Sourcing for harsh environments needn’t be tough

To ensure electronic components can withstand their end-use environment, purchasers must navigate a host of international standards and certifications. Specialist advice can be invaluable, says Sager Electronics

Although the interpretation of harsh and hazardous conditions can vary, factors such as water, humidity, dust, chemicals, electrical surges, vibrations, electromagnetic interference and temperatures can all cause an electronic component to perform unexpectedly or possibly even to fail.

Clearly, failure is not an option in life-critical designs, so a thorough understanding of the environment where the application will be used and how it will be used is vital. Oil and gas exploration, nuclear power plants, hazardous waste, pharmaceuticals, outdoor environments, industrial facilities and even grain storage are often defined as harsh or hazardous environment industries, but extreme conditions can also be found across a range of more common applications and markets.

Reliable products

Once the criteria for environment and use have been determined, purchasing staff must ensure that the electronic components sourced meet the latest industry certifications and standards for that particular design.

When sourcing life-critical electronic components, key considerations could include: flame proofing, explosion proofing, pressurisation, oil immersion, hermetic sealing, encapsulation, mechanical integrity and intrinsic safety. The first step to ensuring components will operate reliably is to work directly with the manufacturer or through an authorised distributor. Purchasing components from an unqualified source can leave customers exposed to a myriad of potential problems.

Furthermore, by working with an authorised distributor, purchasers have access to the latest technologies and information on standards and certifications. Distributors can, for example, help customers understand relevant standards such as the IP rating used to describe sealing effectiveness for electrical enclosures.

In this rating, the first number relates to protection from solid objects or materials, while the second number relates to protection from liquids. Not used as frequently, the third number denotes protection against mechanical impacts, while an X specifies that there is only one class of protection in that field.

Beyond IP ratings, customers must also take into account a number of other standards such as ATEX, IEC and NEMA certifications. Depending on the type and severity of the expected conditions, purchasers may need to ensure components meet one or more standards issued by different authorising bodies, as well as ensuring that they adhere to any standards required in other countries or regions into which they intend to supply

Reliable supply chain

Several suppliers design products specifically for harsh and hazardous environments. Honeywell, EBM-Papst, Mean Well, BEI / Sensata, Phoenix Contact, Laird and Traco Power are just a few of the suppliers operating in this market.

Bearing in mind the diverse options available, an authorised distributor that works closely with its suppliers will be best positioned to understand the product pipeline from supplier to customer and to react to economic and material influences. As lead times extend and prices increase, distributors that plan their inventory buys and position their backlog with care, particularly in relation to electronic components designed for life-critical environments, can minimise customer impact.