Testing to the highest standards

You may not be aware that your mobile phone or your tablet will have undergone a series of stringent tests before commercialization. These tests are designed to make sure that electrical or electronic devices can function efficiently in very different climates and can resist a variety of shocks and vibration stresses,  during transport to their country of destination, for instance. The tests also measure different environmental stresses electrical and electronic devices endure during usage as well as storage.

This electronic chair is subjected to a shaker test.

Manufacturers must ensure that their devices will perform as well, whether in Singapore, South Africa or Sweden. IEC International Standards, published by Technical Committee 104, are the main tool suppliers can use to ensure they meet these essential requirements.

“For example, the high humidity levels in Singapore call for specific requirements. Even the packaging of electronic devices must meet certain standards that are not necessary in other parts of the world. Manufacturers have to make sure that the device is protected against shocks and vibrations during shipping, but because of the high humidity levels, drainage holes must be included in the packaging to ensure humidity does not condense and collect inside,” explains Chair of TC 104 Olaf Hübschmann.

Horizontal standards widely used around the world

The TC publishes two key series of standards which are widely used around the world. They are horizontal documents which apply to any electronic or electrical device. The first series is the IEC 60068 set of standards which comprises around 70 publications. These standards specify every type of test, with the exception of some specific requirements, for instance electromagnetic compatibility, which comes under the remit of other IEC TCs, including IEC TC 77, CISPR ( International Special Committee on Radio Interference) and TC 106. (For the whole list of specific requirements: TC 104 scope)

“Our work inside TC 104 is divided into two very broad categories of tests. One of them is dynamic testing, meaning the ability of items to withstand shocks and vibrations. The other category is climatic testing, which relates to temperature and humidity levels and other problems like fungus or mould. Then we have a few cases that do not fit into either group, for example the abrasion of markings and letterings caused by repetitive finger rubbing. This is an important test, specified in IEC 60068-2-70, and which is useful for any keypad or touch screen, whether on a mobile phone or a cash machine, for instance. There have been quite a few instances where finger markings on cash machines or access control systems were so pronounced that it would become easy to use people’s pins and get into their bank accounts or gain access to prohibited areas. Manufacturers need to make sure their equipment withstands that type of abrasion over time,” Hübschmann describes.

In February, the IEC released the whole series of IEC 60068-2 Standards, covering tests for cold which determine the ability of components, equipment or other articles to be used, transported or stored at low temperature (IEC 60068-2-1), dry heat (IEC 60068-2-2), vibration (IEC 60068-2-6)  or even mould growth (IEC 60068-2-10). “These standards tell test labs and manufacturers how to perform tests, in a repeatable and comparable way across the world,” says Hübschmann.

Classification of various conditions

The TC also publishes the IEC 60721 series, another large collection of publications, which classifies the various environmental conditions which require testing. “Manufacturers will often use both series of standards. They want to qualify their equipment to work in different environmental conditions all over the world. If you manufacture an item that is destined for Central Europe, you will need to keep abreast of the requirements for that part of the world. You will need to know the climate conditions in Sudan or South Africa and how that can affect performance and life of products. You will also need to find out how different types of transport affect equipment and so on. All that information can be found in the IEC 60721 Standards,” Hübschmann explains.

The TC has set up a close collaboration with ISO TC 108, which publishes test equipment- related standards as well. “They read our standards and we read theirs,” he says.

Maintaining the wide list of testing benchmarks is a huge task, but the TC is also preparing new standards. “We are very close to releasing a new standard on multi-exciter and multi-axis shock and vibration testing.This applies to shaker systems used in test labs,” Hübschmann adds.

Looking towards the future, Hübschmann is relatively optimistic. “We are impacted by Covid-19 to some degree and there is a tendency to save money on performing tests. But this is only in the very short term. In the longer term, we expect new requirements for testing standards to come from our clients. We have three types of customers: test labs, manufacturers of various products and items and their customers, for instance aviation companies. These companies cannot afford to cut down on testing: too much is at stake if some part did not work properly because it was not subjected to the proper evaluation.”