New enclosures assist electronic product design

OKW argues this is a golden age for electronics enclosures, with innovations making it easier to specify standard and customised enclosures that are specialised, versatile or both

Once the bane of an electronics designer’s life—the challenge of specifying elegant enclosures within tight budgets and timescales—is now a breeze and the journey from concept to finished enclosure has never been shorter. It all feels refreshing.

Gone are the days of choosing between anonymous but ‘available now’ standard boxes and expensive bespoke housings that would take months to create.

Standard plastic enclosures are now so feature-rich and application-ready, that specifying off-the-shelf is obvious. Add some customisations and a discreet standard housing becomes unique: machined, branded and finished. Such enclosures can go straight from goods-in to the production line, ready for the installation of electronics.

However, the huge choice of application-ready enclosures can sometimes feel overwhelming. The market is no longer trisected into a trinity of desktop, wall-mount and handheld enclosures. Now there are wearables, portables, flush-mounts, IoT/IIoT enclosures, wired housings, modular case systems and enclosures for mounting on suspension arms.

Standard cases are more purpose-specific than ever, yet still capable of fitting other roles. OKW’s Smart-Panel touchscreen enclosures were created to flush-mount into standard cavity wall boxes but can double up as small tabletop housings. Carrytec is an attaché case style electronic instrumentation enclosure but its integrated handle makes an ideal grab point when the housing is inverse-mounted on a suspension arm.

There have been advances in materials too. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) used to be the go-to choice for plastic enclosures. However, this time-honoured terpolymer is increasingly being benched in favour of acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) or an ASA-polycarbonate blend (ASA+PC-FR), both offering greater UV stability.

Previously, enclosures were either plastic or metal (fabricated or diecast). Seldom were these materials used together. However, iF award-winning Synergy enclosures combine extruded aluminium bodies with ASA+PC-FR tops and bases, all held in place by an innovative pillar-based construction system that conceals the fixing screws.

Smart-Terminal control enclosures shake up the materials cocktail further by combining aluminium with two plastics. Nestled in the aluminium case body are two seals moulded from soft-touch TPV and inside those are ASA+PC-FR end caps. This endcap/seal configuration adds IP54 ingress protection and branding panache.

There is more still to ASA. When specified with a high-gloss finish, it is ideal for medical electronics because it is easy to wipe clean. This is why glossy ASA is standard for Style-Case handheld controller enclosures and wearable Body-Case housings for bio-feedback, geolocation and emergency call applications.

Hospitals may not be as tough as factories but they can still be a punishing environment for electronics. Intensive 24/7 use by multiple clinicians can take its toll. Yet, enclosures must continue looking good: no one wants to be treated with tired-looking kit.

Enclosures destined for healthcare and wellness applications must be robust and cytotoxically safe, with ergonomic curves and tamperproof Torx assembly screws.

However, it is IoT/IIoT seeing the biggest increase in enclosure development in recent years—not least because data-intensive Industry 4.0 applications require different sets of enclosures for various sensors and associated devices.

This burgeoning enclosure market ranges from small ‘clip-to-product’ cases such as Minitec or Body-Case (both wearables) to larger wall-mount housings such as square Protec, wedge-shaped Smart-Control (for corners) and sleek Net-Box (for data networks).

There is an argument for design simplicity, given the size of IIoT networks and how many enclosures are required across the average smart factory. Clever design touches can make the difference. OKW’s Easytec can be quickly fitted to poles, rods and bars thanks to a curved recess in its base section and installation lugs that accommodate cable ties and screws.

Whichever standard enclosure an OEM specifies, it will need customisation: aperture machining, custom colours and legend/logo printing. So, it makes sense to partner with a specialist enclosures manufacturer that offers the complete range of customisation services.

The spectrum of customisation services continues to grow. Advanced lacquering offers an array of finishes: matt, satin, glossy, metallic, soft-touch faux leather, antibacterial paint and ESD conductive to prevent electrostatic discharges. Digital technology allows printing of photo-quality graphics and is easier to set up than traditional screen printing methods.

OKW Enclosures’ marketing director, Robert Cox said: “Customisation technology has taken huge leaps forward in recent years—making fully-finished enclosures available in much lower volumes.

“It’s now very easy to specify customised enclosures for extremely niche products. Decor foils for lettering and colour design now start in batches of just one unit. Customisation doesn’t get much more available than that.”