Are you unsure about the IP ratings needed for a product idea? We are here to help you decide and design!
IP Ratings in Product Design
Products are often listed as “water resistant” or “waterproof”, but what does that really mean? When I designed autonomous submarines, I would often work with suppliers who listed their sensors (which were tested fully submerged at depths greater than 5m) as “water resistant”, the same moniker used on my gym bag! Instead of vague terms like weather resistance, manufacturers use different rating systems to denote specifically how well a given component will handle environmental conditions. The most common of these are the NEMA standard set, and the IP rating system. These two systems are similar yet distinct, and in this blog, we’ll only focus on the IP rating system.
What is an IP Rating?
IP rating refers to the rating of a product's ability to withstand intrusion. The Ingress Protection (IP) rating system is set forth in IEC 60529 and provides a two-digit rating code for a product or enclosures resistance to ingress. The first digit relates to the level of protection against solids, while the second relates to the level of protection against liquids; the higher the number the greater the resistance to ingress. Often time you’ll see only one number, with the other digit replaced with an X, this simply means that the product was only tested to meet the standard of one type of contaminant (either solid or liquid).
An IP rating can be decoded using the chart below:
For example, if a product has a rating of IP 67 it can be read as dust tight, and protected against immersion:
What IP rating should I use for my product?
IP ratings are very situationally dependant and no one rating works for any generic product. Often similar products within the same product line will have different IP ratings due to their intended use case/environment, or their market position. In general, you want to research any standards that apply to your device to see if an IP rating is mandatory and do some market research to see what existing/related products have for ingress protection. You always want to keep the rating as low as possible (but within the requirements!) as lower the rating the less costly the manufacturing/QC process.
Once you know the regulatory and market requirements for your system, you then need to look at the environment the product will be exposed to. Pay close attention to the expected precipitation, particles, hazards, and any potential exposures (i.e., spills, accidents, etc.). If the product is a wearable for example, you likely will need some form of water resistance to accommodate for light rain or sweat, so perhaps an IP X4 rating would be acceptable. If the environment is dusty or dirty (for example a factory electrical panel), perhaps water resistance is less critical than dust resistance so a rating of IP 52 would be acceptable.
What does the IP Rating mean for the design of my product?
Once a desired IP rating is selected for your product it will then dictate the size of openings (or lack thereof) in your enclosure, as well as dictate the external component selection. For example, if you were making an external electrical cabinet with a rating of IP65, the external components (lights, buttons, alarms, conduit entry, etc.) would all have to be rated IP65 or above.
Be careful not to overdo the chosen rating, as each increase in the rating brings with it greater complexity. A simple light duty gasket or even a tight mating surface could be enough to meet an IPX4 rating, however an IPX5 rating will almost always dictate the use of tighter formed gaskets/o-rings, or ultrasonic welding. When designing submersible components (greater than IP68) we must consider deformation of materials under pressure and clamping pressure, as well as specifying redundant seals for critical mates. Its quite easy to fall down the rabbit hole when an incorrect IP rating is established, so take care at the beginning of the project to validate your assumptions.
How can NeuronicWorks help?
We know that deciding on an IP rating, and designing for it can be a bit overwhelming, and we are here to help! We have many years of experience designing products for virtually every grade of IP rating, and we can help you determine which IP rating is best for your product. In addition, we can assist you in checking for IP rating compliance to your desired standards, and then help you design a product that meets the required rating. We also perform “pretests” or unofficial IP tests within our facility that simulate the real tests to be performed by an accredited agency. When you’re confident, we have relationships with many great testing firms to get your product certified and ready for production!