Enclosures move beyond the ordinary

DN Staff

October 23, 2001

7 Min Read
Enclosures move beyond the ordinary

Newton, MA--Large or small, simple or extremely complex, the right enclosure can make or break a successful application.

Take kiosks for example. Among the most common enclosure applications--they seem to be on every street corner--kiosks must entice users, yet remain practical and functional. As a result, creativity is a key element in any kiosk design.

In fact, today's kiosks have evolved to become more than just attention-getting stands. "A successful, interactive kiosk must be reliable, user-friendly, safe, and flexible in its design to accommodate many audiences," says Greg Swistak, president of Factura Kiosks (Rochester, NY), a division of Microtouch Systems Inc.

As with more traditional enclosures, kiosk design considerations can include ergonomics, environmental conditions, materials, component placement, serviceability, and shipping. Often units must accommodate a combination of PC, monitor/touchscreen, printer, speaker, cooling system, and card-reader system.

And requirements related to the kiosk's specific application add to the list. For example, kiosks used by the general public must comply with such regulations as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Underwriters Laboratories' (UL) safety standards for consumer products, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) emission regulations.

Among Factura's ready-to-ship en-closures, for example, is one that helps customers with public-use products easily meet such re-quirements: Dura-Shell kiosks.

Introduced as the first kiosks specifically designed to withstand harsh outdoor elements, DuraShell units safely house any standard PC system, providing computer access to the general public in settings such as open-air transit stations, shopping centers, and sports stadiums.

Key to accomplishing this goal was creating a weatherproof unit. "Outdoor kiosks need to operate within normal and abnormal ranges of heat and humidity, function in rain and snow, keep out dust and dirt, and not suffer cosmetic or functional damage from exposure to any level of sun," notes Swistak.

DuraShell features a small air conditioning and heating unit that regulates the kiosk's internal temperature and humidity. It maintains the internal environment at a level of relative humidity below 80% and temperatures between 45 and 85F--well within the operating range of off-the-shelf computer hardware.

The climate-control system uses heat exchangers, allowing the kiosk to be completely sealed and air tight. In addition, the waterproof housing consists of durable metal, protected with a two-part urethane paint, designed to draw water away from internal hardware and electrical systems.

To guarantee user safety against injury or electric shock, DuraShell meets UL requirements and maintains FCC-specified levels of electromagnetic discharge to avoid disruption of other nearby electrical systems, such as computers or pace-makers. And, as with any structure located in unattended areas and intended for public use, DuraShell kiosks offer protection against vandalism and theft. Each unit features a tempered-steel casing, uses high-security locks, and can be lag-bolted to the ground to prevent theft.

Alpharetta, GA-based i-MEDIA was among the first users of DuraShell enclosures. Working with IBM, the company developed special kiosks for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. The kiosks helped visitors locate any of the 324,000 bricks sold to fans through the Commemorative Brick Program. Inscribed with the purchaser's name and city of residence, the bricks paved walkways and public areas in Centennial Olympic Park.

"Seventy to 100 people were in line at any given time to access the kiosks," says Mike Booke, president of i-MEDIA, "and the wait on average was 20 to 30 minutes." Once at the kiosk, the user simply entered his/her name, the brick number, or the inscription written on the brick. The kiosk displayed a map showing the brick's location in the park, and printed a souvenir copy for the visitor.

Five such kiosks were located in an informational pavilion in the park. The pavilion, which consisted of a roof but no walls, left the kiosks continually exposed to the elements. That's where the benefits of DuraShell were crucial: maintaining the necessary temperature and humidity levels, and protecting the kiosks' CPU, thermal printer, and 17-inch touch screen. "We had no problems with the systems. Availability was in excess of 99%," says Booke.

Electronics cover-up. Thanks to Carefree Clearwater Ltd. (Atlanta, GA), people all over the world are enjoying clean water in swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas. Carefree manufactures non-chlorine water-treatment systems for non-drinking-water applications, including decorative fountains and water-cooling towers.

"Our products are located in areas with high humidity, water, and corrosive chemicals," says Michael Reynolds, VP of engineering and production at Carefree. "We need to use enclosures that will protect our electronics."

The solution: thermoplastic enclosures with both UL and NEMA 4X ratings from Carlon Electrical Products (Cleveland, OH). Carefree has used Carlon's NC Series enclosures in many of its systems for about three years. Recently, however, the company discovered a use for a different Carlon enclosure.

Carefree's Model 1100 system, which can purify a pool containing 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of water, features an E9802 conduit box, designed to enclose switches in marine applications.

"We needed something that met our specifications, and that would enable us to make our product available to the end-user inexpensively," says Reynolds. The E9802 enclosure fit the bill.

Carefree modifies the enclosures slightly, milling a few internal posts and creating entry and exit holes for the input and output cords. The company also designed a special thermoplastic cover for the system located outside of the box. "Using our cover and their gasket, we've come up with a really good enclosure for a miniature model," says Reynolds. "This enclosure wasn't even designed for our type of application, but we've been able to use it very successfully."

Simple and reliable. Duniway Stockroom Corp. (Mountain View, CA) provides replacement parts for VHS Series ultra-high-vacuum pumps manufactured by Varian Corp. Among the many components supplied are the pump thermostats.

Each thermostat is housed in an aluminum enclosure with 1100-0 alloy from Zero Enclosures (North Salt Lake, UT). The Z40-48 enclosures, which measure just 21/2 inches wide by 3 inches long, have one open end.

Duniway modifies the enclosures by drilling three holes: one for the thermostat and two for the mounting screws. The enclosure is lined with Teflon(R) to provide the needed electrical insulation.

Duniway has used the Zero enclosures for about two years, and couldn't be happier with the products. "The enclosures were exactly what I needed," says Don Benanti, purchasing agent at Duniway. "They are the same--maybe even better--than the original manufacturer's enclosure."

Choosing the right enclosure

Enclosures come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and types. But when it comes to specifying an enclosure, designers in all fields must face similar issues. Here's a short list of some of those concerns.

What is going into the cabinet?

  • Where will the enclosure be located? For example: plant floor, laboratory, processing plant.

  • How much room will the equipment take up?

  • What are the application's climate control requirements?

  • Is the equipment easily accessible in the enclosure?

  • Is the enclosure easily assembled and expandable in the future?

Cyber contacts

You can reach the following companies mentioned in this article on the Internet. Please tell them that you were referred by Design News.

Factura Kiosks: http://www.microtouch.com or [email protected] serve.com

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