Vacuum Chambers

Introduction

This article contains everything you need to know about vacuum chambers.

You will learn:

  • What is a vacuum chamber?
  • Types of vacuum chambers
  • Industries that use vacuum chambers
  • Tests and operations performed in vacuum chambers
  • And much more…
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What is a Vacuum Chamber?

Vacuum chambers are machines that remove air and pressure from a confined enclosure. These are used to test the effects of a vacuum on materials, parts, components and assemblies.  

One can also use it to test the performance of applications for manufacturing operations. These are designed to withstand the pressure created by a vacuum and are capable of simulating environmental conditions where a vacuum may exist. 

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In the industries such as space and aerospace, vacuum testing is essential as it determines a component’s ability to withstand the pressure and vacuum of space.  

Vacuum testing is also used in other industries to determine the stability of packaging which may be required while traveling by air.  

Not just this, it is also required for industrial applications as there is a need for high altitude testing, drying and off-gassing especially in controlled and replicable vacuum conditions. The vacuum tests assist in establishing the quality and durability of a product.

Types of Vacuum Chambers

Vacuum chambers are designed as per the needs of the industries they serve. A vacuum chamber is used for testing small parts or is also used by small manufacturers.  

There are many other types of vacuum chamber machines too. The varieties vary in size. For instance, some vacuum chamber machines are also of a room-size, used for testing large aircraft parts and instruments used in outer space. 

As an offshoot of environmental chambers, vacuum chamber testing performs a wide range of tests such as climatic conditions to the effects of high altitude. Even though there are standard vacuum chambers, these can also be custom-built to fit a predetermined set of criteria. 

Vacuum chambers are built in different shapes and sizes. The standard types of vacuum chamber machines are as followed: 

  • Box vacuum chamber 
  • Sphere vacuum chamber   
  • Cylinder vacuum chamber 
  • D-shaped vacuum chamber  
  • Bell jar vacuum chamber  

These box-shaped chambers are of further two types such as rectangular and cubic vacuum chambers.  

Rectangular vacuum chambers are designed for ultra-high vacuum (UHV), which can reach pressures as low as 100 nanopascals.  

Box-shaped vacuum chambers can perform a full spectrum of vacuum testing tribology, atmospheric tests, degassing, film deposition and the simulation of outer space. 

Both the rectangular and box-shaped vacuum chambers are required to have thick walls with bracing so as to withstand extreme pressure conditions.

These are used for surface testing, UHV testing, and laser deposition. The spherical shape helps adjusting concentration from one point to multiple points. Spherical vacuum chambers have multiple ports which allow several access entry points. 

These can either be vertical or horizontal. The shape of this chamber is the determining factor in the method of accessing the chamber. Horizontal chambers can be accessed by openings at either end, whereas vertical chambers can be accessed in a variety of ways such as lifting the chamber off its base. 

These chambers are used for degassing or helium leak testing with an inner diameter ranging from 100 to 2000 mm. 

These chamber vacuums are similar to cylindrical vacuum chambers with a welded domed top. These can be made from metal or Pyrex depending on the use, type of test, and product criteria. The bell jar vacuum chambers come in a variety of sizes in combination with feedthrough collars and baseplates. Bell jar vacuum chambers are used for high-temperature applications. Pyrex bell jar vacuum chambers are transparent vacuum chambers set on a metal base plate. 

There are a variety of uses for 55 gallon drum vacuum chambers, which include degassing, mixing, and processing. This size vacuum chamber is less expensive and more convenient than other sizes of vacuum chambers. They can be used for mixing materials in a vacuum and are made of heavy duty welded steel. The vacuum capacity allows for degassing and mixing to occur at the same time.

The advantages are:

  • Increase in product shelf life
  • Prevents product dehydration and weight loss
  • Protects products against spoilage
  • Reduces spoilage with deep freezing
  • Allows bulk purchase without risk of product loss
  • Allows meat to reach optimal maturity
  • Saves time
  • Ideal for portion control
  • Ideal for sous-vide

With many years of experience in the food vacuum packing industry both in Australia and overseas, Vacumatic Australia has an extensive on-going research and development programme and access to the latest state-of-the-art technology. From this background Vacumatic Australia has developed a new generation of vacuum packing machines with many innovative features to meet al customer needs.

With many years of experience in the food vacuum packing industry both in Australia and overseas, Vacumatic Australia has an extensive on-going research and development programme and access to the latest state-of-the-art technology. From this background Vacumatic Australia has developed a new generation of vacuum packing machines with many innovative features to meet al customer needs.

  • Favourably priced
  • Highly reliable
  • Robust construction
  • Operator friendly
  • Low operating cost
  • Fully see-through lid
  • Double seal
  • High performance vacuum pump
  • Prolongs shelf life and freshness of food
  • Product protection against aggressive environmental influences. Optimal sales presentation of food and non-food products
  • Corrosion and oxidation prevention
  • Sterile environment for one-way medical products

Vacumatic Australia also stock a wide range of vacuum sealing bags to suit your packaging requirements.

Size Of Unit610 x 455 x 450mm
Size Of Chamber470 x 400 x 180mm
Vacuum Pump21 m3/hr Busch Vacuum Pump
Length of Sealing Bars400mm
Power240V/0.75kW
Weight74kg

Industries that Use Vacuum Chambers

What is a vacuum? 

A vacuum is a space with low pressure from where all matter is removed which could possibly affect the testing or manufacturing processes.  

Industries use a vacuum pump to test their products for leaks, endurance and stability. Almost like environmental chambers, vacuum chambers provide valuable data and insights into a product‘s capability. Accordingly, adjustments are made to improve the quality of the product. 

Testing chambers have been an important step forward for the industry. These let a company know the parameters and limits of its products. The information is then passed on to the users and customers. 

Vacuum chambers are a crucial tool for manufacturing. These supply data to ensure the safety of products and also highlight any flaws if any. The tests determine leaks or their resistance to environmental conditions that may contain a vacuum. 

One of the most damaging substances during manufacturing is moisture. By subjecting a product to a vacuum, moisture or any micro-sized gas bubbles are removed.  

Further, vacuum chambers are used to apply protective films, finishes and coatings. 

The aerospace industry use vacuum chambers the most obviously because of the nature of products and the environment it is used in. Every aspect and part of a product for aerospace has to be tested and retested to ensure performance and safety. The parts that are tested are bolts, panels, switches, electrical components, fibrous materials, latches, seat cushions and door handles. 

The agencies that look after the manufacturing of materials for use in spacecraft and airplanes have strict requirements for the quality of materials to be used. Vacuum chambers allow researchers to averse adverse conditions and environments so as to determine the quality and limits of components. 

The image given is of a large vacuum chamber used for testing parts and products for aerospace. It is 7 meters tall and 12 meters long with a temperature ranging from -180° C to 100° C.

One of the main concerns of the food industry is waste from spoilage or poor environmental control. Food products that have to be maintained at a particular temperature have to be tested to determine their limits to ensure quality. Aside from helping set the boundaries for food products, vacuum chambers are able to remove excess moisture and damaging gases from products that may contain contaminants.

Cold storage is a critical part of food transport. Vacuum chambers assist in speeding up the cooling, freezing, and drying processes to protect a product’s cellular integrity, taste, color, and appearance.

The food and beverage industry is closely regulated by a variety of agencies and organizations to ensure the safety of the public, which makes vacuum processing a critical aspect of food production.

This is another industry that uses vacuum chambers because of the nature of products. Biopharmaceutical industry is one of the most closely watched industries because of the nature of its products. During production and development, accurate determinations have to be made regarding many aspects of the products such as shelf life, susceptibility to environmental factors and point of deterioration. 

Vacuum chambers are used in biopharmaceutical industry for drying, sterilizing, degassing, distilling, cooling, and crystallizing medications. These are also used to preserve specimens for study in an uncontaminated environment. Also, used for creating new drugs.  

The main challenge for the production of photovoltaic (PV) is designing and operating linear transport systems using the substrates of multiple fabrication steps. The PV production process use vacuum deposition chambers, a method used for placing a layer of a substance that too in the fabrication of solar absorber layers. 

The movement of substrates from chamber to chamber uses a specialized transport system especially for high volume production of products.  

The vacuum in each chamber must be at 10 to 9 mbar because it is required long periods of time. The process of producing PV panels use larger and more powerful vacuum chambers. 

Vacuum chambers are also widely used in the chemical production industry especially for the processes such as distillation, degassing, polycondensation, and the production of polyurethane.  

The vacuum process for chemicals has to maintain a constant pressure to avoid any damage to the final product.  

The range of vacuum for these chambers is between 1 to 10 mbar. A vacuum chamber reduces the thermal load of materials which is particularly needed for temperature sensitive materials. The use of a vacuum chamber in the production of chemicals guarantees high-quality and performance. 

Tests and Operations Performed in a Vacuum Chamber

Test chambers are an important part to determine the quality and lifespan of products. Their use of vacuum chambers has enhanced the manufacturing and production of many of the products which are used by the industry as well as in the home.  

Vacuum chambers add another element to product testing. It also provides the ability to create a particle and atmosphere-free environment. 

Vacuum chambers play a crucial role in testing the parts and components for outer space important to ensure the safety of astronauts. Even though it is a critical function for vacuum chambers, these are also used in providing data for everyday products like chemicals, food and drugs. 

Benefits of vacuum chambers: 

  • Ability to create environmental conditions with varying pressure, temperature, humidity and radiation to assist industry in developing and perfecting their products. 

Operations and Tests Performed in a Vacuum Chamber 

Another factor that causes damage to the products is moisture as it causes rapid and irreversible deterioration. To fight this issue, producers place products in a vacuum chamber which immediately removes moisture and is even more effective than dehydration. 

The method of drying also varies depending on the product. For instance, more resilient products can be very aggressively dried with a rapid creation of a vacuum, whereas more sensitive products may require a gentler approach. 

Vacuum coating or thin film deposition uses a vacuum chamber to apply a thin and steady layer of coating on the surface of the substrate. The coating protects it from wearing down and prevents reduction of its efficiency. The thickness of vacuum coatings varies between 0.25 to 10 microns.  

There are different types of coatings applied using a vacuum coating, such as PVD, cathodic arc, sputtering, and atomic layer deposition. Vacuum coating is used by: 

  • Injection molding companies
  • Medical tools manufacturers
  • Semiconductor producers  
  • Aerospace  
  • Automotive manufacturers 

Vacuum degassing is a method of removing dissolved gases from a liquid. It is done by lowering the pressure inside a container which has liquid in it. 

During the production of metals, the materials can become infused with excess gas, which can lead to imperfections and also affect the performance of the metal. 

During the production of molten steel, vacuum degassing is used to remove hydrogen and oxygen from the heated material. By lowering the pressure in vacuum chamber, the gas becomes less soluble and also separates from the melted metal. Once the gas is removed, it is forced out of the chamber which returns to its normal pressure. 

Vacuum chambers are able to duplicate various environmental and atmospheric conditions. When a product is to be used at high altitudes, outer space or deep in the ocean, its performance must be tested to ensure its ability to work. The best part is that vacuum chambers can be set and adjusted for any depth or height in order to test the limits of a part. 

One of the benefits of a vacuum chamber over other traditional testing methods is the amount of time required to complete the test. This is because a variety of conditions and atmospheres can easily be programmed into the chamber itself. This is true for those products that will face extreme conditions. So, it is important to test and certify those products for the safety of those who will rely on them. 

This process is an example of how vacuum chambers can save time, effort, and money. The crystals form when a liquid solution leaves behind solid deposits. Under natural conditions, this process of crystal formation takes several hours or even centuries. Natural crystallization takes time and modern production do not have enough time to wait so that is why vacuum chambers are used. The chambers speed up the process by removing liquids from saturated solutions so as to leave behind crystal deposits. 

Vacuum drying is one of the simplest ways to reduce the size of crystals, improve uniformity by reducing the separation effect. 

Vacuum distillation (VDU) process is performed at pressure that is below atmospheric pressure.  

The process goes like this – The compounds boil at a lower temperature especially when the pressure is lowered. The process of vacuum distillation is able to separate compounds at a lower temperature due to less pressure. The central function of the process is to have liquids boil in order to produce a vapor so that the materials in the vapor can be separated. Once the process is completed, the separated materials are then condensed and reliquefied. 

Vacuum chambers are designed to remove all particles, materials, contaminants, and other matter in an environment under low pressure. The process produces a condition in which there is no living matter. When moisture and air pockets are removed, it also removes microbial contamination. 

The medical instruments after being manufactured and before being packaged, these are placed in a vacuum chamber under low pressure to sterilize and remove any bacteria, viruses, fungi, or any other contaminants. This ensures a bacteria-free equipment before it is shipped. 

Vacuum chambers are used for cooling because it removes moisture from products rapidly with a high-water content. When the pressure lowers, moisture is released which also causes heat to be lost.  

The lowered pressure, apart from removing moisture also takes away energy in the form of heat which creates rapid cooling. 

The vacuum cooling process takes around 15 to 30 minutes. This method cools products uniformly which also adds to their shelf-life. An added benefit of vacuum cooling is its cost-effectiveness as it requires far less energy than just traditional cooling methods.

Vacuum Chamber Design

There are several considerations that must be explored when choosing or designing a vacuum chamber.  

The first concern is the materials used must be capable of withstanding the amount of pressure that is created. Design flaws can prevent the ability of chambers to perform properly and complete its desired functions. 

A chamber that is well-designed will be capable of providing accurate and repeatable functions. When examining the available chambers, one must look into the things that must be examined are: 

  • The shape of the chamber 
  • Types of materials used 
  • Various structural components 
  • Surface finish  
  • Control mechanism 

Vacuum Chamber Design

Most test chambers use steel alloy and stainless steel for their construction.  

Vacuum chambers can be built from a variety of materials because of the nature of vacuum formation.  

The one guiding rule is that the material must be able to withstand drastic changes in the pressure. 

The material used for manufacturing vacuum chambers are based on certain factors such as materials strength, pressure, and penetrability. Unlike environmental chambers, vacuum chambers can also be made of glass, plastic, aluminum, brass, high-density ceramic and even acrylic. 

The stage of deciding the shape comes after the design phase and selecting the material. The shape can either be vertical, horizontal cylinder, spherical, cube, or rectangular box.  

The shape of the chamber is determined by the application for which it will be used from testing products to applying finishes. In case of vacuum chambers in assembly operations, it must be able to apply pressure rapidly between the product cycles. 

There are a number of structural factors that must be considered while planning a vacuum chamber. The essential concern in this aspect of the planning is stability and resilience of the vacuum chamber. Making poor choices can prove to be detrimental to the chamber’s performance.  

The structural components of a vacuum chamber may not seem to be vital in regard to its performance because these are minor and secondary.  

Weak hinges of the wrong material or poor sealants can affect the lifespan and the performance. This is the reason, stiffeners, fasteners, stands, hinges, and lifting points have to be carefully examined carefully.  

Another thing that my concern is the finish on the inside of a vacuum chamber. Earlier, the finish of a vacuum chamber was not considered to be crucial. But, recent researches have proven that the surface finish of a vacuum chamber has a varying effect on the pumping speed depending on the pressure range. 

The greatest effect of the surface finish has been found more in the higher-pressure ranges. The data seems to indicate that in order to achieve the best performances from a vacuum chamber, it is important for the interior to have a smooth finish and be kept tidy. 

This step is equally important to prevent leaks from the chamber. The three most common joining methods are:  

  • Welding: Welding is one of the best methods for sealing a vacuum chamber and preventing leaks. A variety of welding techniques can be used but these must be performed by highly trained welders because welding changes the properties of metals. The methods that can possibly be used are butt, lap, tee, corner, and edge welding. 
  • Brazing: In this method, metal is melted into a joint. The metals that are melted has a lower melting point than the metals that are being joined. For this method to succeed, the metals that are being joined must be strong and ductile. Also, brazing is an expensive method and must be chosen wisely.  
  • Gluing: Yet another method of joining metals. This method is used only under special conditions. The types of glues include highperformance epoxy for sealing aluminum chambers. The chosen adhesives must be resistant to  lubricants, solvents, alcohol, and certain select acids.

All vacuum chambers are equipped with gauges and valves. Valves help in removing internal particles and moisture. Also, it provides an inlet for process gases. For safety precautions, vacuum chambers have bleed valves which protect the chamber and the samples. Gauges are important for measuring and displaying vacuum chamber pressure. 

There are choices when it comes to a controller for a vacuum chamber. For instance, some systems are completely manual which requires adjustments and monitoring. Others are automated controllers that allow users to set the parameters of the process.  

As the procedure unfolds, the system makes adjustments in temperature, pressure, and other programmed factors. Automated control systems are configurable with customizable software and different data collection method.  

The choice of controller is generally determined by how critical the application is and also depends on the size of the vacuum chamber. Smaller chambers may only need a simple gauge to monitor pumping and pressure whereas larger chambers may need aggressive and sophisticated system. 

A Recap 

A vacuum chamber removes air and pressure from a confined enclosure. It is done to test the effects of a vacuum on materials, parts, components, and assemblies or perform applications for manufacturing certain operations. 

In certain industries, there is a need for high-altitude testing, off-gassing in controlled, drying, replicable vacuum conditions, and environments. Such tests help in establishing the quality and durability of products. 

A vacuum is a space with low pressure where all matters are removed which could possibly affect the testing and manufacturing processes. 

Vacuum chambers benefit in a number of ways like create environmental conditions with varying pressure, temperature, humidity, and radiation to assist industry in developing and perfecting the products.