Electrical enclosures compliance: IP ratings explained

The IP rating was developed by the International Electrochemical Comission (IEC) to regulate the performance and safety of electrical enclosures. When choosing an electrical enclosure, whether it is a custom enclosure, a standard one or an electrical cabinet designed for the outdoors, it’s important to review its IP rating first. This will ensure that the equipment contained within it is protected and not hazardous to the maintenance engineer, the public or the environment.

How to read an IP rating

An IP rating consists of two numbers which represent the two separate characteristics that the electrical enclosure is protecting against. The first digit demonstrates how easy it is for a solid foreign object to enter the enclosure. The second digit shows how secure the electrical enclosure is against harmful water.

The higher the number is, the better the protection. For example, an enclosure with IP 00 means it offers no protection against solid or liquid substances. The digit for solid foreign objects spans from 0 (no protection) to 6 (dust-tight).

There are more digits for the protection against water, which go up to 8. An enclosure with the highest protection will shelter equipment even if it is completely and continuously submerged in water.

What IP rating should your electrical enclosures have?

The IP rating of an electrical enclosure will be first and fore mostly defined by the equipment it is so protect. More specifically, the designer or specifier should assess the IP according to the following factors:

The equipment being contained

This is the most important consideration as it serves the enclosure’s entire purpose – to protect the equipment inside. The designer or specifier should outline the conditions that the equipment can tolerate, including suitable temperatures, moisture and humidity levels and the size of particles that equipment can endure without becoming damaged.

The surrounding environment

The location of the equipment will have a huge impact on the IP rating, as the enclosure must protect it from any damaging environmental conditions. An enclosure or cabinet placed on a busy highway, for example, will need to protect against the spray of water and grit caused by passing traffic.

Other questions to consider include how many moving objects the enclosure will be surrounded by (does it need to safeguard against lots of children, animals or moving vehicles?) and how hazardous the equipment is to humans (for example, if someone touches it, will they be injured?

Once the conditions have been established, the enclosure must be designed, installed and maintained in such a way that safeguards against these possible risks. This is where specialised components will be added to the enclosure, such as door gaskets and seals to block moisture, cable openings with waterproof grommets, or a heating and cooling element to regulate the temperature.

At ICEE for example, designers have 18 years of experience in manufacturing electrical enclosures for a variety of environments and industry sectors. Our engineers are professionals who have an in-depth understanding of equipment requirements, strength of construction, weatherproofing, the demands of installation, safety compliance and more. Most importantly, they have the knowledge to make an accurate assessment of the enclosure you will need to completely protect your equipment.

What happens if you choose the wrong IP rating?

Assigning an incorrect IP rating to an enclosure will mean that the equipment inside will not be protected adequately. As a result, you’ll be forced to expend large sums of money on repairs, suffer from potential downtime, reputational damage and consequently even business loss.

What’s more, you could also be committing health and safety breaches if there is a risk of injury and harm to others. If your enclosure contains equipment that can lead to traffic signal outages if it is damaged, for example, there could be accidents, chaos, and fatality on the roads. With the introduction of the new sentencing guidelines last year, the government have made it clear that failing to minimise and remove risk will result in increased fines and potential imprisonment.

It is critical that the correct IP rating is chosen. A thorough understanding of the equipment being contained, the environmental conditions and how the enclosure should be designed will help you define what the IP rating should be. To make it easier to find the right IP rating for your enclosures, we have developed a comprehensive ‘IP Ratings Chart’. Download your free copy of the chart through the link below.