DuPont Weathering Systems (DWS) enjoys the enviable position of having an infinite supply of its principal raw material – Florida weather. Long recognized as the "gold standard" for testing product durability, south Florida's climate is used to test the exposure limits of everything from car paint and golf balls to hair dye.

A unit of the company's Performance Coatings business, DWS has been in the business of exposing, measuring and analyzing the effects of weather on products of all kinds for nearly 80 years. DWS conducts exposure tests lasting anywhere from a few weeks to several years on a 10-acre site near Hialeah, a Miami suburb. Its location in a quiet, residential area, away from freeways and major air routes, enhances the accuracy of testing because there is little environmental fallout that could skew results.

"The real beauty of this operation is that we can bring the full range of DuPont science and technology to bear on a universe of materials to explain the mechanisms of degradation, make meaningful service-life predictions and even suggest solutions for improving durability and other characteristics," said John G. McCool, vice president and general manager – DuPont Refinish Systems, the manufacturer of automotive coatings used in collision repair. "It's fascinating to look at how our scientific capabilities have evolved since the 1920s when simple visual observations were the principal factor in weathering science."

DuPont provides weathering studies for many of the company's own businesses, as well as for independent testing laboratories, and is receiving new challenges from companies whose products must survive the ravages of sun, heat and humidity. Tests are designed to measure how weather might affect gloss, adhesion, chemical degradation, cracking and other types of damage due to exposure. Materials routinely tested at Hialeah include films, plastics, pigments, coatings, fibers, sealants and laminates.

"We test a huge range of materials and objects," said Lesley Jacques, manager of the DuPont Florida weathering station. "Often, testing a finished product is the only way to learn how a certain material might interact with other components under severe weather conditions. For example, the foam in a seat cushion might react with its fabric cover, or vice versa. One material can change the properties of another with which it is in contact."

Jacques, a marine biologist by training, has tested plastic garbage cans, golf balls, photovoltaic solar panels, soft drink bottles, windshields with plastic film interlayers, flags created with DuPont printing inks, as well as the usual assortment of automotive and industrial finishes. An interesting project now under way involves testing the effectiveness and lifecycle of environmentally improved, biologically degradable insecticides aimed at controlling termites, a constant threat to Florida homeowners.

"This is also the perfect environment for testing building materials," said Jacques. "We have the capability to test virtually anything that has to stand up to climatic extremes, including roofing, siding, textiles and geotextiles. We can do the whole job, from test design right through laboratory analysis."