Metal and plastic are the two main categories of materials for electronic component enclosures. The better material depends on the intended application of the electronics. Whichever enclosure material you choose, safety should be the topmost consideration. The material and design of the enclosure should also be able to withstand the environmental conditions in which they will be used.
Here we’ll outline the main differences between industrial-grade plastic and metal electronic enclosures.
Pros and Cons of Metal Electronic Enclosures
Aluminum is the most common metal used to fabricate electronic enclosures. Since aluminum is nonmagnetic, it is an excellent choice for applications that require electromagnetic and radio frequency blocking. These metal enclosures enable good electrical conductivity and independent circuitry. They are also a good option in moist environments due to their corrosion resistance.
On the other hand, if your application is temperature-sensitive, requires a lighter enclosure, or operates with a lower budget, metal enclosures may not be the best choice. Metal enclosures conduct heat, so they can be dangerous to touch. They also tend to be heavier and more expensive than plastic enclosures, but if these are not major concerns, metal enclosures are still preferable.
Pros and Cons of Plastic Electronic Enclosures
Plastic enclosures are constructed from electrically insulated polycarbonate, PVC, acrylics, ABS, or HIPS. Unlike aluminum enclosures, plastic enclosures allow radio and electromagnetic waves to pass through, so they are ideal for electronics that send and receive signals. Most plastic enclosures are used in indoor settings, but some polycarbonate enclosures can be designed for use outside, where they can resist harsh weather conditions.
The following are some other pros of using plastic enclosures:
Can be made transparent or painted as needed
Easy and quick to install
No sharp edges or corners that need to be machined
Drawbacks to plastic enclosures include limited chemical resistance and less strength relative to metal enclosures. Heavy-duty applications should not utilize plastic enclosures, as they won’t stand up to sustained tension or high temperatures. They often require additional coatings, which can add to the overall cost of the enclosure. Plastic enclosures are also less resistant to vandalism and cannot be recycled as readily as metal enclosures.
Why Choose Metal Electronic Enclosures?
Aluminum electronic enclosures are superior in durability and strength under extreme conditions. The material can resist rust, flame, and UV. Aluminum is a naturally conductive metal that is excellent at shielding against electromagnetic waves and radio frequency interference. Thus, aluminum enclosures are perfect for projects involving independent circuitry and minimal interference.
Aluminum Electronic Enclosures from A&J Manufacturing
The right enclosure will depend upon your application and budget. You should also consider the quantity needed and the environment for use.
Electronic enclosures are a crucial part of important electronic systems. A&J Manufacturing is a leading manufacturer of standard and custom aluminum electronic enclosures. Contact us to see how we can help with your electronics project.
Using extruded aluminum to manufacture your electronic enclosures allows for elegant, low maintenance designs with increased design innovation possibilities AND the added benefit of green credentials. They have many uses and applications in the electronics, automotive, mass transit, aerospace, telecommunications, solar/renewable energy industries, and more.
Extruded aluminum gets its strength from the addition of alloying elements. The most commonly used are silicon, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese and chromium. We stock Aluminum 6061-T6 and alloy 6063-T5 for the extrusion material which are alloyed with silicon and magnesium. The result is a corrosion-resistant, lightweight material that is available in medium to high-strength forms.
Impact of the Extrusion Process
Aluminum extrusion is a process for creating parts with specific cross-sectional profiles by pushing heated alloy material through a die. The shapes created can be solid, hollow or semi-hollow; and they can be simple or complex. The silicon in the 6000 series that we stock means those aluminum alloys extrude quickly and easily, which helps keep manufacturing costs down.
What is the Difference Between Extruded and Cast Aluminum?
As mentioned above, extrusion is a process by which aluminum billets are forced through a die. Whereas, casting is a process in which molten aluminum is poured into a mold and then solidifies into a desired pattern. Both have its advantages and disadvantages, but offer savings from reduced machining time.
Advantages of Extruding Aluminum
A generally competitive and economical production option especially when dealing with complex cross-sections. New shapes or designs are often available with short lead times, which helps with prototyping, testing, and new product launches.
Produced with an excellent surface finish (no secondary machining required) and are typically stronger in comparison to cast aluminum.
Fabrication is often greatly simplified since sections can be easily assembled together via interlocking vs. welding.
Common Uses & Applications for Aluminum Extrusions
Strength-to-weight ratios are critical in several industries, including transportation. Aluminum extrusions are ideal for engine blocks, transmission housings, chassis of cars, boats, trucks, and railway and subway cars, as well as component parts for vehicles.
Aluminum conducts heat efficiently, so its commonly found in the heating and cooling devices of computers, audio/visual systems and other electronics
It is a naturally rust and corrosion resistant material due to the protective aluminum oxide film that bonds to it’s surface. It makes it an ideal material to use in outdoor electronic cabinets for utilities or photovoltaic systems for solar energy
The highly reflective characteristic of aluminum extrusions make them useful for shielding products from infrared radiation, light or radio waves.
Aluminum extrusions are a major element of military, aircraft and aerospace applications including: command tent structures, military vehicles and Navy ships (like the littoral combat ships), the International Space Station, aircraft and helicopters
Electronic enclosures are cabinets or racks designed to house electrical/electronic equipment. They protect the equipment from damage caused by environmental conditions or compounds and users from electrical shock caused by direct contact. Depending on the application in which they are employed, they can be made from a variety of materials. One of the most commonly used materials is aluminum.
Typical Applications for Electrical Enclosures
Electronic enclosures are found in facilities across a wide range of industries. Typical applications include:
Benefits of Using Aluminum for Electrical Enclosures
While electronic enclosures can be built from a number of materials, there are many advantages to choosing aluminum. For example:
It is durable. Aluminum is a highly durable material, allowing enclosures made from it to maintain their shape even when subjected to strong forces.
It is corrosion-resistant. Aluminum exhibits a natural resistance to corrosion, making it ideal for making enclosures that will be exposed to moisture.
It is electrically conductive. Aluminum is an excellent conductor of electricity, which makes it well-suited for use in electrical and electronic applications.
It is not reactive to magnetic forces. Aluminum does not react to magnetic forces, so it can be used to create enclosures that shield the electrical/electronic equipment from electromagnetic frequency (EMF) and radio frequency interference (RFI).
It is suitable for a variety of finishing techniques. Aluminum can be finished in many ways, such as black anodizing or powder coating, which allows enclosures made from it to be tailored to suit different customer needs.
Types of Aluminum Electronic Enclosures Available at A & J Manufacturing
A & J Manufacturing is a premier supplier of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and custom electronic equipment enclosures. We use extruded aluminum alloys to create enclosures rated for different degrees of protection in a range of applications and environments. Our offerings include:
AJXR 100 Series
These light-duty enclosures are manufactured using 2500 Series aluminum extrusions. They are suitable for lightweight, shallow equipment that needs protection against rain, dust, and impact. They can handle static payloads up to 300 pounds and dynamic payloads up to 500 pounds. Their standard height is 72 inches, standard weight is 22.31 inches, and standard depths are 19, 24, or 30 inches.
AJM 150 Series
These medium-duty enclosures are manufactured using 6500 Series aluminum extrusions. They are suitable for most industrial and consumer rack applications that require shock and vibration protection. They can handle static payloads up to 600 pounds and dynamic payloads up to 1,200 pounds. Their standard height is 72 inches, standard weight is 22.31 inches, and standard depths are 19, 24, or 30 inches.
AJMR & AJSR 159 Series
These heavy-duty enclosures are manufactured using 9000 Series aluminum extrusions. They are lab- and field-tested to ensure suitability for mission-critical equipment and verified to offer protection against dust, vibration, and other harsh environmental conditions. They can handle static payloads up to 1,600 pounds. Their standard height is 72 inches, standard weight is 24 inches, and standard depths are 19, 24, or 30 inches.
Innovative Aluminum Electronic Enclosures From A & J
Looking for quality aluminum electronic enclosures? The experts at A & J are here to help! We provide a variety of standard light-duty, medium-duty, and heavy-duty enclosures and maintain various modification and customization capabilities to suit different customer requirements and restrictions.
Each has their own defined and distinct characteristics that make it the right, or wrong, choice for each job. When selecting the right material, it’s important to consider: strength and malleability, corrosion resistance, weight and cost. And most important of all, each of these attributes need to be matched with the end application.
Common Use Cases for Aluminum Racks
Aluminum racks can be used in a variety of industries with several use cases outlined below.
Sports & Entertainment
sound & light equipment
thermoelectric cooling systems
retail cases at grocery, restaurant, bar, specialty stores
Security & Surveillance
assembly line control panels
electric vehicle charging stations
after-market modifications for emergency vehicles
mass transit & rail components (ex: rail switching components)
Electronics are great: they whirr, they blink, maybe it speaks in tones, it’s voice-controlled and “cloud connected”. But, since you likely want to protect this powerful heap of wires and circuit boards for many years to come, a robust electronic enclosure or rack is required. Creating optimal enclosure designs that reflect your requirements and intent can be a challenge, especially if it’s uncharted territory.
But where to start? This post will help guide you through the various options to hopefully save you time and unnecessary redesigns.
Let’s define enclosure first. Enclosures are four-post racks, often with front and rear doors as well as side panels. Using an enclosure provides enhanced security, controlled thermal management and a broader range of mounting options for accessories.
Step 1: Start with your product requirements
Racks and enclosures can be found everywhere. They’re on Navy ships, in airports, healthcare facilities, schools and enterprise data centers. They’re available in different heights, widths and depths. You should be asking yourself: what does my enclosure need to do and what are its most basic functions? Consider space and environment, equipment and cabling and ideal temperatures or airflow management.
The features highlighted above are necessary for a successful design, but don’t actually go into specific details. At this phase, its best to keep things as minimal and as streamlined as possible to give you flexibility.
PRO tip: enclosing electronics tends to increase the temperature of the system, so you may need to add a fan or some sort of heat rejection method if your components are getting too hot.
Size: The most important attribute is how much rack space is required.
Height (in.) Width (in.) Depth (in.)
Payload: An estimate of the anticipated weight loading is key and vary widely depending on application. Our light-duty racks can accomodate 500 lbs whereas a heavy duty rack has an isolated payload of 1600 lbs.
Payload or weight loading (lbs.)
Isolators: Are isolators required or will the enclosure need to withstand high shock and vibration?
Isolators: Yes / No Stabilizers: Yes / No
End-of-row or bayed: Is the cabinet standalone (requires covered sides), end of row (side covered on one end) or bayed with adjacent cabinets (no side covers)? In a typical installation, you may have some of each of these configurations.
End of row: Yes / No, Qty Bayed: Yes / No, Qty Standalone: Yes / No, Qty
Front doors/back doors & locks: Do you need solid or vented front/back doors?
Solid or vented? Lock type (key / combo / HFID)
Shelves, power panels, drawers
Step 2: Get the right fit & the right materials
Use 3D modeling to create a rack that combines safety, functionality and cost-effectiveness. Dimensions are of course an important part of your final product, as is payload and weight. We’ve listed standard rack specifications, but custom configurations are also possible.
After you’ve determined how much space you need, there are several factors to consider when choosing the proper material for your electronic enclosure or rack. You need to consider: durability, malleability, availability and overall cost. And don’t forget about the end-use application. If your rack needs to be placed outdoors, withstand extreme temperatures or high moisture levels, you’ll certainly want a material that is durable and nonpermeable.
At A&J, we build aluminum racks. It’s a lightweight, corrosion-resistant metal that can be chem-filmed or left unfinished with an ability to withstand high temperatures. And due to this extreme versatility, the process of extrusion can lend itself to even more complex designs. Pure aluminum for commercial use has a tensile strength of 90MPa. It can be used in several applications including food & beverage, marine, pharmaceuticals, telecommunication, and aerospace/defense.
We stock Aluminum 6061-T6 and alloy 6063-T5 for the extrusion material and 5052-H32 and 6061-T6 for sheet metal. 5052 is ideal for sheet metal enclosures since it can be bent to a tight radius without cracking and easily machined.
PRO tip: metal can’t typically be formed into a true 90-degree corner. Instead, your or one of our designers will help you specify a bend radius where necessary. Our designs use a unique bolted-together assembly methodology that eliminates the need for welding.
Step 3: Let’s Accessorize
Rack accessories such as shelves, panels and drawers provide a finished appearance, add security and improve your work efficiency. Interior accessories such as power panels, brackets or fans can help reduce clutter and improve general system operation.
Due to our unique, bolted-together design, side panels can easily be removed from outside which will greatly enhance accessibility to interior components and cabling. You can easily swap in/out various kits as electronic equipment changes or move them around. You can even move the entire enclosure with relative ease.
Usable cabinet depth
The usable depth in a cabinet rack is the maximum usable space and typically varies from approximately 17″ to 42″. The addition of connectors and cabling from the rear panels of equipment or instruments can add several inches to cabinet depth requirements. You also need to factor in all accessories such as power strips, cooling devices and mounting brackets.
Sliding Shelf Kit
Sliding Tray Kit
Sliding Tray Kit
Step 4: Finishing
Powdercoating – a type of dry thermoplastic powder, its available in a variety of colors, gloss levels and textures and widely recognized as the industry standard for painting metal. It provides a cost-effective, high quality and durable finish.
PRO tip: powdercoating adds an extra layer to your enclosure and its recommended that you add an additional .003″ to .005″ per side.
Chemical Conversion Coating – often referred to as chem-film or chromate coating, it creates a corrosion-resistant and durable surface that exhibits stable electrical conductivity.
Anodizing – an electrochemical process that converts a medal surface into a decorative, durable anodic oxide finish.
Bare Metal Finishes – offered in three basic types:
No finish – parts are de-burred with no additional finishing, and may exhibit small scratches or swirl marks
Grained finish – part is de-burred, and then given a specific linear grain direction via brushing
Tumbled finish – smoothens and imparts non-directional finish via tumbling in abrasive medium
Aluminum is an extremely versatile metal with a number of advantages. It is recognized specifically for being both lightweight and flexible. And due to this extreme versatility, the process of extrusion can lend itself to even more complex designs. Pure aluminum for commercial use has a tensile strength of 90MPa.
Aluminum can be used as perfect enclosures for a wide range of electrical and electronic applications such as CATV amplifier housings and other telecom storage, ODS metering control systems, and automotive ECU boxes.
Benefits of Aluminum Enclosures Include:
Ability to withstand high temperature
Overall ruggedness: high impact, high tensile strength, rigid
Resistant to rusting corrosion
Lightweight, as compared to steel
Blocks passage of radio waves (naturally RFI shielded) and reflects externally generated interference, such as electromagnetic wavelengths
Built-in flame protection
UV resistant without additives
Easy to paint and/or coat
Does not swell or deform and is especially advantageous at keeping away water, dust and moisture
Scrap is infinitely recyclable and valuable which can lower energy costs and carbon emissions
Aluminum has a weight of approximately 2.71 g/cm3, or about a third of the weight of steel, making it easier and cheaper to transport than most other metals. It’s also a corrosion resistant metal due to a naturally generating protective coating. This coating can be be further improved via painting or anodising, too.
It has excellent heat dissipating properties due to high thermal conductivity. Even with 0.007 mm thickness of aluminum foil, its still impermeable. It’s ideal for transferring heat from the components of a circuit board within the enclosure to the outside, thereby reducing the interior temperature and protecting the components from damage due to excessive heat. It’s basically insensitive to temperature extremes and remains constant over a wide range from -80 C to +150 C. Aluminum has high reflectance to radiated heat too such as sunlight with over 80% light reflectivity.
Contrary to what most people think, aluminum is 100% recyclable and retains all of its original properties during the recycling process. Enclosures can be easily customized and is often easier to modify than cases of other materials. It’s non-toxic, odorless, tasteless, non-absorbing, non-sparking, non-magnetic, and non-flammable.