Form follows function vs strength, utility, beauty

elc-oct16-p6_8-rolec-2Form follows function is a vital tenet in modernist architecture and industrial design but should never be an excuse for poor aesthetics

Industrial electronic enclosures were ugly boxes that controlled oily machines in grimy factories. Today manufacturing facilities have cleanrooms, robotics and spotless factory floors. Therefore, designers must be ever more discerning when specifying standard and customised electronic enclosures. The bar is much higher now.

German manufacturer, Rolec, for example, offers  smart, modern housings that conceal fixings. Form should still follow function but, to quote Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio – the original inspiration behind the maxim – structures must exhibit three qualities: firmitas, utilitas, venustas (strength, utility, beauty). An example is its aluCase (sealed to

These heavy duty enclosures are now available in 27 sizes. Features include concealed fixings and integrated lid retaining straps. Hinged lids, with hidden screws, transparent lids and key locks are optional.

Installation options

A ‘lid closed’ installation means aluCase can be screwed in place without the risk of damaging the seal or electronics, making it suitable for challenging marine and offshore environments.

Even easier to install is the aluClic (sealed to IP-67/-69K). It simply clicks into place using a bracket. Removal is equally easy: just click the bracket’s hidden

plastic tab with a screwdriver.

For higher security, aluSmart (sealed to IP-67/-69K) offers a similar bracket but with concealed fixing screws.

The enclosures are marketed in the UK by OKW Enclosures. Marketing director, Robert Cox, said: “Electronic enclosures have evolved significantly over the last few decades and the pace of change is accelerating rapidly.

“Industrial enclosure aesthetics took a major step forward recently with the launch of aluDisc (sealed to IP-67/-69K), and is the world’s first ‘round’ standard aluminium electronic enclosures.” It is distinguished in the marketplace, as before it was introduced, there were no circular standard metal cases for round applications such as pipework.

The enclosure is not completely round but has two flat surfaces for connectors. Cox says the design is inspired by the shape of wristwatches.

Handheld designs

Ergonomics are another important consideration for any enclosure, especially so for handheld cases. Again, this was an area where standard metal industrial enclosures had traditionally lagged behind their plastic counterparts. The manufacturer spotted an opportunity and created handCase (sealed to IP-66/-67). They are, says the company, comfortable-to-hold metal cases that could be specified with or without battery compartments.

Type S handCase has a display/keypad recess in the top section. Type R has an all-over lid recess for a large membrane keypad or product label.

All the enclosures mentioned so far are manufactured from diecast aluminium: “It is light, corrosion-resistant, more cost effective than stainless steel and very easy to machine to a high quality finish,” notes Cox. Other materials are also available. The technoPlus (IP-66/-67) is designed for pole-mounted applications. It is moulded from UV-stable ASA Luran to ensure longevity in exposed outdoor locations.

The captured lid fixing screws and lid retaining straps mean there are no more dropped screws when installing enclosures at height, says the company.

Material choices

Other plastics are available. The company offers robust glass reinforced polyester (GRP) enclosures such as polyTop (sealed to IP-66/-67), polyDoor (sealed to IP-66) and polyKom (sealed to IP-65) which offer high resistance to chemicals.

For very demanding environments – such as pharmaceuticals, dairy and food manufacturing – installer can specify V2A or V4A stainless steel inoCase (IP-66/-67/-69K) enclosures. Stainless steel may be more expensive than aluminium but it is tougher. V4A grade steel is also more resistant to corrosion, notably seawater and chloride.

Both V2A and V4A cases can be electro-polished to a gleaming finish which further improves corrosion resistance. The manufacturer also offers in-house laser-cutting and laser- etching as customising services.