Keeping industrial enclosures cool

Inside machines: Steelmaking application calls for consistently cool cabinets in a hot, hostile environment. Equipment specifications for data center environments are far different from those for industrial environments.

By Mike Herzog July 24, 2015

Industrial enclosures used in manufacturing or process facilities need to absorb heat and protect their contents to ensure controls and automation operate safely and efficiently. Specification for data centers differs from industrial enclosure requirements. Within data centers, most of the heat generated may originate from servers inside the enclosure. In an industrial environment, more heat may be generated externally. It depends on the environment and contents of the enclosures.

Having the ability to supply enclosures and climate-control technology (fans and filters, air conditioners, heat exchangers, and process chillers) for industrial applications and data centers is especially useful when an application causes data center and industrial applications to overlap. Englewood, Colo.-based Palmer Drives Control Systems (Palmer DCS) partnered with an enclosure manufacturer to provide control panels for an application that monitors the efficiency of flames in kilns in steelmaking.

Lynn Weberg, Palmer DCS president, said that as a provider of code-compliant control panels, many of which go into hazardous locations, the company must meet specific and varied application requirements. These include a flame-monitoring panel, control panels for data collection cabinets, and modular (baying) enclosures installed in solar fields in Solano, Ariz., and Mojave, Calif. 

Keep it cool

Weberg noted that the control panels with a steel-making application were used to monitor the flame efficiency in the kilns used to obtain the fluxes important to the steelmaking process. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) involved used a cabinet with a heat exchanger system located inside on the cabinet floor, along with an external copper-piping manifold that was expensive to build. The manifold also required a steel-cage framing system to guard against damage.

Working with the enclosure manufacturer, Palmer DCS provided the customer with pertinent data, including "operating temperatures outside the cabinets, the level of heat that the components generate during the steelmaking process, and the heat flow of the heat exchanger," according to Weberg.

The cabinet is next to a kiln that runs at 2,800 F, and the temperature outside the cabinet is 110 F; "The internal cabinet, however, must be kept much cooler," Weberg said. It uses a water-cooled heat exchanger and air conditioner, externally mounted to the side of the control cabinet, to provide adequate amounts of cool air and proper flow. The maximum cooling water temperature is 80 F.

The climate control system for the application must maintain internal operating temperatures of 41 to 86 F. Below 41 F, heating capability is required. Internal airflow baffling ensures that internal components don’t exceed the specified internal operating temperatures.

Here’s how the project moved from specifications to design.

Specifications to product

The enclosures used for the application are 79-in. high x 36-in. wide x 36-in. long, carbon-steel, NEMA 4/IP56-rated modular units with 19-in. rackmount rails, front and rear, separated by 24 in., front to back. Vertical rack space is 38 U. Front and rear access doors open with handles and are lockable. Doors, side panels, top and bottom panels, and externally mounted electrical enclosures are grounded.

"Once we obtained from the OEM customer the collective data points, the engineers were able to run the computations and provide the necessary analysis."

Kirk Thorne, owner of Rocky Mountain Electrical Specifications, said thermal imaging is a common tool used by data center design engineers as "Servers generate an incredible amount of heat, more than most industrial applications" with steelmaking being an exception. Still, the reality is thatk "There is far more heat in a data center than 99% of industrial applications," said Thorne.

The equipment used to automatically process panels is 2,200 mm (about 87 in.) wide x 1,727 mm (about 68 in.) high. Equipment drills the holes on the back panel for component mounting and cuts holes in the control panel. Previously, these were manual processes.

Weberg explained, "We’re generating programs that go directly to our CNC, which then cuts the holes in the back panel for the wiring and components. We know the sizes of the wires, their colors, and other information that enables us to increase efficiency and productivity by standardizing components and reusing them. This enhances collaborative efforts between our sites and our partners."

Weberg projected return on investment (ROI) for the CNC machine at 15 or 16 months.

– Mike Herzog is business manager of Rittal Automation Systems. Edited by Eric R. Eissler, editor-in-chief, Oil & Gas Engineering,

Key concepts

  • Enclosures and climate-control technology ensure that contents of industrial applications and data centers operate reliably.
  • Some enclosure applications can require heating or cooling.
  • Industrial or data center enclosures can be modified as needed. 

Consider this

How can updated enclosure designs help your industrial control designs?

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