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Taking the strain out of metal enclosure modification

15 February 2015

Supporting customer requirements for manufacturer modifications, Verotec has recently invested in excess of £120k to create an automated aluminium CAM machining centre at its Southampton, UK production facility. Tim Armstrong reports.

For the overwhelming majority of low to medium volume applications, specifying a standard enclosure is by far the most logical decision for the project engineer. Long established international standards such as IEC 60297, DIN41494 and IEEE1101.10 and .11, all referenced in bus structure specifications such as VMEbus, VME64x, VPX and cPCI, ensure the interoperability between products from different manufacturers. 

The main advantages of standard enclosures are that the specialist enclosure manufacturer will have designed its products to meet the majority of possible requirements, so, if required for the project, environmental sealing, EMC attenuation and thermal management capability will have been designed in from the outset.

The project’s time to market is minimised, as standard enclosures are widely available off the shelf from both the manufacturers and through distribution. There are no front end engineering and tooling charges; volume manufacturing reduces the unit costs, and the design will have been field proven in many different applications.  

However, a standard enclosure is exactly that: standard. To fit the needs of a specific project, assuming that the enclosure is a standard catalogue size, it will typically have to be machined with suitable apertures to accept switches, displays, I/O connectors, keyboards and other components. It will also need to be printed with legends and logos and it may have to be finished in a non-standard colour to meet corporate or product branding requirements. 

To adapt the standard enclosure to the project, the purchaser has three choices. If there is in-house capability, to modify the housing as part of the assembly process could be the best way to proceed. However, more standard units than are actually required will have to be purchased to allow for set-up procedures and wastage.

Many electronic OEMs may not have the plant, equipment, expertise or interest in undertaking metalworking procedures in their own premises. If standard enclosures are purchased and the modification processes outsourced, there are the additional costs, time penalties and logistics complications associated with managing the process of sub-contracting, often to multiple suppliers, potentially further increasing the costs as each process will require extra units to allow for first-offs and set up wastage.

By far the best option is for the original manufacturer to provide the modified enclosure.  Obviously, if the project requires a non-standard size of a standard design, realistically the original manufacturer is the only possible supplier.

Verotec, which purchased the metal enclosures standard product lines from the APW receivers over seven years ago, manufactures many different types of 19in and smaller metal enclosures. The product range includes such Vero brands as the KM6-II subracks and accessories, Diplomat, LBX, Verotec Case, 1U fan trays, 19in Rack Case, Commsrak, slimline wall box and many others.

To support customer requirements for manufacturer modifications, the company recently invested in excess of £120k to create an automated aluminium CAM machining centre in its Southampton, UK production facility. The CAM facility is optimised to produce small modified front panels in high volumes and also large panels, such as one-piece mixing audio/video mixing desk panels, which require many different sizes and shapes of aperture in a single monolithic piece of aluminium sheet.

Apart from the obvious product-related benefits of reduced lead times, enhanced capability and improved quality and repeatability, there are also additional intangible advantages for customers. ArtCAM Express middleware allows customers to send Pro Eng, Solid Works, AutoCAD or PDF files of their modified panels; these drawings are automatically translated into the standard MCR file format required to control the CAM centre, avoiding any potential inaccuracies. A further benefit is that as the data path from customer to machining centre is homogeneous, ensuring that ISO9001 traceability is preserved to allow batch traceability if required.

Configured systems are another way in which the enclosure manufacturer can save the user time and money. Typically, a configured system will consist of a desktop, rack mountable or portable enclosure, fitted with a subrack conforming to IEC60297, IEEE1101.10 or .11, a backplane, power supply and cooling. In this instance, the hardware manufacturer provides the customer with a “ready-to-run” system, into which the customer can mount his PCBs, power up the system, test and ship.

The advantages are self-evident: the system will be configured to meet the customer’s specific needs for the project; he can order a single, unique part number that defines the system exactly and he will not have to undertake assembly of various pieces of hardware arriving at different time, possibly from different suppliers. Finally, and most importantly, by working with the enclosure manufacturer, the system will have been tested and proven during the development phase.

Tim Armstrong is commercial director, Verotec

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