How to select the right free-standing industrial enclosure

When selecting industrial enclosures for electronics, process controls, power systems, and other business-critical equipment, ensure protection from water, dust, corrosive liquids and other contaminants. Also provide security and climate control to help ensure a long service life and high reliability of what’s enclosed, according to a company with a Control Engineering Engineers’ Choice Award product.

By Troy Miesse February 28, 2022
Courtesy: Rittal North America

Enclosures are the backbone of any industrial automation system, helping to ensure electronics, process controls, power systems and other business-critical equipment is protected from water, dust, corrosive liquids and other contaminants. They provide security for systems in remote locations and climate control to moderate thermal fluctuations, which helps ensure a long service life and high reliability of the internal components.

Enclosures systems need to be flexible enough to expand, adapt and integrate with diverse manufacturing environments. But how do you choose the right enclosure for your application or facility?

The ideal enclosure for your industrial application does exist and making the right selection will help you overcome mounting challenges, increase your flexibility when it comes to wiring, prevent unnecessary downtime, and even decrease your energy consumption and utility costs.

Questions to ask before selecting an industrial enclosure

When beginning the process of industrial enclosure selection, ask these questions:

  • What equipment will the enclosure protect?
  • What is the immediate environment like?
  • What corrosive gas, vapor, liquid or dust particles may be present?
  • Is more than one corrosive element present?
  • Are these elements unstable at any time?
  • Is there exposure to any byproducts of manufacturing processes?
  • Is exposure to weather a concern?
  • To what temperature will the enclosure be exposed?
  • Will I need a single enclosure or multiple enclosures?
  • Is there a foreseeable need for enclosure expansion?
  • Are there arc flash or other potential safety hazards to address?
  • Does the enclosure need protection from standing water?
  • What is the total weight of the components to be housed?
  • Is the enclosure location secured or accessible by many?
  • Are there space constraints or specific width/depth requirements?

Free-standing industrial enclosure features

A well-designed enclosure is easier to assemble and work with, saving time and money in the long run. Look for these features to ensure you’re getting a quality enclosure for the application.

1. An efficient design process

  • Can you configure and order the enclosure system online, and does the configuration system interface with the preferred engineering tools?
  • Can you use the data generated by the design process for additional modifications or design changes? Is there a digital twin?
  • Future-proof the investment by looking for enclosures that support Industry 4.0 processes and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities.

2. Versatility

  • Review material selections to ensure the right material for the application is available, especially if the enclosure will be in a corrosive or outdoor environment.
  • Ask about height, width, and depth options to ensure the enclosure will fit your space constraints.
  • Ask about compatibility with other enclosure systems and accessories, which will allow flexibility to scale in the future.
  • Ensure easy integration of the preferred climate control solution.

3. Streamlined assembly

  • Ask if you will need to order roof panels, side panels, or accessories separately.
  • Ask if additional sealing is necessary.
  • Ask for a demonstration of installation to determine whether the enclosure is flexible enough for application needs while still being simple enough to install.
    • What are the cable entry options?
    • How are the gland plates attached?
    • Is additional earthing required?
    • Can installation be done by one person?
  • Review enclosure mounting options, and don’t forget to check if there are mounting capabilities on the inside of the door.

4. Reliability

  • Ask if the enclosure body is produced from one piece of steel, which would help ensure maximum stability and torsional rigidity.
  • Ensure there are no gaps between the roof, side panel, and frame.
  • Look for a high protection category to ensure the enclosure can stand up to ambient conditions.
  • Check that the enclosure is compliant with international regulations and achieves UL and cUL Certification.
  • Ask the manufacturer if the enclosure has gone through comprehensive quality management. The enclosure manufacturer should be able to say the frequency of inspections by a third-party nationally-recognized testing laboratory (NRTL).
  • For the highest quality painted enclosure, look for spray-finishing that matches the standards of the automotive industry, which involves a three-phrase treatment: (1) nanoceramic pre-treatment, (2) electrophoretic dipcoat priming, (3) textured powder coating.
  • For stainless steel enclosures, look at the surface finish of the enclosure to determine cleanability – having a brushed grain can prevent deposits of dirt and dust, and a smooth surface can prevent bacteria from settling.

Choose the right material for the industrial enclosure: Stainless steel or carbon steel?

The enclosure material selected will affect the lifespan, functionality, and performance of the components inside. With numerous materials available, what are the different protective advantages?

Certain enclosure materials are more corrosion resistant than others. The enclosure material chosen should have corrosion protection properties that can withstand the effects of the applications environment.

Painted carbon steel is the most cost-effective metallic enclosure material. The paint finish consists of an inner layer of primer and an outer layer of powder coat, which produces a durable and scratch-resistant surface. In the case of accidental scratches, touchup paint should be used to cover exposed bare metal. Resistance to solvents, alkalis, and acids is very limited. Painted carbon steel enclosures are often used in indoor applications.

Stainless steel is an iron-based alloy containing between 18% and 20% chromium. Type 304 is oxidation resistant and provides protection from corrosive solvents, alkalis, and some acids, while Type 316 (which contains molybdenum) has additional material properties that give it an improved resistance against sulfates, bromides, chlorine, sea water, high temperatures, and some special acids. Stainless steel enclosures are used for indoor and outdoor applications and are ideal for applications that are exposed to wash-down cleaning processes.

Special enclosure considerations for specific industrial applications

Applications for enclosures may have needs specific to the industry, including:

Machine and plant engineering. Look for a high level of torsional rigidity to help ensure the enclosure is designed to handle dynamic loads and stresses when used with mobile lifting and operating equipment in a production plant or warehouse.

Pharmaceuticals. Choose a stainless-steel enclosure with a smooth surface for easy cleaning. Look for an enclosure with no gaps between the sides, roof, and frame, where dirt deposits can build up.

Food and beverage. To meet the exacting hygienic food and beverage standards, look for smooth stainless steel (brushed, grain size 400) to prevent viruses and bacteria from accumulating in surface recesses. Also look for a high protection category of up to IP 66/NEMA 4X to allow for cleaning with high pressure water jets.

Building services. Where space is limited, sizing versatility is key. Look for enclosures with a wide range of width and depth options, as well as accessories like a 180° hinge and door stay to make it easy to keep escape routes clear.

VX SE Free-standing Enclosure from Rittal North America are the latest generation of free-standing enclosures engineered for Industry 4.0 applications. Courtesy: Rittal North America

VX SE Free-standing Enclosure from Rittal North America are the latest generation of free-standing enclosures engineered for Industry 4.0 applications. Courtesy: Rittal North America

The ideal free-standing industrial enclosure solution

The latest generation of free-standing enclosures are engineered for Industry 4.0 applications:

  • Minimal ordering and assembly work, thanks to the solid side panels and roof
  • Body produced from one piece for maximum stability and torsional rigidity
  • High protection category up to IP 66/NEMA 4 or 4X
  • Enhanced safety due to no gaps between side panels, roof and frame
  • Smart enclosure design from one piece to help ensure good EMC properties
  • Wide range of dimensions up to a width of 1800 mm, may replace up to three bayed enclosures
  • Depths of 300 mm are ideal for applications in confined spaces.

Troy Miesse is product manager, Rittal North America. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Industrial enclosure selection advice, Engineers’ Choice Awards


How are you using factory or process control enclosures to improve operations?

Author Bio: Troy Miesse is product manager, Rittal North America.