To the layman, electrical enclosures may all look alike: gray boxes that house the real concern, sensitive electrical controls. But control panels are only as valuable as the electrical enclosures that protect and preserve those inner workings. Selecting the best material for the enclosure when specifying a control panel maximizes the life of your equipment.
Location, Location, Location
The most important consideration for enclosure material is environment. Whether indoor or outdoors, electrical enclosures must weather corrosive elements such as dust, radiation, temperature, chemicals, and moisture from rain or humidity. When reviewing possible materials, keep location in mind and consider the strengths and weaknesses of each option against your panel’s unique environment.
The Main 3 Materials
The three most common metals in electrical enclosures are stainless steel, aluminum, and carbon or “mild” steel. Carbon steel costs less, but must be galvanized or painted to resist corrosion. It’s also easy to modify after fabrication for installation or expansion. Aluminum and stainless steel are more durable and long-lasting, but also harder to modify later on.
All three metals are less resistant to moisture than thermoplastics or fiberglass, but are the easiest to customize during design and fabrication due to the wide availability and versatility of metalworking tools. Metal will also absorb and conduct heat more than other enclosure materials, which can be helpful for dissipating high temperatures if thoughtfully designed.
Thermoplastics include polycarbonates, polyester, ABS, PVC, and more. Most plastics are highly resistant in corrosive environments and very easily modified for expansion or installation. Thermoplastics excel at insulation, so choose this material for the most temperature-sensitive electrical controls. However, thermoplastics are also much less customizable during the design and construction phase, so you may be limited by the available base sizes and shapes.
This material has strengths and weaknesses on both extremes of the spectrum. Fiberglass is immune to rust or oxidation from corrosive elements and offers the highest chemical resistance. However, fiberglass enclosures are very rigid and abrasive to tools, making it the hardest to shape and later modify. Fiberglass also degrades quickly in sunlight and prolonged exposure to heat, so the applications for fiberglass are very specific.
Choosing Your Material
If the most important factor in enclosure materials is the environment, the second most important is the source — especially when specifying an entire panel, and not just shopping for parts. Professional control panel builders will be familiar with all three materials and know the best applications for each.
PanelShop.com not only provides engineering expertise and the hands-on experience of veteran control panel builders in the shop, but also offers the advantages of a single source supplier. Whether you’re deciding electrical enclosure materials for yourself or considering custom control panels, PanelShop.com has the in-house resources to consult with you on design and build your panel in-house from start to finish. Our 40,000 ft facility includes a large paint booth and extensive inventory, so that you get truly custom products and receive your final product faster.
Reach out to us for a custom quote or just to chat, and we can answers any questions you may have.
You May Also Be Interested In Reading:
- The 3 Essential Elements of Electrical Enclosures
- Understanding NEMA Ratings for Enclosures in Non-Hazardous Environments