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Designing a rugged product for outdoors and harsh environments

By 11th June 2019 May 14th, 2020 No Comments

There are many considerations to make when designing a product for use in outdoor conditions and harsh environments. You want all of your products to be hard wearing and durable, while still being appealing and fit for purpose.

Products destined for outdoor use are subjected to harsh weather conditions, exposure to UV radiation from sunlight,  and often heavier wear. This can leave your products prone to physical deterioration. An experienced design team will have the knowledge to specify materials and design approaches that can cope with the varied and complex conditions that may be encountered.


What materials are you using?

There is a huge variety of materials to choose from in Product Design. A good quality design specification is required prior to beginning the design process, so that the end use conditions are known. Different grades of materials are available for different uses.

Factors such as weather conditions, usage patterns, and lifespan of the product should all play a part when deciding on materials to use. Untreated ABS (a traditional, widely used plastic), for instance, is not usually recommended for outdoor use, as its UV protection is comparatively low, leading it to become brittle if left outdoors for extended periods. Polycarbonate (PC) on the other hand has excellent UV resistance and can be used in many of the same applications as ABS.


The Product Environment

While you can plan for harsh conditions more generally, you should also look into the specific weather conditions of your working locations.

In the UK, annual precipitation averages stand at over a third, with around 133 days of rain or snow a year. Rain is something that should be considered regardless of specific locations within the country. Also in colder months comes ice, and so potential effects of freeze-thaw cycles are important to consider. Freeze-thaw damage occurs when water is allowed to collect in a small gap or crevice and it then freezes. Upon freezing, the ice forms which forms occupies a larger volume than the original water due to its lower density. This causes stresses to be applied to the region surrounding the newly formed ice. This process repeats many times as ambient temperatures rise and fall, leading to cyclic stress being applied to the material. Eventually, this process can cause a material to crack and ultimately fail.

With the UK’s large amount of coastline, there is a high chance your products will sometimes operate in locations near to the coast. Because of this, consider the effects of wind and salt in the air. Both of these may tarnish hardware and cause deterioration over time. Constant sunlight and acid rain can also work to damage and fade the exterior appearance of the product.


How will you use the product?

During the design stages, it is also important to think of a products future purpose and usage. Factors to consider are whether it will be constantly in use or just occasionally. This will determine the durability of the materials you use and any protective measures that may be necessary.

Extra thought is needed if a product will be used every day in the types of harsh weather conditions previously mentioned. If this is the case, it may be worth looking into protective layers or coverings to avoid extensive damage through use.

You also need to consider whether the product will be portable or is to be left in situ. This will influence the size and weight of the product. It will also factor into choosing any protection needed if you plan to leave it out in the elements for extended periods of time.


Think about the long-term

When designing a product to be durable and rugged, it is best to make sure you do not inhibit its functionality. You want to strike a balance between protection from the environment while still being easy to operate and functional for its use.

You could make something completely encased and protected from outside conditions. But then find yourself unable to change its battery or manoeuvre it in a way that proves essential for use. Harsh environments should be in the back of your mind while designing, but should not interfere or change the product’s usage.

The lifespan of the product you are creating can also influence many design decisions. Is it something that is expected to need replacing every couple of years, or is it a big investment piece expected to stand the test of time? Questions like this will have an effect on the design process.

When designing products for outdoors and harsh environments, there are a range of factors to consider. You want to ensure protection from harsh environments while maintaining the product’s operations.

At 4D Products we aim to provide high quality product design and development services at competitive prices. Please get in touch if you have any questions, or to discuss your design project, contact us on 01925 607145.