Industry standards for electrical enclosures exist to promote safety, encourage design efficiency and define minimum levels of product performance. In the European and North American electrical industries, several standards are enforced for these reasons which enclosure manufacturers follow as quality standards.
Across the global marketplace, these or other standards may be followed or there may be no standards at all, which can lead to wide variations in product performance and price. In many cases, the end customer is not aware of the standards or does not clearly understand them and, therefore, does not insist that suppliers provide products that meet the standards. Focusing solely on low price without fully understanding or requiring industry standards can yield a low initial product cost, but could ultimately lead to high maintenance expenses, component failure and in the worst case, worker safety issues.
To standardize enclosure performance, organizations including IEC, NEMA, and UL offer rating systems to identify an enclosure’s capacity to withstand environmental influences—from dripping liquid to dust infiltration to complete submersion. The goal of all three organizations’ ratings is to assist end-users in making an appropriate, informed enclosure selection that meets their application-specific requirements.
Electrical enclosures are rated by Type (NEMA and UL) and/or IP rating (IEC) according to the degree of protection provided. Both Type and IP rating cover:
- The degree of human protection from hazardous components inside the enclosure
- The degree of protection for equipment inside the enclosure from ingress of solid foreign objects, including dust;
- The degree of protection for equipment inside the enclosure from ingress of waterThese three primary standards have similarities and differences in their performance criteria, influence on an enclosure’s design elements, testing requirements, and enforcement methods. The table below indicates the main points addressed by each of the standards.Enclosure manufacturers carefully adhere to strict implementation of safety standards to achieve their quality ratings. Most enclosure manufacturers standards align their products with enclosure protection levels so the appropriate enclosure is used according to specific application requirements, the fact remains that these standards are not created equally.Key differences include:
- The elements addressed by each standard
- Whether the standard requires third-party testing and manufacturing site inspection
- The actual testing requirements
- How test results are interpretedAs the global economy continues to expand at accelerated rates, industries and markets will experience significant growth opportunities. The need for energy, infrastructure, food, clean water, construction materials and consumer goods drives tremendous capital investment by corporations, private investors, and governments. This investment in equipment, machinery, and automation improves output and efficiency and must provide a financial return or, at the very least, optimal price versus performance value to the investor.
Enclosures don’t protect against all of these elements equally, however, so it’s important to understand enclosure ratings and the protection levels they provide. While some lower-cost enclosures can provide a low initial price tag, if they aren’t certified according to the specific application’s needs, the maintenance and damage costs to the components can be significant. Many enclosure manufacturers are helping the customer keep away from the improper use of enclosures which can result in damage to equipment outside the enclosure and even potential safety issues for workers and those in close proximity to the enclosures.
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