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Electronic Housings

Considerations, Standards and Practices for Industrial Applications

By Mike Nager Phoenix Contact, Inc.
The following was presented at the IPC APEX EXPO Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, April 13, 2011. The notes provided in this scroll have been added for on-line use. A technical paper is also available providing more detailed technical information. All rights reserved.

What is Industrial?
Its good to define our terms up front, so theres no confusion. Just what do I mean by industrial?

Instead of long winded explanations, lets just give some examples. This is an example of industrial. Its an outdoor harbor monitoring app.

Not That!
But audio / video equipment is not what I consider industrial. Such equipment is mounted in racks, indoors and not subject to harsh environments.
Flickr/ rack in pro tools suite / Chris Campbell

Security applications, especially when outside, are good examples of industrial. Note the all the steel cabinets undoubtedly PCBs are inside.
Flickr/Pelco Surveillance Cameras/takomabibelot

Not That!
But the IT racks that many of are familiar with do not fit the industrial definition for this discussion.

Flickr/ the pinky rack / pallotron

Electronics used in any type of power generation will almost always fit our idea of industrial. Here is a panel used at a solar plant.

Not That!
But devices used for personal or even commercial use will not require industrial housings almost any will do for these applications.
Flickr/ altoids crystal radio /BitHead

Applications for monitoring, controlling, or automating the collection of data are often industrial.

Flickr / Not a sign of sunshine / cablefreak

Not That!
While others are not, but they should be. Actually Im not sure exactly what to say about this housing choice other than dont touch it!
Flickr/Jardin Electrique/meddygarnet

How to Protect a Sensitive Product?

The primary purpose of any electronic housing is to protect your PCB design and perhaps even increase the functionality of the circuit.
Flickr / JTAG board 1 / AMagill

Control Cabinets
Remember the photos - the end product will be placed into a control cabinet, often made of steel, to keep out the harsh environments. A back mounting plate is used.

Panel Mount
Panel mounting is a way of putting electronic devices in the cabinet but its not very flexible. Individual and unique mounting holes are needed for every device.
Flickr / backs of small drives /

DIN rail Mount

DIN mounting is flexible because a long rail is mounted with just a couple of fasteners and individual devices attach to it, rather than directly to the mounting plate.
Flickr / backs of small drives /

DIN Rail Dimensions

DIN rail follows a standard developed in Europe so products from different manufacturers are guaranteed to work with each other.

DIN Rail Variations

It comes in a couple different sizes and is sold in two meter lengths which are cut to fit onto the mounting plate, either vertically or horizontally.

Dimension Convention
Electronic housings define the height, width and depth dimensions in relation to how it sits on the DIN rail as shown here.

Easy On / Easy Off

A really nice feature is that housing simply click onto the rail with no tools, and are also easily removed with just a screwdriver!

Vertical and Horizontal PCBs

PCB boards are also defined by their orientation to the DIN rail. On the left, is one horizontal PCB and on the right, two types of vertical PCBs alignments are shown.

No, not this type of ground. I want to discuss electrical grounding considerations!

Flickr / Keeping my feet on the ground / purplemattfish

Electronic housings can take advantage of the fact that DIN rails are almost always electrically grounded so a special foot can bring it into the PCB circuit!

IP Ratings
IP rating and touch safe is very important for the housing and connectors. Test apparatus is used to determine if products meet the safety requirements.

Busing Options
No, not this type of bus. I meant to discuss electrical busing considerations!

Flickr / East London Bus Group / AndrewHA

Busing Options
It is possible to use the housing to bus common power and signal connections without daisychaining wires between the devices. Several types are shown here.

PCB Trays
The simplest way of getting a PCB circuit onto a DIN rail is to use a tray that holds the circuit to the rail. Quick and easy - not much protection for the PCB though.

Tray Accessories
Protective Covers Labels

But even for tray systems, there are some nice accessories like covers and labels that can really polish up the appearance and make it look nice.

More Functional Housing

Housings with many more features are available however. Since customers interact with your circuit via the housing, consider all your choices carefully. Fully Enclosed IP20 Vented User Configurable PCB Removable or Fixed Connectors Grounding via DIN rail Narrow design

Building Automation
For building automation applications, especially in Europe, a specific standard has been devised so all devices will work together.

DIN 43880 For built-in electronics Standardized dimensions

Special Application Colors

Colors can be used to signify specific industrial applications such as safety circuits or intrinsically safe circuits. Or just provide visual appeal!

Power Dissipation
Table 2: Maximum Heat Dissipation: How Vents and Spacing Change the Maximum Allowed Heating [i]

Housing manufacturers will give you guidelines on how much heat a housing can dissipate under certain conditions.

Vents Present? @ 20C Ambient Temperature

No spacing between housings 4.4 W

4.3 W

20 mm between housings

8.4 W

7.1 W

Data from Phoenix Contact ME 12,5 series of electronic housings

Temperature Derating
Heat dissipation capability can be sharply reduced if the expected ambient temperature is greatly elevated though!

1 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0 20 30 40 50 60 70 80

After circuit prototyping, its useful to thermally image the design in the housing to make sure there are no hot spots and optimize the design!



Test and Standards to prevent

Reputable housing vendors should be able to tell you what flammability standards the housings are designed to.


IEC Glow Wire Test

Because the last thing you want is for the circuit to cause a fire or emit harmful fumes if it ignites for any reason.

Flickr/ inside the control box / Tom Gill (lapstrake)

Sometimes you may need holes or slots in the housing for light indication or access to potentiometers. Different choices are available.


Injection Molding

Likewise, clear labeling and marking on the housing can provide much greater customer satisfaction and ease of use.

Pad Printing

Laser Etching

Pluggable or Fixed
Connectors are extremely important since your customer interfaces with them directly technologies are available to provide the optimal user experience.


Thanks for hanging through to the end! For much more detailed information view or download the actual technical whitepaper!

Flickr/Kookaburra-in-the-junction box/Trois Ttes (TT)

Thank you
I can be contacted at Mike Nager on LinkedIn, Twitter

Mike Nager mnager@phoenixcon.com mnager@hotmail.com