What IP rating is needed!
The first aspect of deciding upon what enclosure and what testing may be required is to determine the Ingress Protection rating required. This can be either defined by regulatory compliance requirements or through the intended environment that the product will be used in. Check out our IP testing page for a table of both protection of solid objects & dust and also protection from moisture & fluids. In some cases, like mobile phones and even some laptops they can offer some level of IP protection against water. This may not be a regulatory compliance requirement but has been a customer-driven requirement. Most people have experienced either dropping a mobile phone into water or spilling a drink on a laptop keyboard (and it used to be an expensive mistake). So, protecting the product from these environmental impacts (and accidents) makes an excellent selling and marketing tool and, in some instances, provides the market edge. This highlights the need to define the scope of protection. Does the whole system or only sensitive/electrical parts require ingress protection? Most people understand the IP first numeral (solids/dust) and also the second numeral (moisture/water) but there is also a third IP code, for mechanical impact damage which is rarely used but should be considered.
What makes an IP rated enclosure good?
This is a vague question as firstly the scope of the protection required needs to be defined along with the characteristics of the required features. As stated, before the environment or application e.g. outside product, military equipment etc. plays a huge part as this can change the required minimum rating. Other factors include the characteristics of the product such as external cabling, user access to controls via a door or lid, heating and cooling of internal temperatures possibly requiring exhaust vents, humidity control and so on. In addition, the intended use may dictate the type of enclosure such as an IP rated electrical enclosure or an LED light or switch, this may impact the material choice.
Cost of an ingress protected enclosure
The cost is dependent upon features such as number and type of cable glands, construction, quality, size and also a material choice. Obviously, the more complex and larger sizes will increase the cost. The method used to achieve the rating may also vary, a gland with silicon may comply and be a quick cheap fix but is most likely inferior in many other ways including durability, the installation cost for reliability, maintenance and longevity to a rubber/plastic custom made cable specific gland. The material may be a huge factor, plastic, polycarbonate, fibreglass, and even die-cast can be cheaper alternatives to steel fully welded enclosures but may offer less rigidity and mechanical strength in harsh environments. Some IP rated enclosures include knock-out cable gland entry points. These can make it easy to modify to suit needs, but caution should be taken to ensure any unused knock-out does not get knocked out and comprising the enclosure when installed. Cable glands also come in many forms, popular push-fit ones are ideal for ease of use, whilst dome-topped glands offer superior protection. The position of the cable gland entry should be examined and considered. Best placement can usually be in the least impacted area to the elements, i.e. protected surfaces covered by wall or ceiling etc.
Selecting an IP Rated enclosure
Firstly, the type of enclosure needs to be selected to suit the requirement of what’s going inside and what purpose it serves. A good example would be the most common IP rated enclosure, some electronics and electrical components used to control or interface with another device. Usually, these electronics produce as a side product heat. This heat can be a common cause of reliability issues. As such the heat should be dissipated, the easiest method would be a huge hole in the enclosure. However, this would ruin the IP rating! Thus, other means of heat dissipation such as heat sinks may be required, this may, in turn, require a larger enclosure, so always consider all factors that may impact the system in and out of the final best IP enclosure solution.
How to make an IP rated enclosure
In most cases, it is more commercially viable and practical to purchase an IP rated enclosure if you’re requiring water ingress protection. This can be a starting point and will either come with cable entries (knock-outs or pre-fitted) with glands or special IP rated connectors that can then be modified to suit. The final product with cables and any other enclosure entry/exit points should be IP tested to ensure the IP rating claimed is true and the integration of the product and associated cables etc. has been done in a way not to compromise the IP rating requirement.
A quick checklist to improve the IP rating of your enclosure
- Rubber gaskets or silicone seals on entry/exit point or enclosure joins (caution as silicon may not provide a long-term solution typically means maintenance cannot be undertaken)
- Built-in gaskets help to avoid misalignment and ensure a good seal to both surfaces
- Hole covers should be correctly sealed, silicone, gel or gasket
- Watertight connectors and glands (including cable glands)
- Internal gel filling or potting compound if maintenance is not required
- Gaskets and O-rings for glands
- Correct compression using strategically positioned fasteners and using large radius on all seals
- Fully welded or cast metal enclosures require less joint sealant if any, additional silicon if not fully welded (spot or folded enclosures) is usually required
- Any additional entry point examined including mounting points, flanges, buttons, lights, switches, locks, vents, panels, doors or lids etc.
- Locate entry points away or hidden from direct exposure i.e. cable entry entering from below for IP rating IPX1 vertical downwards ward (rain drips)
All gaskets and seals should be rated for the environmental effects of the intended environment the product will be used in, this may include UV stabilisation of rubbers if used outdoors or in direct sunlight or under artificial lighting, mechanical impact & wear or other ageing aspects.
Is do it yourself (DIY) IP verification testing worthwhile?
Ideally, your IP testing would be undertaken using professionally made purpose-built IP test equipment. Some lower-level IP testing can be performed with some level of confidence, common sense and IP rating testing standards knowledge. IP testing has different levels (ratings) of testing but the most common testing is for basic waterproof protection (rain, low & high pressure and immersion). On first glance, this looks like essentially this is a water jet (a garden hose and tap) applied to the product and verify no water has entered the internals of the product or affected its functionality. However, particular attention needs to be made to the water jet nozzle(s) construction including diameters, numbers of holes, water flow rate, ability to run the water flow for the required time and the angle/direction of application.
Who can perform my IP testing?
EMC Technologies have taken no short cuts and have invested in commercially available certified fit for use IP rating test equipment. This was verified and approved during our recent successful NATA and A2LA accreditation audits. And that’s we are rapidly becoming the preferred Australian accredited IP testing laboratory by an ever-increasing customer base. Get in touch today and find out how we can help with your IP testing needs. You’re also welcome to come and witness your testing and see in person our other product compliance testing services, including EMC, SAR, EMR, safety and much more!