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Specifying Plastic Enclosures For Industry 4.0 Electronics

Electronics manufacturers know the importance of Industry 4.0 only too well. The race is on to create the next generation of robotics, computing, sensor and HMI products that will take manufacturing to the next level and beyond.

OEMs face huge pressure to meet burgeoning demand in this rapidly growing market sector. And all this IIoT sensor technology must be housed within enclosures robust enough to meet the challenging demands of the modern smart factory. That in itself has created a mini-boom segment in the electronic enclosures market.

But until recently there was something missing from would-be IoT/IIoT housings – innovation. Enclosure manufacturers have been under such pressure to meet demand that many have simply repurposed existing designs and rebadged them as IIoT sensor cases. Few manufacturers offered any genuinely new customizable standard enclosures created specifically for IoT/IIoT and Industry 4.0. Not least because standard enclosures – by their very nature – have tended to be less specialised; they must remain versatile and be all things to all designers. But all that is changing. A new generation of IoT/IIoT-focused housings is now available to electronics designers vying to satiate demand for Industry 4.0 solutions.

Dedicated Enclosures For IoT/IIoT Sensors

So what makes a good IIoT enclosure? What separates it from the myriad of other plastic enclosures?

Quick and easy installation in a wide range of possible locations is paramount. Industry 4.0 involves collecting vast quantities of data to hone the manufacturing process. So smart factory operators must install large numbers of sensors – sometimes in challenging locations.

This requirement inspired us to add key design features to our new EASYTEC range of IoT/IIoT enclosures:

  • versatile lugs at each end that offer not just screw holes but also apertures for cable ties – making installation extremely rapid
  • a concave recess in the rear section – enabling stable and secure mounting on poles and rails (without compromising wall mount stability).

EASYTEC is available in two plan sizes and two heights: 3.97" x 1.96" x 0.86"/1.02" and 4.76" x 2.44" x 1.02"/1.22". Mounting pillars in the top and base offer a choice of two levels for installing the PCBs.

Which Plastic For IIoT Enclosures?

Today’s new IIoT enclosures need to be stronger and more resilient than the average plastic housing. So ABS – as a good a plastic as it is – may not be the first choice of material. ABS is great for a wide range of working environments but the average factory can prove more demanding. For this reason, EASYTEC is molded from a flame-retardant ASA+PC-FR blend. ASA provides the enhanced UV stability while the polycarbonate (PC) offers greater impact resistance (it’s the plastic used in CDs and riot shields).

Why Pole-Mounted Enclosures Need To Be Ergonomic

EASYTEC’s design also features something more commonly found in handheld enclosures: ergonomic soft contours. This may at first seem superfluous, given that these enclosures are mounted on poles and walls, but at some point they will be handled, even if only during installation. Those soft curves also satisfy another important requirement – aesthetics. Enclosures must look as smart, modern and futuristic as the 21st century factories they inhabit. And ideally, they should feature the same design language as other enclosures in the factory. That’s why we’ve styled EASYTEC to match our EVOTEC designer desktop and wall mounted enclosures.

The soft contours common to both ranges come into their own when the sloping-top version of EVOTEC is used in a desktop or wall mounted role. They make it easier for a user to operate a touchscreen or membrane keypad. What else should a designer look for in a good IIoT sensor enclosure? Superior ingress protection (at least IP 65) and also tamperproof Torx assembly screws. This is a small but important detail in a smart factory where a mis-maintained sensor can have significant consequences – data is the lifeblood of Industry 4.0. Both EASYTEC and EVOTEC feature Torx assembly screws as standard (and optional IP 65 protection). EVOTEC (flat top) can be specified in five plan sizes (with a choice of heights) from 3.15" x 1.96" x 0.86" to 9.84" x 6.10" x 2.12". The sloping top version (recessed or unrecessed) is available in two sizes: 7.87" x 4.88" x 1.77" and 9.84" x 6.10" x 2.12".

Cornering The IoT/IIoT Enclosures Market

Most plastic enclosures tend to be based around a square or rectangular plan size. But that does not make for easy corner mounting. Despite this, wedge-shaped standard enclosures remain few and far between. There are plenty of sloping front housings available for the desktop market but surprisingly few true wedges that would fit snugly in a 90° corner. And yet this has been a prime requirement for the surveillance market for decades – and is likely to be even more important over coming years as demand for IoT/IIoT enclosures increases.

We’re meeting this demand with SMART-CONTROL, a wedge-shaped enclosure that can also be mounted on flat surfaces.  Its versatility provides the answer to one of the key dilemmas facing enclosure designers.

And that is this: on the one hand, a standard enclosure must suit a wide range of applications – otherwise it becomes a custom housing for a select few tasks. But conversely, the enclosure must suit clearly defined applications. If not, it risks being just another rectangular housing in an over-crowded market.

So how does a standard enclosure manage to be specialized and yet versatile at the same time? SMART-CONTROL accomplishes it by having a ‘Plan B’. Yes, it is a corner enclosure for mounting high on walls – but it can also be specified for desktop roles. How? By incorporating some key design features such as a choice of front (recessed or non-recessed). The recess is important because it can accommodate a membrane keypad for desktop use (accessories include a desk stand). The non-recessed convex option is better suited to wall mounted sensor applications. And molding the enclosures from ASA+PC-FR (instead of ABS) enables them to withstand the rigours of a factory. SMART-CONTROL is assembled with Torx screws. IP 65 protection is optional. The enclosures are available in two sizes: 5.59" x 3.18" x 1.81" mm and 6.81" x 3.97" x 2.32"

IIoT Desktop And Wall Mount Enclosures

It is tempting to think of a smart factory as a plethora of data-led robots operating with little human intervention.

But the automata have yet to fully replace their human masters. And those human operators need display/control and access control electronics. Ideally a single range of enclosures should cover all these applications for reasons of practicality, cost and aesthetics. The aforementioned EVOTEC is one option but we’ve just unveiled another: PROTEC. What sets this sloping front square control enclosure apart is not just its large recessed front panel but also its choice of three rear sections. Version I’s rear section has a recessed area that protects cables and interfaces. Version II has a snap-on flush-fit cover that conceals the recess. Version III has an extra-deep cover that provides more space and also acts as a pedestal for desktop use. All three versions feature an ergonomically inclined (20°) front operating panel – along with three board mounting levels giving you plenty of space for components and assemblies. Other features include non-slip rubber feet and flush wall mounting (a suspension element is available as an accessory). Each version can be specified in three sizes: 5.51" x 5.51" x 2.99", 7.08" x 7.08" x 3.62" and 8.66" x 8.66" x 4.25".

Custom vs Customized IIoT Enclosures

Regular readers of this blog will know that opting for a customized version of a standard enclosure is always quicker and more cost-effective than specifying a fully bespoke housing. EASYTEC, EVOTEC, SMART-CONTROL and PROTEC are available in off-white (RAL 9002) ASA+PC-FR as standard. Custom colours are available on request. Other customisation options include CNC machining, lacquering, printing, laser marking, décor foils, RFI/EMI shielding and installation/assembly.