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Specifying industrial enclosures

Ask these 10 questions before specifying or modifying industrial enclosures to optimize your operation.

By Steve Sullivan, Rittal Corporation May 30, 2017

Figure 1: The use of busbar for power management can improve internal layout design to maximize space and reduce costs. Courtesy: Rittal CorporationMachinery and equipment are the life-blood of any industrial or manufacturing operation. But these assets run because of the industrial enclosures deployed throughout the facility to house and protect the operational controls that make them function.

Industrial enclosures are essential for housing and protecting wiring and cables, electrical equipment, machinery controls, and more. They’re also effective protection against radio and electromagnetic interference and other uncontrollable environmental elements such as direct sunlight and heavy rain. For these reasons, plant managers in oil and gas, material handling and packaging, and food and beverage industries rely on the controlled environment of enclosures to protect their equipment from the elements and keep their operations running smoothly. 

10 things to know before specifying or modifying enclosures

Because of the critical role that industrial enclosures play across so many industries and in so many environments, it’s important to specify and modify enclosures for specific environments and controls. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work and could jeopardize important equipment.

Sometimes, knowing what questions to ask before specifying and/or modifying industrial enclosures will save time and money, but more importantly, will improve protection and ensure uptime. Following are 10 critical questions for your specifying team to consider, as well as your suppliers for industrial enclosures or enclosure systems. 

Figure 2: Stainless steel enclosures are optimal for harsh environments such as food and beverage that use harsh chemicals for frequent wash downs. Courtesy: Rittal Corporation1. What is the application?

It’s crucial to map out the function the enclosure or enclosure system will serve in your facility. For example, if the enclosure serves as an electrical drive house, it will be important to know if it should be modified with multiple doors, a power disconnect, or multiple panels. You also may want to know whether the enclosure needs to be populated with busbar power or other accessories (see Figure 1). 

2. Into what type of environment will the enclosure be going?

Using NEMA and UL ratings ensures that the enclosure will stand up to the contaminants, moisture, and particulates of indoor and outdoor environments. For example, food and beverage environments will require frequent wash downs with harsh chemicals, while oil and gas operations may require protection from salt water (see Figure 2). Another consideration is the extremes of hot, cold, and humidity to which enclosures and systems will be exposed. 

3. What are the space restrictions outside the enclosure?

Facility managers want to fit the maximum amount of equipment in the smallest amount of space. Space factors to consider include where the machinery will be located, aisle width, ease of access for maintenance, distance to ceilings and walls, and line of sight. Modular enclosures, for example, can be bayed in a variety of configurations to meet space challenges (see Figure 3). 

Figure 3: Wall-mount enclosures protect smaller control units and HDMI interfaces to ensure longer life. Courtesy: Rittal Corporation4. What are the temperature conditions inside and outside of the enclosure?

High temperatures can cause costly equipment failures. As the use of electronics in controls grows, enclosure cooling becomes increasingly critical. When more than 35% of enclosure applications require cooling, traditional cooling methods such as heat sinks and fans often are not sufficient. More robust solutions such as chillers coupled with air-to-water heat exchangers should then be considered.

5. What ergonomic requirements must be met for users to interface with the enclosure?

The swing of the door, location of the mounting panel, sidewalls, LED lighting, and a variety of modifications must be considered based on the space and use of the enclosure (see Figure 4). 

6. What material is the enclosure made of?

The choice of stainless steel or carbon steel affects both the rating and cost of an enclosure. Depending on regulations and environment, stainless steel might be required or may not provide the necessary ROI to justify it against the lower cost of carbon steel enclosures. [subhead2]

Figure 4: Proper lighting makes for a safer and more efficient working environment. Courtesy: Rittal Corporation7. How critical are enclosure aesthetics to the facility?

No longer an after-thought, the appearance and layout of your facility (especially on the production floor) can affect the critical work being performed for your customers. By baying enclosures in neat, uniform rows, with branded badges, facilities showcase a level of cleanliness and safety that improves customer and employee perception. 

8. How will cable be brought into and managed in the enclosure?

It’s helpful to know in advance whether a modular or uni-body enclosure system works best for your operation. Knowing this will let you know whether cutouts for cable entry will be done while the enclosure is standing or on its back, or whether they can be done on an individual enclosure panel or part at a workbench. In the latter case, the user will need to know whether the enclosure should be modified for cable entry from the roof, sides, or base—or even all sides.

9. How difficult will it be to service the enclosure and the equipment inside?

You’ll need to know if the enclosure’s design allows the user to easily and safely service and conduct repairs. For example, consider the enclosure’s construction for things like removing and replacing doors and panels, ease of access and movement in the shop or plant, inside access for wiring or other necessary work, and ease of installing accessories. 

Figure 5: Busbar power management delivers a plug and play solution for power accessories, routing, and design. Courtesy: Rittal Corporation10. What are the internal design requirements for the enclosure?

Knowing these requirements in advance will help you modify enclosures for the kind of equipment to be installed. Pre-installation modifications can account for electrical equipment, electromagnetic compatibility or shock and vibration considerations, busbar power management, and cutouts for fans or other climate control systems (see Figure 5). 

To be well-informed is to be well-armed

Enclosures are not just metal boxes. They are carefully controlled environments that ensure your operations run day and night. The more thought that designers, specifiers, and managers put into choosing the right enclosure for their needs, the quicker the ROI will be in the uptime of their equipment.

When it comes to the role of industrial enclosures in planning facility layout or augmentation, sometimes the best answer starts with a few simple questions.

Steve Sullivan is the training supervisor at Rittal Corporation, where he oversees instructor-led, computer and web-based learning. He co-founded Rittal University Online and has been with Rittal for more than 20 years.

This article appears in the Applied Automation supplement for Control Engineering 
and Plant Engineering

– See other articles from the supplement below.