What is IP Rating?

Front view of Zebra TC51 with water droplets on screen

Mobile computers are quite often exposed to and operated within less than ideal conditions. They can be exposed to dust, moisture, extreme temperatures, or UV radiation outside of standard office space, which is temperature controlled, and relatively clean and dry. How the device is designed to withstand these conditions is very important to how it will perform, as well as survive in extreme conditions.

The mobile computer industry uses a standardized rating system for determining how resistant a device is to damage from “ingress” of water and dust. Understanding condensation and what drives it is key to understanding the limitations of devices to withstand condensation and perform the tasks needed in different use cases.

Extreme temperatures and, in particular, the transition between extreme temperatures can provide a different path for moisture to create potential damage without it “leaking” into the product.

Another factor concerning a mobile computer outside the office space is the effect of extremely high or low temperatures on battery performance and life.

We examine considerations that must be addressed in order for mobile computers to withstand extreme conditions. It also lists various options when choosing devices for their particular applications.

A standardized Ingress Protection (IP) rating classifies and rates the level of sealing effectiveness provided by mechanical casings and electrical enclosures for a specified application. The IP rating indicates ingress protection for a new product.

A product’s IP rating can, and often does, degrade after the product is dropped and/or exposed to environmental hazards that compromise the material strength, such as a chemical attack, extreme temperatures, impact forces, or other factors due to distortion, cracking, and structural degradation that may occur.

It should also be noted that IP sealing provides little protection against internal condensation formation as the device transitions between warm, humid areas, and refrigerated/air conditioned or freezer environments.

IP Rating System Overview

The international IP rating system, IEC 60529, utilizes the two letters “IP”, followed by two numbers, as follows:

IPXY

The first number (X) represents a product's resistance to the intrusion of particles or dust.

The second number (Y) represents a product's resistance to the intrusion of liquid (standardized testing uses distilled water).

The highest rating level for dust protection is 6, and for water protection it is 8. An IP rating of “IP67” represents a level 6 for dust protection and level 7 for water protection.

The British standard for IP is EN 60529. While slightly different in the details, it is largely the same as the more universal IEC 60529.

IEC 60520 IP Ratings (Dust and Water)

First Digit Level of Dust Protection Second Digit Level of Water Protection
0 No Protection 0 No Protection
1 Protection against objects over 50mm; accidential touch by hands 1 Protection against vertically dripping water
2 Protection against objects over 12mm; protection against touch by fingers 2 Protection against liquid drops at 15˚ from vertical
3 Protection against objects over 2.5mm; tools, wires, etc. 3 Protection against rain at angle of up to 60˚ from vertical
4 Protection against objects over 1mm; small tools, wires, etc. 4 Protection against splash from any direction
5 Complete protection against contact; protection against harmful ingress and deposit of dust 5 Protection against water jets from any direction
6 Complete protection against contact; protection against in gress of dust   Protection against powerful jetting
- N/A 7 Protection against immersion in one meter of water for 30 minutes
- N/A 8 Protection under continuous immersion in water depths beyond 1 meter

EN 60529 IP Ratings (Solid Objects)

First Digit Access to Hazardous Parts Solid Foreign Objects
0 No test required No test required
1 The Rigid Sphere without handle or guard of 50mm +0.5/-0mm diameter shall not fully penetrate and adequate clearance shall be kept. Insertion force 50 N + 10%
2 The jointed test finger may penetrate up to its 80mm length, but adequate clearance shall be kept The Rigid Sphere without handle or guard of 12.5mm + 2 / - 0mm diameter shall not fully penetrate. Insertion force 30 N + 10%
3 The rigied steel test rod of 2.5mm +.05 / -0mm diameter with edges free of burrs shall not penetrate and adequate clearance shall be kept. Insertion force 3 N + 10%
4 The rigid steel test wire of 1mm + .05 / -00mm diameter with edges free of burrs shall not penetrate and adequate clearance shall be kept. Insertion force 1 N + 10%
5 The rigid steel test wire of 1mm + .05 / -00m diameter with edges free of burrs shall not penetrate and adequate clearance shall be kept. Insertion force 1 N u 10% Dust-Protected Dust chamber with our without being under pressure. Enclosure: Category 1 (Vacuum Drawn) Category 2
6 The rigid steel test wire of 1mm + 05 /. -0mm diameter with edges free of burrs shall not penetrate and adequate clearance shall be kept. Insertion force 1 N + 10% Dust-Tight Dust chamber with or without being under pressure. Enclosure: Category 1 (Vacuum Drawn)

EN 60529 Ratings (Liquids)

Second Char. Numeral Test Means Duration of Test
0 No test required N/A
1 Drip Box 10 minutes
2 Drip Box 15˚ Tilt, 4 positions 2.5 minutes each position
3 Oscillating Tube +60˚ from Vertical or Spray Nozzle 10 minutes
1 min/m2 at least 5 minutes
4 Oscillating Tube +180˚ from Vertical 10 minutes
1 min/m2 at least 5 minutes
5 Water Jet Nozzle 1 min/m2 at least 3 minutes
6 Water Jet Nozzle 1 min/m2 at least 3 minutes
7 Immersion Tank 30 minutes
8 Immersion Tank By Agreement between manufacturer and user

What IP Ratings Mean to the Mobile Computer User

A mobile computer user should understand the IP rating necessary for their device, based on the type of environment and conditions in which it will be used. Some examples of use cases and the likely required IP ratings are as follows:

  • Clean Indoor Office

    Will not be going in and out of a cooler or freezer
  • Unlikely to be exposed to water
  • An IP rating on the device may not be needed at all

Dusty Indoor Office

  • Dust may be in the air from the handling paper and cardboard
  • Will not be going in and out of a cooler or freezer
  • Unlikely to be exposed to water
  • An IP rating of IP53 is probably what is needed with the “5” protecting against airborne dust and the “3” protecting against a random splash from someone watering a plant or spilling their beverage

Brief Exposure to Non-Continuous, Soft Rain

  • May be exposed to rain spray (not continuous rain) while running between a vehicle and a building 
  • Could be exposed briefly at any angle to the water
  • The desired water ingress rating would likely be a “4”. IP54 ratings are generally good for these applications.

Note: As the water intrusion protection numbers move to “5” or higher, the dust protection number almost automatically needs to move to the highest value of “6”.

Brief Exposure to Non-Continuous, Driving Rain

  • May be exposed to driving rain (not continuous rain) while running between a vehicle and a building
  • Could be exposed briefly at any angle to the water
  • The desired water ingress rating would likely be a “5”. IPX5 ratings are generally good for these applications.

Continuous Exposure to Driving Rain

  • May be exposed to driving rain continuously
  • Could be exposed at any angle to the water
  • The desired water ingress rating would likely be a “6”. IPX6 ratings are generally good for these applications.

Briefly Submerged in Water

  • May be dropped into a puddle and fully submerged, but NOT exposed to driving rain continuously
  • The desired water ingress rating would likely be a “7”. IPX7 ratings are generally good for these applications

Note: The “7” rating does indicate resistance to submersion for short periods of time, but does not protect against the impact of driven rain. 

Moved In and Out of Cooler or Freezer

  • Will be going in and out of a cooler or freezer
  • An IP rating of any number will not protect it from moisture accumulating inside. Only hermetically sealed devices prevent the leaching of moisture over time when cycled through temperatures. Devices made of plastic cannot be hermetically sealed due to the nature of plastics.
  • To avoid internal condensation when going in and out of a refrigerated area, the device needs to either have a mechanism for drying the air inside the device (a desiccator) or have a heater that maintains the internal air above the dew point.

We have created a more detailed guide around IP Ratings and on what to consider when using mobile computers beyond the office space.

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