Designed by the United States Military to test the thresholds of all its equipment in a range of diverse conditions and circumstances where it is expected to be deployed (environment) or transported – this test was known as the MIL-STD-810G.
The U.S Military Standard (MIL-STD) 810 is a guide for the series of tests that can be conducted by an agency. The test was first introduced in 1962 to simulate a series of instances to test how a material would fare when exposed to different environmental stress in the course of its operational lifespan. The test has undergone a number of revisions over the years with the most recent revision being in 2008, called the Revision G. The Revision G is comprised of 28 different tests that cover a range of environmental test ranging from temperature to fungal infestation to gunfire. However, it is important to note that each of these tests is subject to the item being tested. Thus, a Kalashnikov will not exactly be subjected to the same tests as a gas mask or a Kevlar vest.
The modern tech industry has adopted “some” of the MIL-STD-810G testing to a series of modern tech gadgets in a term usually classed as “rugged” devices. It is, however, important to highlight that because these tests were not specifically designed for tech gadgets and devices, the adoption of the MIL-STD-810G testing in the tech industry can seem vague and ambiguous most of the time. Some of the environmental conditions that are tested against usually include: impact, temperature, vibration, humidity, shock amongst others.
When compared to their military counterparts, the MIL-STD-810G tests carried out for gadgets like smartphones and computers are still a bit far off from the extensive testing that the military hardware passes through. However, this is quite expected as these devices which are mostly consumer devices, are not made to be used in “combat” or “battlefield” scenarios.
Regardless, the number of devices that have been opting to get the MIL-STD-810G certification has been on the rise in recent times. Some devices which are tagged “ruggedized” are made to pass through some of these tests in a bid to demonstrate to the public that the device is indeed a solid or rugged device that is capable of surviving extreme mishandling, immersion or falls. Again, some of the manufacturers of these devices choose to get the MIL-STD-810G certification in a bid to up their sales and boost their marketing strategy. While users may not necessarily be in the market for a phone with a military test specification, it could still serve as a bonus selling point and can always work in favor of the device makers. After all, if you guarantee a buyer that a device is most likely going to survive a 10-foot drop, they may be more inclined to buy the device based on its acclaimed durability.
As shown by Wikipedia, listed below are some of the tests that are included in the MIL-STD-810G test, all of the tests outlined below are carried out and simulated in a laboratory and may not exactly reflect what may happen in reality because these tests cannot be said to be exactly 100% accurate.
- Test Method 500.5 Low Pressure (Altitude)
- Test Method 501.5 High Temperature
- Test Method 502.5 Low Temperature
- Test Method 503.5 Temperature Shock
- Test Method 504.1 Contamination by Fluids
- Test Method 505.5 Solar Radiation (Sunshine)
- Test Method 506.5 Rain
- Test Method 507.5 Humidity
- Test Method 508.6 Fungus
- Test Method 509.5 Salt Fog
- Test Method 510.5 Sand and Dust
- Test Method 511.5 Explosive Atmosphere
- Test Method 512.5 Immersion
- Test Method 513.6 Acceleration
- Test Method 514.6 Vibration
- Test Method 515.6 Acoustic Noise
- Test Method 516.6 Shock
- Test Method 517.1 Pyroshock
- Test Method 518.1 Acidic Atmosphere
- Test Method 519.6 Gunfire Shock
- Test Method 520.3 Temperature, Humidity, Vibration, and Altitude
- Test Method 521.3 Icing/Freezing Rain
- Test Method 522.1 Ballistic Shock
- Test Method 523.3 Vibro-Acoustic/Temperature
- Test Method 524 Freeze / Thaw
- Test Method 525 Time Waveform Replication
- Test Method 526 Rail Impact.
- Test Method 527 Multi-Exciter
- Test Method 528 Mechanical Vibrations of Shipboard Equipment (Type I – Environmental and Type II – Internally Excited)
Although the list above is a comprehensive enumeration of some of the testing carried out, as mentioned previously only a very few of this test would be applicable to a specific device, especially if the tests are done for a device that is not meant for the military.
Most Devices that are mainly referred to as being “ruggedized” and carry a MIL-STD-810G certification usually focus on one or more of these four factors;
- High Temperature
- Low Temperature
A report broken down by GCN demonstrates the details of each of these tests;
Method 501.5 – High Temperature
This testing method is broken down into three procedures.
- Procedure I (storage) exposes the device to high temperatures while it is turned off, and its purpose is to test the durability of the physical materials that make up the device.
- Procedure II (operation) is concerned with how the device puts up with heat while having it turned on and used. Procedure II is actually in two parts:
- Constant exposure tests are usually reserved for devices that are meant to be in continuous proximity to an artificial heat source.
- Cyclic exposure tests are more indicative of real-world conditions. The range of temperatures used in an operational cyclical test goes from 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) to upwards of 49 degrees C (120 degrees F). The temperature needs to cycle from one end to the other a minimum of three times while testing that the device functions at every point in the test.
- Procedure III (tactical-standby to operational) gauges how it works under operational temperatures after having been exposed to higher storage temperatures.
Method 502.5 – Low Temperature
This test also has three procedures to determine how the device will behave in low temperatures.
- Procedure I (storage) is much the same as the high-temperature test.
- Procedure II (operation) testing involves slowly cooling the device to the low temperature in the appropriate range and leaving it at that temperature for at least two hours, checking visually to see that it is still functioning during that time.
- Procedure III (manipulation) investigates the ease with which the device can be set up and disassembled while wearing heavy winter clothing.
Method 512.5 – Immersion
This method determines if a device can withstand being submerged or partially submerged in water, or just splashed a lot, and be able to function after or even during the process. This test will determine if a device warrants an IP rating with a second number as high as a 7. There is one procedure applicable to electronic devices:
Procedure I (immersion) covers putting any part of the device underwater. The test starts by weighing the device. Then every panel, door or cover that might be opened during use is opened and closed three times each. To test the effects of a temperature differential on the seals, the device can be warmed up to 10 to 27 degrees C above that of the water. Then the device is placed into the water so that its top side is one meter below the surface for 30 minutes. Partial immersion is used in cases where the device is designed to float, but other than the depth, the test is largely the same.
Note that the specification does not cover the highest IP rating for liquids – 8, which involves depths of more than one meter and longer durations, and would have to be verified independently of this MIL-STD.
Method 514.6 – Vibration
This method is one of the most complicated tests in the entire MIL-STD – all told, it takes up 83 pages of the 804-page document. Generally, it is designed to determine if a device can withstand the vibrations it would be exposed to during its lifecycle. What types of procedures a device is exposed to will be determined by what life-phase it is in (manufacture, transportation, operational or supplemental) and where it is located (in a facility, a certain type of vehicle, etc.). This calculation puts it into a numbered category that determines specifically which testing procedure will be necessary.
Most of the tests involve using laboratory shakers set to different levels to simulate being on a vehicle or carried by a person. Variations in the vibrations’ waveform, frequency and intensity will change depending on the type of device and the environment being simulated, as will the actual duration of the testing.
The hard truth
However, the MID-STD-810G testing is not strict and neither is it enforced by the military. Different manufacturers often select certain aspects of the tests that are applicable to their devices and may stress that their device has a MID-STD-810G certification based on their own claims and testing. The fact is, the testing greatly varies and does not appear to be as strict as you would initially be made to imagine. At the different laboratories where these tests are conducted, there is no set standard. Even as it stands, the general public is finding it hard to actually understand some of the MID-STG-810G certifications being peddled about by different manufacturers – while some may suggest that their brand meets the specification, another may then imply that their brand exceeds the requirements but each of them have both adopted different standards in their testing.
Thus, when a MID-STD-810G test is to be carried out for a device, the appropriate or applicable testing methods are selected to generate the most relevant data possible. While the testing can be a form of confidence that a device is capable of dealing with either extreme temperature, a drop or immersion, it is pertinent to also note that these tests are carried out independently and are not regulated by any agency. Thus, the general public must understand that these tests are carried out under controlled conditions and the results are not a sure testament to how they would fare in a real life scenario.
The takeaway here is that the MIL-STD-810G certification does go a long way to indicate the durability of a device, be sure to remember that the testing is only standard for a military device and you should be sure to check which precise MIL-STD-810G tests that a device with a certification has actually passed. You should not assume that it has passed all the test just because it carries the rating.
Again, these tests are simulated and while they are intended to be as real as possible, they cannot exactly replicate real-life conditions. So I wouldn’t advise you to go to the bottom of a 12-foot-deep pool because your manufacturer claims that your device has passed an immersion MIL-STD-810G test. Again, these tests are not regulated, manufacturers carry out these tests individually and any brand can claim that their device has a MIL-STD-810G certification – this gives rise to the problem of verifiability. Finally, it’s great to have a device that has a MIL-STD-810G certification, however, you should still exercise caution and not get too carried away.