How to choose the right IP rating for your product

The IP in IP rating stands for ingress protection. This international system lets consumers and customers know how resistant an enclosed mechanical or electrical product is to various external forces and elements, typically dust and water.

Manufacturers of these products can apply for an IP rating, but it is important that they get the right one.

IP or Not IP? That is the question

The smartphone is, essentially, a sophisticated portable computer. As such, it is highly functional but also vulnerable to impact, dirt, water and other agents it might come into contact with.

Mobile phone manufacturers invest in achieving high IP Ratings for their phones because this certification is an endorsement of their products’ durability.

They then pass the high cost of the IP Rating onto the consumer, but in turn, the consumer knows they are getting a premium product.

However, not everyone is willing to play ball.

The phone manufacturer OnePlus does not IP rate its products. It has not done so for years, claiming this is a cost-saving exercise to keep its prices down.

What this is asking the customer to do is put price before quality assurance. OnePlus’s tactic is to use marketing instead of IP ratings, making a video that shows one of its phones going into a bucket of water.

The video boldly states that:

Water resistant ratings for phones cost you money

But at the same time, the warranty on a OnePlus phone will not cover water damage.

Therefore, it undermines its own argument.

A crucial aspect of IP ratings is that they are a simple, trusted way to demonstrate your product’s capabilities.

To get the rating you require, your product must undergo certain tests, which then prove its resistance to water and/or dust ingress.

Going for the wrong IP rating, or even choosing to ignore the system altogether, risks damaging consumer confidence and jeopardising your product’s success in the market.

What does being resistant really mean?

Manufacturers will often describe their products as being dust or water-resistant. But what if these definitions differ from product to product? How does the consumer know to what extent their phone, camera or other device really is water-resistant?

IP ratings are there to bring conformity to these levels of protection.

This system grades the level of protection provided by an enclosure or casing against the intrusion of liquids or solid objects.

This usually comes in the form of two numbers. The first number is the level of protection from solid objects, the second is from liquids.

For example, an IP rating of 66 would mean there is dust-tight resistance and protection from strong jets of water.

Each of the two number scales runs as follows:

  • For solid objects, 0–6, with 0 offering no protection and 6 the most protection
  • For liquids, 0-8, with 0 the lowest level of protection and 8 the highest.

Manufacturers, therefore, have a choice of IP ratings. What then matters is that they make the correct choice for their particular product.

Why your IP rating matters

To get an IP rating for your product, you must arrange to test it. This should be done by an independent, certified company.

The independent company will then give the product a numerical IP rating, based on the tests they have put it through.

You can then apply this IP code to your product, enabling you to state, with confidence, the level of protection your product has.

This give the consumer information about what level of protection they can expect should they buy your product.

Choosing your IP rating comes down how resistant you want your product to be, whether it will meet this level of testing, and what your customers’ expectations are of your product.

IP ratings in the real world

IP ratings come in different combinations of numbers. Some will offer the highest level of solid resistance, but not the highest level of water resistance.

For example, some mobile phones are IP68 rated.

They are dust-tight and can withstand long periods of immersion. Other phones have an IP67 rating, where they can withstand temporary periods of immersion.

An example of other outdoor electronic enclosure designs would be security systems that need weatherproofing. Having an IP65 enclosure rating would mean that it meets the criteria for the product to be waterproof to a certain point.

A big part of this decision comes down to meeting customer expectations. Do people expect your product to be completely dust-resistant and water-resistant? Are these qualities intrinsic to how they will use it?

Another issue to consider when choosing your IP rating may be cost.

What does it cost to get an IP rating?

The first thing to note is that there is not a set price. The cost will consist of Research & Development work by skilled designers who understand IP ratings. When the design is prototyped to a high specification,  an accredited test house will charge for their services to test, based on which IP rating you wish to achieve.

Consider how much of this cost you can afford to pass on to the consumer.

You might, for instance, have a custom enclosure or electrical product which you can market at a premium based on its long-term durability.

Part of its marketability is therefore its IP rating, so you can factor the cost of testing and achieving this into its final price point.

We have already seen how OnePlus have opted not to have IP ratings, including the latest OnePlus 7 series, with claims that it would add $30 to the cost of each device.

But you must also look at what is going in in your market. What is the cost of you not having an IP rating if your competitors’ products have one?

Legitimise your product claims

Getting the right IP rating for your product enables you to legitimise the claims you make for the level of protection it has.

It offers a degree of assurance to your customers to help them decide whether your product will meet their needs.