Three (3) Types of Cooling Systems for Your Electrical Enclosures

September 1, 2021

Cooling Enclosures

As temperatures continue to rise in California, particularly in the Central Valley, early-season heatwaves with temperatures 10-20 degrees above average commonly plague the state. When overnight lows are as high as 91°F, it’s impossible to stay cool without a cooling system at home.

Manufacturing facilities are no different. During the summer months, many manufacturers experience increased downtime due to rising temperatures. This issue affects the reliability of electrical equipment, and according to a US Air Force study, each 18°F rise in enclosure temperature reduces electronic component reliability by 50%. California heatwaves put electrical equipment at an even higher risk of failure.

Industrial plants require environments designed to house their electrical components and systems. These components are typically housed in enclosures to protect them from debris and excessive temperature. Electrical enclosures must be actively cooled when one or more of these conditions is present:

  • Outside air does not provide adequate cooling
  • The temperature inside the enclosure is equal to or higher than the ambient temperature
  • Ambient air is highly contaminated (dust, oil, coolant)

Enclosure cooling requires an up-front investment. Some systems require regular maintenance, but these costs are insignificant. Not maintaining a proper temperature for electrical systems or electronic devices may lead to more severe consequences, including:

  • Component costs increase with each repair or replacement
  • Lost productivity if the repair or replacement of a component requires a shutdown
  • Increased labor costs due to both repairing and replacing the component and making up for lost production time
  • Missed deadlines as a result of disrupted production cycles caused by shutdowns
  • Loss of business from unsatisfied customers who experience missed deadlines as a result of component failure

Enclosures have many benefits, including:

  • Reducing the risk of component overheating – Sophisticated electrical components operate within tight parameters. Operating above specified temperatures may lead to component malfunction.
  • Managing moisture and humidity – Industrial plants must keep electrical components in an enclosure to prevent rusting and corroding in environments with ever-present moisture.
  • Minimizing maintenance costs – Natural cooling can introduce dirt, dust, and debris that can cover surfaces and cause contamination and temperature rise. Frequent maintenance is needed to keep components operating at the optimum rate.
  • Extending the life of components – Exposed components are subject to frequent temperature fluctuations, reducing their life expectancy.

Selection Tool Screenshot

Enclosures also protect employees from electric shock. Identifying the best enclosure largely depends on its intended use and environment, and tools are available to help calculate the appropriate size for your application. The Cooling Selection Tool by nVent allows you to enter your requirements, and it will automatically suggest one of these solutions accordingly:

Air Conditioners

Air conditioners maintain a set temperature inside the enclosure using a closed-loop method that includes cooling, dehumidifying, and cleaning recirculating air.

Air conditioners consist of four major components:

  • Compressor – pressurizes the liquid refrigerant
  • Expander – regulates the flow of refrigerant
  • Evaporator – receives liquid refrigerant
  • Condenser – facilitates heat transfer

The heated air inside an air conditioner’s enclosure is drawn through a blower and forced back into the unit to remove moisture and heat. This process eliminates dust and particles and provides a contaminant-free environment.

Heat Exchangers

Heat exchangers are compressor-free, low-maintenance coolers used to maintain a set internal temperature. Various fluids pass through a closed-loop system which exchanges heats inside the coolers with outside air, providing a contaminant-free environment for components inside. Two types of Heat Exchangers are Air-to-Air and Air-to-Water.

  • Air-to-Air: This example circulates air to remove heat from inside the enclosure with cooler air outside: an ideal choice for environments where the maximum ambient temperature is less than the maximum enclosure temperature.
  • Air-to-Water: In this option, hot air from the cabinet is drawn and blown into exchanger housing, cooled with cold water, and forced back into the cabinet. Dusty, oily environments are perfect for this type of exchanger as contaminants cannot infiltrate the enclosure. When the ambient temperature is higher than the maximum enclosure temperature, it will require a chilled water source.

Vortex Coolers

Vortex coolers provide high efficiency and low maintenance. They are not closed-looped like air conditioners and heat exchangers, and replacing the air inside enclosures is simple.

A vortex is an airstream produced by pushing filtered compressed air through a generation system that splits into hot and cold airstreams.

Vortex coolers work seamlessly with clean filtered air and come equipped with thermostat controls that require little maintenance.

System Type Technology Description Heat Removal Range Indication For Use Typical Application
Air ConditionersForced Air

HighHot Environment
(typically over 35°C/95°F)

High Heat Load (300W-17,000W)

Dirty or Corrosive Air

Harsh/Humid Environments
Indoor or Outdoor

Industrial Enclosures
Wastewater Treatment
Oil Rig/Refinery
Air-to-Air Head ExchangersClosed-Loop

No Liquids
ModerateCool Air Environments

Moderate Heat Load (7W-150W)

Dirty or Corrosive Air
Indoor or Outdoor

Light-Duty Manufacturing
Air-to-Water Heat ExchangersClosed-Coupled Water- Cooling

No Moving Parts Exposed to Environment
HighestVery Hot Environment

High Heat Load (870W-6700W)

Extremely Dirty or Dusty Air
Extreme Conditions Where Air Conditions Could Be Subject to Failure

Automotive Manufacturing
Machine Tools
Vortex CoolersRequires Compressed Air Source

No Liquids or Moving Parts
ModerateHot Environments
(typically over 35°C/95°F)

Heat Load
(up to 1,465W)

Dirty or Corrosive Air

Harsh/Humid Environments
Heavy Manufacturing
Oil Rig/Refinery
Source: Hoffman Cooling Systems Characteristics

Examples of Deployment

A cooling enclosures’ durability and antimicrobial properties are two key factors determining effectiveness in outdoor and indoor applications. Machine tool industries often use cooling enclosures that can cause frequent coolant and oil splashing, so choosing an enclosure focusing on safety is crucial. For outdoor deployment (e.g., remote utility and surveillance system controls), particularly in desert and mountain environments, enclosures must withstand harsh conditions like high temperatures, humidity, and saltiness and account for solar load. Cooling enclosures designed for indoor usage have long been preferred in the food processing industry and commonly incorporated to keep costly plant equipment running at optimal efficiency.

Businesses that utilize cooling enclosures consider them essential components of their operations. They keep housed parts cooled properly without requiring much maintenance. They also keep components operating longer, reducing overall operating costs and reducing unplanned downtime.

Selecting the right cooling system for your application is critical for protecting your components, keeping them operating at their optimal capacity, and ensuring a better return on your investment.

When you supply the requirements for your application, the nVent selection tool will calculate the total load and recommend the best product for your application.

nVent Selection Tool Recommendation

An undersized enclosure can fail in cooling the housed components adequately, leading to undesired results like tripping due to overload. Conversely, an oversized enclosure may damage components by cooling them too fast and cause a higher-than-necessary initial investment.

An appropriately sized enclosure will maximize efficiency and save your organization time and money by minimizing unplanned downtime. Choosing the right cooling system can extend the life of your components, operating at their optimal capacity.