Q+A: What’s new in industrial enclosures?

Michael Wayde, marketing manager at Phoenix Contact, sits down to walk us through the essentials of choosing an industrial enclosure.

By David Miller March 7, 2023

Enclosure Insights

  • The growing prevalence of smart manufacturing has increased the demand for smart machinery featuring HMIs, digital interfaces, and touchscreen keypads, which has influenced the types of housings and enclosure faceplates customers require.
  • Field-level enclosures with a high IP rating that are mounted outside a control cabinet are increasingly common due to the growth in remote monitoring applications.
  • Balancing the growing demand for customization with an appetite for short lead times has been a challenge for enclosure manufacturers

Industrial enclosures play a critical role in maximizing the performance and lifespan of sensitive electronic and computing components. Moreover, as labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, and digital transformation continue to accelerate the adoption of automation, those in industry will be tasked with protecting ever greater numbers of vulnerable sensors and other electronics from hazardous field conditions. As a result, substantial growth is expected in the enclosure market in the coming years. According to market data from Technavio, The industrial enclosures market share is expected to increase by USD 1.83 billion from 2020 to 2025, and the market’s growth momentum will accelerate at a combined annual growth rate of 4.88%.

In “The ins and outs of industrial enclosures,” an exclusive video interview from Control Engineering, Michael Wayde, marketing manager at Phoenix Contact, discussed the ins and outs of the evolving enclosure landscape.

Read the full transcript below.

David Miller: I think the best place for us to start is just by discussing the way in which the growth in smart manufacturing has increased demand for enclosures, due to the need, to protect that sensitive equipment. Is this the case? And can you talk to me a little bit more about it if it is?

Michael Wayde: That’s exactly right. From what we’re seeing, as the demand for smart manufacturing has increased, so has the demand for smart machinery and the need for electronic devices to have things like HMIs, digital interfaces, and touchscreen keypads available right at the machines. So we’re seeing a trend towards those HMIs in the electronics housings business.

David Miller: And is it also the case that with these new digital components, different types of enclosures are required than equipment in the past may have? And can you share some more details with me on some of the different enclosure features that are trending in this new market?

Michael Wayde: Like I said, capacitive touch screens and keypads need to be integrated into these devices, which really means you need more real estate on that enclosure faceplate to accommodate that. So we’re seeing that. We’re seeing some larger designs as a result of those updates. We’re seeing things like single-pair ethernet and connections like USB-C connectors. They’re really broadening our portfolio. And really, we’re getting a lot more demands from customers for these unique types of connectors into the devices. Also, with more power and signal running through these enclosures, we’re seeing the need for heat spreaders and heat sinks to handle those thermal demands and get that heat out of the enclosure. So that’s having us rethink what the devices look like to be able to take that heat out more quickly from the PCB.

David Miller: When it comes to the material that the enclosure is made of, I know there are many different types that we can have. Walk me through some of the most common types of enclosures, in terms of the materials they’re made out of such as steel, aluminum, polycarbonate and so on, and the different kinds of applications they’re most likely to be used in.

Michael Wayde: You touched on it, polycarbonate is probably the most prevalent in DIN rail level enclosures. We do see some trends towards aluminum, and that’s really when you get into applications that need that electronic interference handled. But for the most part, it’s polycarbonate. When we look at the breadth of standard enclosures for DIN rail, it’s typically in the range of 20 to 25 millimeters in width. The heights and depths run somewhere around 122 millimeters as a standard. We see a lot that the standard typically has two or more rows of push-in or screw-in terminal blocks. And then from an application standpoint, these are used for safety relays, drive and motor controls, gateway devices and things of that nature.

David Miller: Maybe you touched on this a little bit, but I’m going to prod you to expand on it a little more if you can. Do you see growth in any one particular type more than another? And if so, what’s going on in the industry sectors those are used in? What environmental conditions are pieces of equipment being subjected to that are driving the growth in that type of enclosure more than others?

Michael Wayde: I would say the enclosure type that we’re seeing the biggest expansion in right now is what we would call our field level enclosures. So those are enclosures that are going to go outside of the cabinet. They might be on the outside of the machine or even outside of a facility. So, field level enclosures are going to have a higher IP rating. I’d say IP 67 or IP 69. We’re going to be seeing these in remote monitoring applications, such as field installed devices that are looking at weather or possibly smart cities. So, traffic patterns and traffic accidents, those types of applications.

David Miller: And are there any major challenges currently facing the enclosure market? Anything that those who sell and manufacture enclosures need to overcome?

Michael Wayde: We see a big challenge in the industry of giving people that Amazon experience. And when I say that, what I mean is that people want things the way they want them, as quickly as needed. So it’s that balance between customization, a customized solution, and what I would call an off-the-shelf solution. So, we’ve been working with our enclosure line to be able to accommodate both by offering more systems approaches.

We have one system called the industrial case system. And that has a set list of standardized components, but it’s a much wider range. So, think of it like a Lego system where a customer can go in, they can go onto an online configurator, and they can put their connector systems in the right locations within their housing. It’s a build-it-themselves type of application as opposed to the old offering, which would’ve been, “Here is an enclosed cabinet, and you tell us where you need connections. And then we’ll send it to a service, and we’ll mill out spaces.” Here, with a more customized solution like this, we can get closer to what a customer’s real needs are without having too much customization happening through another service.

David Miller: And would you say that the desire for more customized enclosures is growing?

Michael Wayde: Absolutely, yeah. We saw a marketable trend here in 2022 with more customized services, and that comes even at a greater level when you talk about some of these new connection devices that are coming into play such as the single-pair ethernet and USB-C. Those types of things didn’t exist a few years ago. They weren’t part of standard portfolios. So, we’re now looking to accommodate those types of connections.