes, headlights, flashlights, etc.)

From cell phones, fiber optics and switches in telecommunications to vinyl siding, composites and polymers in plastics, products need to be able to withstand a host of adverse conditions that can threaten their longevity. Temperature chambers provide businesses with the data they need to determine how long their products will stand to the test of time along with insight on what applications can  enhance their staying power. 

How does a temperature chamber work?

Similar to a corrosion chamber, the type of test performed within a temperature chamber directs how a temperature chamber works. In other words, what takes place during thermal cycling in a temperature chamber is different from what occurs during a burn-in test or thermal shock testing. Because of this, defining how a temperature chamber works entails going over each testing method, which are:

  • Thermal cycling
  • Burn-in
  • Thermal shock

Thermal cycling: Thermal cycling is a controlled process in which the temperatures within the thermal test chamber goes back and forth, from extreme heat to frigid cold. How intense these temperatures ultimately are – and the duration of time the heat or cold remains in place – depends on the amount of thermal stress that the test subject can withstand. Similarly, how quickly the temperatures rise and fall within the chamber can vary and depend on what the test subject is capable of absorbing.

Burn-in: Whereas thermal cycling alternates between temperature high and lows, a burn-in test is the opposite: the temperature holds steady for a given testing period. Thus, a burn-in test is ideally suited for parts, components or products residing in environments where temperatures stay relatively constant. A classic example is a semiconductor inside a mobile device, consumer appliance or always-on desktop computer. 

Thermal shock chamber: Much like thermal cycling, thermal shock testing see-saws between heating and cooling. What makes thermal shock different from cycling is the amount of time those extremes last. Generally speaking, the length of time is usually substantially longer than it is with thermal cycling, which makes the thermal shock the most severe form of temperature chamber testing. Additionally, the rate of change between temperature gradients occurs more quickly in a thermal shock test chamber, rising or falling 86 degrees Fahrenheit up to 60 seconds faster by comparison. Military equipment, consumer electronics and aircraft components are frequent recipients of thermal shock testing.

Thermal shock testing also has three different kinds of testing chambers. For example, a two zone shock chamber leverages a basket to physically carry the subjects from one zone to another, each zone being hot or cold. Two zone double capacity shock chambers have two hot zones and one cold zone, with the latter zone (cold) being always on. Finally the three zone thermal shock chamber has three zones of temperature: hot, cold and ambient, meaning room temperature.

What types of temperature chambers are available?

There are at least five types of temperature chambers, whose titles help to delineate how they're different from one another. They include:

  • Portable – Easy to install and small in size, portable temperature chambers have a temperature range between -94 degrees Fahrenheit and 302 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Benchtop – Benchtop temperature chambers are roughly the same size as portable but primarily test technological and communications components.
  • Reach-in – Larger than benchtop, portable and offering a larger capacity, reach-in temperature chambers have the same average temperature range as benchtop, between -90 degrees Fahrenheit and 356 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Walk-in – Primarily used for testing very large parts or equipment, walk-in temperature chambers can test at lows of -40 degrees Fahrenheit and 302 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Drive-in – The largest of the five, drive-in temperature chambers typically primarily test automobile parts and components and are designed to examine how controlled temperature impacts car and truck performance.

You may specialize in quality, but you don't truly know how your materials bring superior performance until you've had them stress tested. Auto Technology operates the largest environmental testing and temperature testing facilities in the U.S. and we produce more corrosion test equipment and test chambers than anyone else. Contact us today to learn more.

Pharmaceutical makers use temperature chamber testing to assess the quality of certain medications.