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Choosing the right electronic case can be a daunting task. I will highlight the reasons why you should consider all the key aspects of your electronic case design.

1. What is an electrical enclosure?

Electrical enclosures are an integral part of power distribution and control systems. To help you understand them better, we’ll start by defining them. After electrical enclosures are defined, we’ll see why enclosures are important—or what they’re used for.

Electrical Enclosure

1) Meaning of electrical enclosure

Electrical enclosures are simply enclosures that enclose electrical equipment. There are many different types of electrical equipment enclosures, from small handheld enclosures to wall-mount enclosures and large floor-standing enclosures. Housings can be made from a variety of materials, including metal, plastic, and fiberglass. You can also buy them off-the-shelf, or you can have them custom designed and built to your specific requirements.

Custom electrical enclosures ensure you have a cabinet that is the perfect fit for the equipment you need to protect. This is often a better option than trying to find an off-the-shelf product that is the right size and has all the right features for your needs.

2) Why use an electrical enclosure?

Now that you understand what electrical enclosure boxes are, it’s time to understand why they are so important. Electrical equipment enclosures may be required for a variety of reasons:

  • First, electrical component housings provide protection for electrical components from environmental influences. This helps prolong the life of the equipment and minimizes the risk of electrical hazards.
  • Electrical enclosure boxes provide a method of mounting electrical components. This is critical where space is limited or components need to be arranged in a specific way.
  • The enclosure helps to enhance the aesthetics of the installation. This can be important in public areas or where the appearance of the installation is important.
  • Electrical enclosure boxes provide security for electrical components and prevent them from being tampered with.
  • Electrical enclosure cabinets also help prevent unauthorized access. This is critical in environments where there is a risk of tampering or theft.
  • In addition, the enclosure helps reduce noise pollution and electromagnetic interference  (EMI).

2. Electrical enclosure type

Different electrical enclosure types are classified according to their function, material, mounting options, and characteristics. Here is a list of the most common enclosures, their properties, and best uses.

1) Wall-mounted enclosure

These are the most basic shell types. They are typically used in small, low-power applications. The wall mount enclosure is easy to install and can be mounted directly on the wall or on the device.

2) Floor-standing enclosure

These enclosure types are larger than wall-mounted boxes and are often used in more complex applications. Floor-standing enclosures are often used indoors and come with various accessories such as shelves, drawers, and doors.

3) Pole Mount Housing

Pole-mount electrical enclosures are used when the enclosure cannot be mounted to a wall or floor. They are usually used outdoors, in public places.  Customized pole enclosures are available in a variety of sizes.

4) Surface mount housing

These enclosure types are typically mounted to a wall or other surface. Surface mount enclosures are used when mounting the enclosure flush with the wall is not possible or desired. These enclosures are commonly used in industrial applications.

Electrical Enclosure

5) Flush mount housing

Flush-mount electrical enclosures are installed in wall structures so they are flush with the surface. These types of enclosures are used when a sleek, streamlined appearance is desired, such as in residential and commercial applications.

6) Independent shell

Freestanding electrical enclosures stand on their own and provide mobility. Therefore, they are usually fitted with wheels, casters, or leveling feet. These types of enclosures are mainly used to house large equipment. They are also preferred when housing relocation is possible, especially in industrial applications.

7) Metal electrical enclosure

The metal housing is durable and ideal for use in harsh environments. Metal enclosures can be made from a variety of materials, including stainless steel, carbon steel, and aluminum.

8) Plastic case

Enclosures made of plastic are lighter than those made of metal, which makes them easier to install. Also available in polycarbonate and ABS, plastic electrical enclosures come in a variety of colors.

9) Fiberglass shell

Fiberglass makes a low-cost yet strong and durable enclosure. These are ideal for use in harsh environments. Fiberglass electrical enclosures can be made from a variety of materials, including fiberglass-reinforced plastic (FRP) and glass-fiber-reinforced plastic (GRP).

10) Customized shell

Ready-made enclosures are available from many different manufacturers. Alternatively, they can be custom designed and manufactured to specific requirements. When selecting a custom electrical enclosure, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • The use environment of the shell
  • Equipment that will be housed in the enclosure
  • Device Dimensions and Weight
  • Required protection level
  • Ventilation or cooling may be required as special features

3. Types of electrical enclosure ratings

Engineers can use several different types of electrical enclosure ratings to evaluate the suitability of an enclosure for a particular application. These are developed and published by different organizations regionally and internationally. The most commonly used ratings are:

1) IP protection level

IP, short for Ingress Protection, is a rating system used to define the level of protection an enclosure has against solid objects and liquids. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) publishes this enclosure standard. The IP enclosure rating system has two numbers, the first number represents the level of protection against solids, and the second number represents the level of protection against liquids.

For example, an enclosure rated IP54 provides a degree of protection against dust and water splashes from any direction. In contrast, an IP65-rated enclosure provides full protection against the ingress of dust and against low-pressure water jets from any direction.

When a number in the IP rating system is replaced by an X, it means the enclosure is not rated for that particular level of protection. For example, an IPX4 enclosure provides undefined solid protection.

2) NEMA enclosure rating

NEMA for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. This enclosure rating system defines the level of protection an enclosure provides against physical shock, water ingress, and corrosion. It’s worth mentioning that NEMA does not test or certify enclosures. Instead, they publish voluntary standards that manufacturers can choose to follow.

NEMA electrical enclosure ratings use numbers and letters to define the level of protection provided. While there are many different ratings, the most common are NEMA 1 through NEMA 13. Given that the standard has been adopted by many manufacturers, NEMA electrical enclosures are the most common.

Because of the protection they provide against a variety of environmental conditions, NEMA enclosures are used in a variety of applications.

3) UL enclosure rating

UL is the abbreviation of Underwriters Laboratories. A global safety consulting and certification company. They set several product standards, including electrical enclosure ratings. The UL rating system classifies enclosures based on their suitability for specific types of equipment and enforces these ratings through certification programs.

The program requires manufacturers to submit their products to independent laboratories for testing to ensure they meet relevant standards.

Electrical Enclosure

4) CE enclosure rating

For products sold within the European Economic Area, the CE enclosure rating is a mandatory conformity mark. This indicates that the product complies with the requirements of all relevant EU directives. In order to affix the CE marking on an enclosure, the manufacturer must carry out a self-declaration process to show that the product complies with all necessary requirements.

5) RoHS enclosure rating

RoHS stands for Restriction of Hazardous Substances. An EU directive restricts the use of six hazardous substances in the manufacture of electronic and electrical products. To comply with RoHS, the content of any restricted material in the housing must not exceed 0.1%. Lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers are examples.

RoHS electrical enclosure ratings are independently compiled by different EU countries. Other regions, such as Asian countries, have also introduced their own RoHS-inspired directives.

4. NEMA and IP enclosure ratings

Water and dust resistance are used to evaluate the suitability of an enclosure for a particular application using NEMA and IP ratings. There are, however, some key differences between the two systems.

  • The IP rating system is administered by the IEC, while the NEMA rating system is published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.
  • NEMA ratings define electrical enclosure rating standards only, while IP ratings can apply to other types of electrical equipment or products.
  • Unlike NEMA ratings, which typically use a single digit to define a waterproof rating, IP ratings use two digits. The first number defines the degree of protection against solids, while the second number defines the degree of protection against liquids

5. Electrical enclosure structure

Electrical equipment enclosures are usually boxes or cabinets used to enclose electrical components. It also provides a means of mounting equipment, often with features such as doors and handles. Generally, electrical enclosure structures are usually based on the following.

  • Size
  • Material
  • Accessories

Electrical Enclosure

1) Electrical enclosure size

There are different electrical enclosure sizes. V It can be a small or large electrical enclosure, or it can have specific accessories such as ventilation holes or cable glands.

2) Electrical enclosure material

Most enclosures are made of sheet metal, such as carbon steel, stainless steel, or aluminum. However, other materials may also be used, including plastic and fiberglass. The choice of electrical enclosure material usually depends on the environment in which the enclosure will be used.

3) Electrical enclosure accessories

The electrical enclosure construction also includes a range of accessories. Cable glands, DIN rails, and mounting plates are common enclosure accessories. These accessories help create complete enclosure solutions for electrical equipment.

6. Electrical enclosure design

Electrical enclosure design includes all steps involved in creating enclosures for electrical components. This includes everything from choosing the right material to making the case itself. To ensure your electrical enclosure meets the specific needs of your application, there are some key considerations to keep in mind. These are discussed fully below.

1) Enclosure Application

The first step in electrical enclosure design is to consider the purpose of the enclosure. This will determine the size, shape, and material of the enclosure, and what needs to be contained within it. Consider the environment in which the enclosure will be used. Both the external and internal environments are included here. External factors to consider include:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Dust
  • Exposure to weather (rain, snow, sun, etc.)
  • Salt spray

Vibration, shock, and thermal cycling are internal factors to consider. When you evaluate these factors, you will be able to determine what needs to be done to protect the electrical components inside the enclosure.

2) Enclosure Material

The material you choose for an electrical enclosure will have a major impact on its performance. A variety of materials can be used to make enclosures, including plastic, fiberglass, aluminum, and steel.

  • Lightweight and heat-resistant, aluminum enclosures are a popular choice. However, they are not suitable for applications where the housing will be affected by highly corrosive materials.
  • Steel, on the other hand, is a very strong and durable housing material. Especially the stainless steel case has more advantages than the carbon steel case, but the price is higher.
  • Plastic is another popular electrical enclosure choice. Plastic cases are generally less expensive than metal cases, but not as durable as metal cases.
  • Fiberglass is lightweight and low-cost, making it ideal for cases that require a strong but lightweight enclosure. However, fiberglass housings are not as heat-resistant as some of the other materials on this list.
  • Environmental Conditions  – Does the enclosure have an indoor or outdoor purpose? Is it in a harsh industrial environment or a clean office environment?
  • Dimensions and Weight  – What are the enclosure dimensions? How much does it weigh?
  • Protection Requirements  – How should the enclosure be protected? Impact protection, chemical resistance, or water resistance?
  • Cost  – What is your budget for the cabinet?
  • Aesthetics – Is it important how the enclosure looks?

1. Environmental conditions

Take into account the environment in which the enclosure will be used. Some enclosure materials are better suited to harsh industrial environments, while others are better suited to clean office environments. For example, polycarbonate and ABS enclosures are good choices for harsh industrial environments, while fiberglass enclosures are good choices for clean office environments.

2. Housing size and weight

Some materials, such as aluminum, are lighter than others and may be a good choice for applications where weight is important. Dimensions also affect the choice of housing material. For example, a large enclosure may require a stronger material such as steel to support the weight of the enclosure and its contents.

3. Enclosure protection level

Material selection should take into account the type of protection the enclosure needs to provide. For example, stainless steel enclosures are a good choice for enclosures that require corrosion resistance. In applications where the enclosure is subject to impact, this material is prone to dents.

4. Enclosure price

One of the factors that affect the price of cases is the material used to make them. A cheaper electrical enclosure is made from ABS, while a more expensive enclosure is made from stainless steel or aluminum. When cost is an issue, it is important to balance the cost of the enclosure with its performance.

Electrical Enclosure

5. Shell aesthetics

Finally, aesthetics are also an important consideration when choosing a housing material. The material should complement the overall design of the product and fit the desired aesthetic. For example, you might prefer a stainless steel case for a clean and professional look. Once you’ve considered all of these factors, you should have a pretty good idea of the best material for your application.

If you’re still unsure, or if you need help choosing the right material for your project, you may want to contact a professional cabinet company. Their engineers will be able to narrow down your options and choose the best material for your application.

Overall, the housing material you choose for your project should be based on the specific needs of your application.

3) Enclosure Dimensions

The size and shape of the electrical enclosure are also a major consideration. For example, large electrical enclosures are generally more expensive than smaller electrical enclosures. They also require more installation space and can be more difficult to transport.

On the other hand, a small enclosure may not hold all the electrical components you need. They may also be more vulnerable to damage and more likely to be accessed by unauthorized personnel. When selecting the size of an electrical cabinet, it is important to strike a balance between size and cost.

The enclosure should be large enough to hold all the components you need, but not so large that it becomes prohibitively expensive or difficult to install.

4) Enclosure Cooling

Another step in electrical enclosure design is to consider cooling methods. This is especially important for enclosures that will be used in high-temperature environments or that will house heat-generating components. Enclosure cooling methods for electrical enclosures include:

  • Airflow (natural or forced)
  • Air conditioner
  • Heat sink

5) Enclosure Ventilation

The next step is to determine the ventilation requirements for the enclosure. This includes the amount of ventilation required and the location of the vents. The following are some common enclosure ventilation requirements:

  • Provide cooling air
  • Prevent the accumulation of dangerous gas
  • Reduce the risk of explosion

6) Enclosure Accessories

After the electrical enclosure is manufactured, it needs to be equipped with the appropriate accessories. Everything from ventilation fans to cable glands can be included in enclosure accessories. Some important accessories include:

  • Enclosure ventilation fans cool enclosed electrical components
  • Cable glands are used to seal and protect cables as they pass through enclosure walls
  • Housing lock to prevent unauthorized access to the housing
  • Enclosure hinges allow the opening and closing of enclosure doors
  • Enclosure latch to hold enclosure door closed
  • Cabinet feet to lift the cabinet off the floor and provide stability
  • Housing brackets for mounting the housing to a wall or other surface
  • Enclosure gaskets for sealing enclosure doors or windows
  • Housing filters are used to remove dust and other contaminants from the air
  • The cabinet door handle is used to open and close the cabinet door.
  • Cabinet lighting for illuminating the interior of the cabinet.

Cabinet thermal management products are used to regulate the temperature inside the cabinet. They are available in a variety of styles including air conditioners and radiators or heat exchangers.

The enclosure environment monitor is used to monitor the conditions inside the enclosure. They come in a variety of styles, including temperature sensors, humidity sensors, and pressure sensors.

Electrical Enclosure

7) Enclosure Finish

Electrical enclosure design also includes determining the type of finish to use. Caps, in turn, depend largely on the environment in which the case is used. Some common finishes include powder coating, plating, anodizing, and painting

  • Painting is relatively inexpensive and is available in a variety of colors. However, it is not as durable as some other finishes and may require more frequent maintenance.
  • Powder coating is another common method of finishing enclosures. It is more durable than paint and is available in a variety of colors.
  • Anodizing is a process commonly used for aluminum electrical enclosures. It creates a durable, corrosion-resistant finish.

7. Electrical enclosure manufacturing

To manufacture electrical enclosures, enclosure manufacturers use a variety of methods and materials. They also take into account the specific requirements of the customer project. Additionally, the end-use or housing application will also dictate the manufacturing process. Residential electrical enclosures, for example, have different requirements than industrial ones.

8. Electrical enclosure manufacturing steps

These steps involve the manufacture of electrical enclosures. Note that some of these steps may be combined or omitted depending on the size and complexity of the enclosure. Manufacturing an electrical enclosure involves the following steps:

1) Housing specification

The manufacturing process begins with the specification of the case. These are varied, depending on the client and application. They include:

  • Case size
  • Enclosure type (wall-mounted, floor-mounted, etc.)
  • Enclosure class
  • Housing Accessories
  • Finishing type
  • Other features such as windows, doors, or ventilation of the enclosure

2) Box material selection

The next step in electrical enclosure manufacturing is choosing the right material. The three most commonly used materials are aluminum, stainless steel, carbon steel, plastic, and fiberglass. Each of these housing materials has different advantages and disadvantages to consider. Aluminum, for example, is lightweight and heat-resistant, but not as strong or corrosion-resistant as steel.

Plastic is an inexpensive electrical enclosure material that is easy to machine. It can be damaged by heat or chemicals, however, and is not as durable as metal. Therefore, suitable housing materials often depend on the specific application and environment of the housing.

3) Enclosure structure design

After determining the specifications, the next step is to design the enclosure. This includes creating drawings and 3D models of enclosures. Electrical enclosure design must consider the manufacturability of the enclosure, as well as any challenges that may be encountered during fabrication or assembly. Enclosure drawings and models are created using computer-aided design (CAD) software.  Multiple design iterations may be required, depending on the enclosure’s complexity.

Electrical Enclosure

4) Shell making

The next step in manufacturing an electrical enclosure is to manufacture the product from the chosen material. In order to manufacture electrical enclosures, a variety of methods can be used, including cutting, drilling, and bending. The manufacturing method chosen will depend on the materials used, as well as the required tolerances and finish of the housing. In some cases, multiple shell manufacturing methods can be used to create a single shell.

The following methods are used to cut the material during the shell manufacturing process:

  • Punching – die-cutting method of cutting material to size
  • Shearing – Cutting material to size using a blade
  • Punching – punching holes in the material using a die
  • Waterjet Cutting – cutting material using a high-pressure water jet
  • Laser cutting – using a laser to cut material by burning it

The housing material can also be drilled using various methods. Enclosure manufacturers can bend the material during the manufacturing process using the following methods:

  • Channel Bending – using a mold to bend the material into a channel shape
  • Edge bending – using a die to bend the material along the edge
  • Offset Bending – In this method, a die and punch are used to create an offset in the material
  • U-bend – using a die and punch to create a U-bend in the material
  • V-bending – using a die to bend the material into a V-shape

5) Shell assembly

Assembling or joining enclosure components is the next step in the manufacturing process.  Depending on the complexity of the enclosure, it can be assembled manually or using automated machines. Some shell assembly methods are

  • Mechanical Assembly – This is the joining of parts using screws, rivets, or other fasteners. Other methods include caulking, folding, and so on.
  • Case Welding – In this method of case assembly, parts are joined together through heat. This can be done using a variety of welding methods such as arc welding, flash welding, or spot welding.
  • Using Adhesives – This method is often used in plastic case manufacturing. These parts are held together with an adhesive such as epoxy, glue, or tape.

6) Shell processing

Machining involves removing material from the housing using tools such as lathes, drills, or mills. This is done to create openings for doors, windows, or ventilation. It can also be used to create custom shell features or to improve the appearance of shells. The housing can also be punched or drilled to make holes for various purposes.

Common methods used to machine shells include:

  • Slotting
  • Punching
  • Divide
  • Parting
  • Perforation
  • Slotting

7) Shell Finishing

After the shell assembly and machining steps, it is now time for finishing. This will give the enclosure its final look and protect it from the elements. It is also at this stage that any decals, labels, or other markings are added to the casing. Various finishes are available for electrical enclosure boxes such as:

  • Powder Coat – This is a coating applied to the case to prevent corrosion. It is usually applied in powder form and then cured using heat or UV light.
  • Wet Application – Electrical enclosures are commonly finished in this way. The enclosure is first primed and then painted in the desired color.
  • Electroplating – This is a process in which a thin layer of metal is applied to the surface of an enclosure. This is usually for aesthetics or to increase resistance to harsh conditions.
  • Anodizing – This is an electrolytic process that creates a thin protective film on the surface of the case. It is often used in aluminum casings to increase their durability.
  • Printing – This is the process of printing graphics or other images onto the surface of the enclosure. A variety of methods, such as screen printing or decal printing, can be used to accomplish this.
  • Engraving – Depending on the housing material, engraving can be done using a variety of methods. This is usually for aesthetic purposes or to add an identifying mark.

8) Shell test

Following the electrical enclosure manufacturing process, it is important to test the finished product to ensure it meets all required specifications. As part of this process, leaks, strength, and durability are tested. There are also various methods for shell testing, such as:

  • Ingress Tests – Enclosure ingress protection tests are tests that ensure that dust and water or other liquids and solids cannot enter the enclosure. This is done to comply with various enclosure ratings, such as IP, and to ensure the longevity of the enclosure.
  • Vibration Test – This test is performed to ensure that the enclosure can withstand the vibrations it will experience in its intended environment. Especially for enclosures intended for industrial or commercial use, this is crucial.
  • Salt Spray Test – This is a test in which the enclosure is exposed to salt spray. This test evaluates the corrosion resistance of the enclosure. Enclosures that will be used outdoors or in harsh conditions should undergo this test.
  • Humidity Testing – Humidity testing is designed to determine the effects of prolonged exposure to high humidity on the enclosure. This test can be performed to confirm enclosure material selection or to determine if an enclosure complies with various enclosure standards.
  • Thermal Shock Test – This is a test where the enclosure is subjected to extreme temperature changes. Doing this allows you to check the material selection for the enclosure, or to ensure that it can withstand the thermal shock to which it may be exposed in the intended environment.

9) Shell packaging

Once the electrical enclosure is manufactured and tested, it is ready to be packaged for shipping. This is done to protect the case from damage during shipping and to protect it during storage. The enclosure packaging method used will depend on several factors such as the size and weight of the enclosure, the fragility of the enclosure, and the intended shipping method.

Small electrical enclosures are often packaged in cardboard boxes with reinforced corners and other impact-resistant packing materials. Larger enclosures can be packed in wooden cases or on pallets. Packaging should also include any required documentation, such as technical drawings and specifications of the enclosure. This will ensure that the cabinet can be installed and used properly when it arrives at its destination.

Electrical Enclosure

9. Select the enclosure class

Before deciding on a specific enclosure grade, it is important to consider the conditions under which it will be used. As a result, you will be able to determine the level of protection it requires. Some factors to consider when rating electrical enclosures include:

  • The type of electrical equipment that will be placed in the enclosure
  • The use environment of the shell
  • Required protection level

The regulations and standards that apply to your industry or application should also be considered. This will help you choose an enclosure that meets all the necessary requirements. Always look for an enclosure rated higher than you actually need. This will give you some room for error and give you some leeway if conditions turn out to be worse than expected.

10. Conclusion

Enclosures are an important part of electrical systems. They protect electrical components from the elements and provide a safe and secure environment.  To ensure the safe and efficient operation of your system, you must select the right enclosure, whether it is an indoor or outdoor electrical enclosure.

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