When designing electrical and electronic devices, there’s rarely a one-size solution. Engineers and device designers must carefully select their components according to the specific functions and features of each application. Electronics enclosure materials are no exception, and the array of different materials available necessitates a well-informed approach to material selection.
To make a smart choice it’s important to know the attributes, strengths and weaknesses of each material. In this guide, we’ll give you a quick introduction to the range of enclosure materials that Polycase offers. Plus, we’ll take a look at several of the most popular Polycase enclosure model options for each material and talk about what they bring to the table.
Thinking Through Your Application
Before choosing a material, it’s important to think about the material qualities that your application requires.
- What kind of weather conditions (such as snow, rain or sleet) will your device encounter?
- Will your device need to withstand corrosion from salt water or chemicals?
- What kind of aesthetic appearance should your device have?
- Will your device feature an internal wireless antenna that needs to transmit radio frequency signals?
- Will your device require EMI/RF shielding?
- Will your device be potentially subject to heavy impacts?
- Will your device need machined cutouts on its enclosure?
- What kind of ingress protection rating (such as a NEMA rating or IP rating) will your device need to have?
For more information on ingress protection rating systems, be sure to read through our NEMA ratings guide and IP ratings guide. Once you’ve assembled the key characteristics you’re looking for in an enclosure material, it’s time to take a look at what each material has to offer.
- The Basics: Stainless steel is a type of steel that’s alloyed with metals such as chromium and manganese to increase its durability. This composition makes stainless steel highly resistant to the scratching, staining, pitting and corrosion that can be a problem with some other metallic materials. This composition also makes it an aesthetically pleasing material with an attractive metallic sheen. Multiple grades of stainless steel are available, each with its own advantages, but 304 stainless steel is the most common.
- Recommended Applications: Polycase stainless steel enclosures are a great choice for enclosures that need extreme durability. Its resistance to corrosion and weathering make it an ideal choice for outdoor weatherproof enclosures, and its aesthetic properties mean it’s also popular for applications that require a sleek and modern look.
- Not Recommended Applications: Any application that requires extensive custom enclosure machining can be a problem for stainless steel enclosures because the ultra-hard material requires expensive special tools to machine. Stainless steel is also more expensive than other enclosure materials, so be sure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before choosing stainless steel. Finally, stainless steel is somewhat vulnerable to dents, so it may not be the ideal choice for applications that may be exposed to heavy impacts.
- Popular Models:
- Polycase SA Series: Our flagship weatherproof enclosures are NEMA 4X-rated and offer high-grade protection against everything from corrosion to harsh weather. Includes a hinged door with a keyed quarter turn lock for secure access, and includes a weatherproof gasket for superior protection against liquid and dust ingress. Comes complete with all interior panel and mounting hardware for a turn-key stainless steel enclosure solution.
- The Basics: Carbon steel is another type of steel that’s used for more general applications than stainless steel. It does not have the chromium and manganese content of stainless steel, which means that it’s less resistant to corrosion. However, it’s less expensive than stainless steel, less prone to denting and it can even be coated to resist corrosion. Thus, it’s still an extremely durable material with good resistance to a wide variety of conditions.
- Recommended Applications: Carbon steel enclosures are a good choice for any application that needs the general durability of steel, but doesn't require the extra hardness and polished aesthetic of stainless steel. It’s an all-around solid material for industrial and commercial applications, including device control boxes and circuit breaker boxes.
- Not Recommended Applications: If your application requires extreme resistance to corrosion and it’s not feasible to periodically reapply an anti-corrosion coating, carbon steel may not be the right choice.
- Popular Models:
- Polycase SB Series: The SB Series sports a similar design as the SA Series and offers many of the same benefits at a lower price point. Constructed from powder-coated 16-gauge carbon steel, SB Series enclosures even feature NEMA 4X enclosure ratings, thanks to their anti-corrosion coating. Make sure to see our SB Series accessories, including a touch-up anti-corrosion paint kit and pole mounting brackets.
- The Basics: Aluminum is a hard, shiny and lightweight metal that’s extracted from bauxite ore. It’s a highly regarded enclosure material due to its toughness, its natural resistance to weather and corrosion and its beautiful appearance. Aluminum has many of the same attractive properties as stainless steel, but is easier to cut with machining tools and weighs less. It also features a natural RF shielding property that blocks electromagnetic radiation from penetrating through the material.
- Recommended Applications: Aluminum enclosures are an ideal choice for devices that need rugged protection in an attractive and lightweight package. It’s also among the best materials for protecting devices from electromagnetic interference, thanks to its natural RF shielding properties.
- Not Recommended Applications: The natural RF shielding that aluminum provides will interfere with transmission of wireless signals, so aluminum is usually not a suitable material for devices with internal antennas (such as Wi-Fi routers). Aluminum is also easier to dent than some other materials, so it’s not a great choice for devices that may need to survive heavy impacts.
- Popular Models:
- Polycase AN Series: Our premier aluminum electrical enclosures are built from ADC-12 alloy diecast aluminum and feature a NEMA 6P enclosure rating for extreme weather and submersion protection. Outdoor-grade construction includes a waterproof, dustproof gasket (installation required) that protects even from prolonged submersion in water. Available with a variety of mounting flange options, depending on enclosure size.
- Polycase EX Series: The EX Series are extruded aluminum enclosures perfect for desktop and consumer electronics devices. Their stylish black anodized aluminum body looks great for nearly any kind of device, and EX Series models even include built-in circuit board rails for easy mounting of standard 0.063” PCBs.
- The Basics: Polycarbonate is an extremely durable hard plastic material that can be molded into a wide variety of shapes. It’s notable for its resistance to a huge range of environmental factors–from dust to water to corrosion. Durable enough for even harsh outdoor conditions and aesthetically pleasing enough to suit almost any workplace, polycarbonate is among the most versatile enclosure materials around.
- Recommended Applications: Polycarbonate is a widely used enclosure material for many different applications. It’s commonly used for everything from industrial control panels to junction boxes for electrical wiring. It’s great for outdoor enclosures, thanks to its durability, and its variety of pleasing looks also makes it a good choice for indoor enclosures.
- Not Recommended Applications: Polycarbonate’s extreme versatility gives it fewer downsides than many other enclosure materials. However, it’s more expensive than other plastic enclosure materials such as ABS, so it may not be ideally suited for large production runs of devices with low profit margins. It also doesn’t offer any electromagnetic shielding, so it may not be a good choice for devices that need to be protected from RF interference.
- Popular Models:
- Polycase WC Series: The WC Series are among our most popular outdoor enclosure models, thanks to their rugged construction, NEMA 4X ingress rating and UV stabilized design. The enclosures come with a clear cover for easy access to critical data readouts.
- Polycase SK Series: Need an easy way to add basic cutouts to your enclosure? The SK Series are tough NEMA 4X polycarbonate enclosures that include built-in knockouts for cables, antennas and other key components. They’re also IK08 impact rated to protect your device from heavy impacts.
- Polycase ML Series: The ML Series are ultra-tough NEMA 6P enclosures with true waterproof outdoor protection. These enclosures include a watertight gasket that can survive prolonged submersion, and they come equipped with molded flanges for easy mounting on a variety of surfaces.
- The Basics: Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a hard plastic that’s a great balance between durable and cost-effective. You’ll find it in use around the world in all kinds of electronic devices and household goods, and it’s particularly popular for consumer electronics. It’s easy to modify with custom machined cutouts and it’s also flame-retardant.
- Recommended Applications: ABS is perfect for indoor enclosures and consumer electronics devices. Its low price point makes it ideal for mass-produced devices, and Polycase offers ABS enclosures in a variety of useful formats such as key fobs, electrical wall plugs and handheld enclosures. ABS is also the most popular enclosure material for potting boxes.
- Not Recommended Applications: Most ABS enclosures do not have NEMA or IP ingress ratings. Thus, ABS is generally not a recommended material for outdoor enclosures or indoor enclosures with harsh environments. If you need a plastic enclosure for a harsh environment or outdoor environment, polycarbonate is usually a better choice.
- Popular Models:
- Polycase AG Series: The AG Series desktop electronics enclosures are designed to be as functional as they are good-looking. They’re equipped with a removable end panel for quick modifications, and they include built-in PCB mounting bosses for easy circuit board mounting.
- Polycase BF Series: Our most popular potting box enclosures, the BF Series come standard equipped with mounting flanges for easy attachment. Also available with an optional glue-on cover.
- Polycase SN Series: The SN Series are snap-together enclosures ideal for everyday electronics. Their easy-to-assemble design includes useful features like molded mounting flanges and built-in PCB mounting bosses.
Polycase AG-43 Plastic ABS Desktop Enclosure
Polycase’s wide selection of enclosure materials helps ensure that our customers can always find an enclosure solution that works for them. Looking for more options? View our full selection of enclosures, browse electronics enclosures by category or view products organized by standard NEMA enclosure sizes.
We’re also always happy to help our customers choose the right enclosure for their needs. You can speak to our enclosure experts toll free at 1-800-248-1233 or contact us online for more information.