Rittal Corporation, established in 1982, is the U.S. daughter company of the world's largest enclosure manufacturer, Rittal-Werk, Germany.
Design News: Do enclosure products, taken as a whole, suffer an image problem?
Wagner: One of the most significant challenges we face as an enclosure manufacturer is countering the perception that our product is a commodity, a box. Unfortunately, this view is somewhat justified, especially in North America. Until the mid-80s, you could compare product catalogs with those going back to the 1950s and see there was literally no change. Some of that negative inertia still lingers.
Q: What changes have been made to alter this perception?
A: Rittal was the first company to introduce the modular approach to enclosure systems, enabling large production runs of standardized products easily modified to customer requirements. There has also been an increasing emphasis on not only the exterior sheet metal, but the enclosure's inside design--the packaging, shielding, and cooling of interior components. For example, a comprehensive chassis system for microprocessor control systems can be designed so that system components, climate control devices, accessories, and enclosure can literally be made for each other.
Q: To what degree is the enclosure manufacturer responsible for such functions as shielding or cooling?
A: Since an enclosure is the ultimate envelope for a final control system, the enclosure manufacturer should be responsible for protecting the system within. A customer does not benefit by integrating a cooling package into a PLC and then placing the unit into an enclosure. It makes more sense to fit the enclosure itself with a complete cooling system. The fact that we sell a fair amount of our climate control solutions to the end user, rather than to the OEM, indicates to me that this is an expertise of ours that design engineers need to be made more aware of.
Q: Has the trend towards bus-based centralized control affected the enclosure business within traditional manufacturing environments?
A: We have observed the tendency to reduce decentralized control logic-- first in Europe, and now the U.S.--with a certain amount of concern. While the trend towards intelligent bus structures and distributed I/O configurations improves efficiency and productivity for our customers, it also reduces the demand for large sheet metal cabinets.
Q: What opportunities do you see compensating for this situation?
A: While we see a slight drop-off in business within the traditional manufacturing sector over the next two to three years, there is strong growth in the electronic and computer peripheral industries. This growth can best be described as the upward migration of formerly simple PC systems into significantly more comprehensive and complex solutions that compete in the mini and mainframe marketplace.
Q: Why is this good for Rittal?
A: The reason this is a positive trend is because manufacturers of PC-based file server structures are known for quick innovation, quick turnaround. Companies like HP and Compaq have a much stronger tendency to utilize standard solutions that exist in the market, and adopt them to their own solution, rather than burden themselves with unnecessary mechanical engineering responsibilities. Additionally, these same companies are looking for manufacturers that can support their solutions on a global basis by offering availability in a just-in-time configuration, the ability to provide local content, as well as compliance with international approvals and certifications.
Q: How can Rittal help with international specifications?
A: Many customers come to us and ask if our enclosure is CE certified. However, the enclosure itself is only a part of the entire system. Our response is to ask, "What is it you wish to put in the enclosure? How is the system laid out?" Once we know the answers to these questions, we can evaluate how the system may be affected by CE regulations. Based on our international resources, Rittal can assist customers with their applications and questions regarding international certifications.
Q: Finally, where is the enclosure industry headed?
A: The emergence of data communications and telecommunications as distinct marketplaces presents us with substantial growth opportunity well into the future.