Evolution of enclosures for today’s industrial electronics
01 July 2022
Industrial electronic enclosures are evolving faster than ever to match the ever-accelerating pace of change in the sector: long gone are the days of prosaic boxes. Today’s advanced enclosures offer technical features designed to suit a broad spectrum of applications in challenging environments, says Robert Cox, Marketing Director at specialist industrial electronics enclosures manufacturer, ROLEC.
This article was originally featured in the July 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.
These IP-rated standard enclosures must be tough, resilient and versatile – capable of being installed anywhere, be it on a wall, a bulkhead or a machine. They should be easily customisable – both in terms of functionality and branding. And these days, the enclosures must also be aesthetically pleasing: today’s Industry 4.0 smart factories and their cleanrooms are a world away from the grimy industrial units of the 20th century.
And yet it was back in 1967 – the height of the flower power era – when the evolution of industrial electronic enclosures really began. German entrepreneur, Friedhelm Rose was approached by a client who needed an empty sealed enclosure for a switch. At the time, nothing suitable existed. So Rose modified a limit switch box, integrated a small terminal switch and added cable glands at either end. Word soon got around, and by the start of 1970, Rose moved his burgeoning enclosure business to larger premises. Throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, Friedhelm Rose would go on to develop enclosure innovations that would set the standard for today, founding his new company ROLEC in 1986.
The simplest sealed enclosures are those like ROLEC’s aluKOM (IP 66-rated) – a diecast aluminium housing which has gone on to become the global standard since its introduction. This type of enclosure is ideal for mounting all types of electronic and electrical components. There are threaded screw bosses in the base for circuit boards, terminal rails and mounting plates. Other options include lid supports, hinges, EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) shielding and supporting rails.
ROLEC built on aluKOM by launching aluNORM (IP 66/67-rated), which makes more efficient use of internal space inside by using the same channels for both the lid screws and the mounting screws. The enclosures also combine different lids and bases to create four versions – resulting in a huge range of sizes.
Next came diecast enclosures, designed to solve the problem of how to protect notoriously fragile EMC shielding gaskets. Traditionally, these gaskets can be prone to breakage if the lid is opened regularly for inspection. ROLEC’s solution was to dispense with EMC gaskets altogether. Its conFORM (IP 66/67-rated) enclosures feature built-in EMC shielding, created by a patented tooth system pre-cast into the lid and base. The teeth interlock, preserving electrical continuity and ensuring the reliable integrity of the Faraday cage over the long term.
But what if you need to install your enclosures in seriously inhospitable conditions? There’s little point having an IP-rated seal, if you have to open the lid of the housing to access the mounting screw channels – exposing your delicate electronics to rain and wind-driven spray.
In this instance, the solution is to specify an enclosure such as aluCASE (IP 66/67/69K-rated) which features separate lid screw and mounting screw channels – enabling you to install your enclosure ‘lid closed’. This is also very useful for maintenance and inspection: the enclosure can be uninstalled, taken to a safer location and the lid opened in nice, dry conditions. All the screws are concealed beneath clip-on trims for added protection and enhanced aesthetics. Most premium enclosures will have this option. They should also feature a recessed lid for fitting a membrane keypad, front plate or product label.
So far, all the enclosures we’ve looked at are rectangular prisms. But what if you need something a little curvier to suit a ‘round’ application, such as pipework? In theory, aluDISC (IP 66/67/69K-rated) is the world’s first ‘circular’ diecast enclosure for industrial electronics – even though it isn’t actually round. Granted, its main display area is circular, but enclosures need flat edges for mounting connectors. So ROLEC took its inspiration from the shape of a wristwatch, while still retaining the ‘roundness’ in its design language.
ROLEC’s brand new model is aluDOOR (IP 66/67/69K-rated) – effectively a ‘compact cabinet’ that is another step forward in enclosure design. Its innovative new lid features a clever integrated hinge design. The lid opens 100° for easier access; it can be specified with or without a recess for a membrane keypad or product label. A2 stainless steel lid screws and threaded inserts ensure corrosion-resistant assembly in extreme conditions.
Fitting the lid is quick and easy: it is shut and locked down with two T25 screws. Extruded aluminium trims conceal and protect the fixings. The seal is a new foamed-in polyurethane gasket that offers greater protection because it is continuous – there is no join that could eventually become a weak point.
Whichever standard enclosure you specify, it is bound to require customisation. Rather than doing the machining and finishing yourself, it makes sense to approach a single-source supplier that can do all the customisation work in-house, so you receive the enclosures fully finished – ready for installation of your electronics. They arrive at Goods In and can go straight to your production line.
Typical customisation services you can specify include: CNC machining; engraving and laser processing; powder coating and wet painting; digital printing of legends, logos and photo quality graphics; screen printing; and assembly of accessories such as front panels, mounting plates, support rails, terminal blocks, cable glands and blanking plugs.
ROLEC is represented in the UK by OKW Enclosures Ltd. OKW Marketing Director, Robert Cox says: “Partnering with a specialist enclosures manufacturer ensures quality and consistency. One supplier is fully accountable for the entire process from start to finish.
“There is also less administration – streamlining the process for all concerned. And with no inter-supplier transportation, you’re saving time, money – and the environment,” he added.
Visit the ROLEC website for more information about IP-rated enclosures for industrial electronics at: www.rolec-enclosures.co.uk
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