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Enclosure design goes online

DN Staff

November 15, 1999

5 Min Read
Enclosure design goes online

So many choices, so little time. That's the dilemma for engineers who design and purchase enclosures. They must contend with different styles, sizes, finishes, and an increasingly wide array of options. Take modular enclosures, for example, which are gaining in popularity. Unlike the traditional solid body enclosure, which consists of a five-sided box and a door, a modular enclosure is made up of a separate frame, base, top, sides, and door. The engineer also has to choose among the many component-mounting methods, including subpanels, swing-out frames, and electronic racks.

Like with an erector set, as one engineer says, it's easy to forget the right part or to order the wrong one, which means that it is sometimes tempting for some engineers to stick with tried-and-true enclosure solutions at the risk of foregoing a better design. To help make life easier for engineers, enclosure makers have invested in web and CD-ROM applications designed to simplify the product selection process.

As more and more design engineers throng to the Internet looking for product information, enclosure manufacturers have responded with on-line catalogs, selection guides, and configuration tools.

New tools for engineers. Enclosure supplier Hoffman offers an online and CD-ROM catalog system called iHELPS (www.hoffmanonline.com/ihelps/), which gives engineers Internet access to the same product information found in the firm's massive Specifier's Guide. The system allows users to search for an enclosure solution by product family, catalog number, or by application requirements. Engineers can use iHELPS to configure a modular enclosure by selecting styles, sizes, materials, finishes and accessories. The system can also create a bill of materials and generate a request for price quotes.

Hoffman's iHELPS also contains CAD drawings that 3M's Dave Johnson imports into the control panel layouts he prepares for customers. But he prefers to turn first to Hoffman's catalog rather than to its web site or CD-ROM when he specifies and orders enclosures.

"We do a lot of custom cabinet work; draw it up and have it fabricated," he explains. "So I go to the catalog and figure out what I want, then go to the web or the CD-ROM, search on the part number and get a scaled CAD drawing that I can use in my layout, which saves me drawing time." While the Process Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineering Division, where Johnson works, uses more solid wall than modular enclosures, he can see the benefits of a configuration tool for modular enclosures.

Hoffman's iHELPS on-line catalog allows design engineers to search for parts and configure even a modular enclosure like the one shown on-screen here. While some users may choose to use the several-
hundred-page paper version of the catalog as a handy doorstop, many engineers are finding that both the print and digital version of the catalog work well in tandem.

"A software program that helps an engineer select all of the fasteners and brackets and other associated parts for a modular enclosure should be a big help," Johnson suggests. "Because sometimes it can be difficult to determine what parts you need, and if all of the parts aren't available, the enclosure can't be installed."

MTS design engineer Michele Fritze has also used iHELPS as a reference tool. "It contains electronic files of (Hoffman's) standard enclosures that can be downloaded and modified," she says.

Similarly, engineers can use Rittal Corporation's RiQuest product design, selection and configuration system (www.riquest.com) to select products, download CAD drawings, find accessories, and create a bill of materials.

Rittal's RiQuest enclosure design, and selection configuration system, available as a CD-ROM and on the web, helps design engineers select and configure products, download CAD drawings, and more.

RiQuest is available both on-line and on a CD-ROM, and many engineers take advantage of both modes. Users with slower Internet connections can access graphics faster from a local CD-ROM rather than from the web site, while the web offers the most up-to-date information and enables communications capabilities. "Assistants" are available to walk users through the process of configuring an enclosure solution, and RiQuest includes videos that demonstrate how enclosures should be assembled.

Once he's selected a basic enclosure kit, Jerry Strand of Kvaerner Metals, uses RiQuest to access CAD drawings. He also uses it to determine what mounting brackets, hardware, and other subassemblies he needs to buy, as well as what base, door, cooling fan, and other options are available for the kit he's selected. "In the catalog, you have to find the subassemblies and options yourself," he noted. "It's easier, and a lot quicker, when the software tells you."

Assembling a modular enclosure can be challenging even with the new tools, according to Strand, and it helps that he's spent years learning about Rittal's product line. But, he adds, "If there were two engineers who were both unfamiliar with the products, and one had the catalog and the other had the CD, the latter could obtain a closer and more accurate bill of materials for pricing."

"With RiQuest, it's hard to forget something," agrees Don Isenhour, an electronic project engineer with Livingston and Haven. "I keep the CD-ROM in my drive all the time now and never use the catalog unless it's to see a chart with a series of boxes in varying widths, heights and prices." Isenhour appreciates the "Quicklist" button, which displays the options available for a particular enclosure as well as the ability to access CAD drawings with a couple of mouse clicks.

As for the general acceptance of these new tools, the numbers speak for themselves. Both companies report that traffic is building monthly on their sites, with no slowdown in sight.

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