What is an IP rating for electrical enclosures?

Originally created to measure the degree of protection provided by an electrical enclosure, the use of Ingress Protection (IP) ratings has significantly expanded over the years and now extends to cover many day-to-day devices, such as computers, tablets, mobile phones and more.

For the average consumer, this is a valuable nugget of information that helps them evaluate a product, but it’s not a very big deal if they don’t understand it. However, for someone in the electromechanical, telecommunications or transport infrastructure industries, applying the IP rating to their electrical enclosures is more than a nicety – it is absolutely critical. In fact, not using it could mean you break health and safety regulations and can result in severe fines and penalties.

If you’re choosing an electrical enclosure, failing to understand how it will protect your equipment against environmental hazards and intrusion could prove detrimental. You could be faced with additional costs, downtime and loss of business. The only way to make sure that your equipment is fully protected is to ensure that the correct IP rating is assigned to the enclosure.

The designer or specifier will know the conditions that the equipment can tolerate, such as the temperature, moisture and humidity levels, whether it can endure dust and the size of particles that are allowed inside without it becoming damaged. The location and the environmental conditions that the equipment will be placed in also need to be taken into account.

The IP rating is therefore defined by the equipment, and will provide the manufacturer with minimum requirements that the enclosure must meet to protect it properly. Without it, you could be using an enclosure that isn’t fit for your equipment.

IP ratings breakdown

The IP rating evaluates the effectiveness of an enclosure against two things:
1. The ingress of solid foreign objects and how easy it is to access hazardous parts through the cabinet enclosure
2. The ingress of water to a degree that would harm the contained equipment

It is defined by two digit numbers. Generally, the higher the number, the higher the level of protection.

The structure of the rating is as follows:

IP Rating Code.png

 

Why is it important?

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) set out to standardise electrical technology for improved performance and safety. The IP rating was developed by the IEC to help achieve this aim and using it provides a universal benchmark for manufacturers and organisations to adhere to.

Choosing the wrong IP could result in penalties for the customer and the manufacturer that are severe, costly and fatal. Without an IP rating, there wouldn’t be a way for people to evaluate an enclosure for its ability to protect important equipment. Having to repair damaged equipment will incur additional and substantial costs, and there’s risk that inadequately protected equipment could cause harm and injury to others, alongside safety breaches and reputational damage.

For example, an enclosure or cabinet located by the side of a heavily used motorway may get sprayed with deluges of water and grit thrown up by passing traffic. If airborne moisture, water or dust gets through airgaps in the enclosure and into the equipment, electrical shorts may occur, systems may fail and important services can get disrupted. On a motorway, highway, or railway this could mean traffic lights stop working, or illuminated signage on overhead gantries relaying crucial information malfunction. Each of these failures could result in major motorway crashes, train derailments and in the worst cases, injury and a loss of life.

Now that you understand what the IP rating is and its importance, you’ll need to measure your electrical enclosures against an IP rating chart in order to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations. With the introduction of the new, much more severe Sentencing Guidelines, that for the last year have brought a significant increase in prosecutions and penalties, important safety regulations and compliance steps should not be missed.

To help you quickly and easily determine the right IP rating for your metal or electrical enclosures, we have put together a comprehensive ‘IP Ratings Chart’. To download your free copy, follow the link below.