Choosing the Right Cooling System for your Electrical Enclosure

Giant, room-sized computer with a man sitting in front of it.We can’t escape the reality of the world we live in, everything is reliant upon computers. For someone who has been with Vortec for 33 years I have seen a lot, but now, it seems like each month there is a new advancement in the processing power, or size, of circuits. There is no disputing it, the power of compact electronic components has increased as enclosure volumes have gotten smaller. Gone are the days of giant room-sized computers, electronics are now packed into even smaller enclosures, while simultaneously increasing in speed.

Don’t get me wrong, shrinking electrical components is a wonderful thing, it reduces the circuit size, increases the speed and reduces material costs, but as the size decreases it can also create problems. By shrinking the circuit size and increasing the density, we have also removed room for heat displacement, a critical component to the continual operation of electronic equipment.

Many industries, including manufacturing, food, chemical, water, wastewater processing, oil refining, petrochemical processing and others, have become dependent on microprocessors and programmable logic controllers (PLC’s) to stay in business. This means it is crucial for companies to properly handle heat dissipation so they can maintain productivity and safety. As we continue to tightly pack enclosures and panels, we are restricting the airflow resulting in rapidly, rising internal temperatures that lead to overheating electronics causing them to malfunction, or worse, fail all together.

To prevent these malfunctions and failures we need to reduce enclosure temperatures. Research done by numerous control system Circuit board the size of a quartermanufactures has shown that for each increase in temperature, online production shutdowns are twice as likely to occur, which increases the failure rate of electronics by over 40%. Most electronic parts manufacturers recommend a maximum operating temperature of 104°F (40°C) and 90% humidity for ideal operating conditions.

We all know there are numerous cooling products available, but not all are created equal. This is a brief look at some of the pros and cons of the big three industrial cooling systems, fans, refrigerant based coolants and vortex cooling. Although each of these cooling technologies will help to cool your electronic enclosures, they are not created equal and it is important to understand all that is required of each cooling system.

Fan Cooling Systems:

I will be the first to tell you that I am a big fan of fans…just not for cooling an enclosure. This is typically the most affordable option but also the least successful, and can cause problems. Fans are constrained in their cooling capabilities, they allow you little to no cooling adjustability and they are reliant on the ambient air temperature. Most factories have nearly invisible oil aerosols, dust and other contaminants in the air. When a fan is used, it draws in this contaminated air and blows it onto the electronics and circuit boards. Although this will temporarily cool the enclosure, it is also depositing the contaminants onto the electronics creating an insulation on the equipment components. Eventually this will cause the electronics to overheat, defeating the purpose of the fan in the first place.

Refrigerant (“Freon”) Based Cooling Systems:

Refrigerant based cooling systems are typically more effective than fans, but they are limited in the environments they can operate in.  They typically do not function in ambient temperatures greater than 131°F (55°C). If contaminants in the ambient air are not effectively filtered out, the head pressures can rise in the condenser section resulting in premature failure. Refrigerants, typically, require a larger physical footprint and higher upfront costs. In addition to the high upfront cost, refrigerant based systems need periodic maintenance which costs additional time and money. Although an affective cooling option, it can become very costly and time consuming to maintain properly.

Vortex Cooling Systems:

Though compressed air can be costly, vortex cooling is an effective, safe and low maintenance way to cool enclosures. Vortex tube technology converts compressed air into cold air without the use of electricity or coolants. Vortex cooling can reduce the temperature of the compressed air by 50 F° (28C°) or more. This means that enclosures are supplied with cool, slightly pressurized air, which prevents oils and dusts from entering the cabinet. Vortex cooling systems have no moving parts so they require very little maintenance, apart from occasionally changing a filter element, which ensures clean dry air enters the enclosure. Simply put, vortex coolers are built to last.

Each cooling system has their pros and cons, but what we all can agree on is having one of them is better than none. Every application is different and requires unique needs. As long as you pick a cooling solution that is appropriate for your application, and you understand the maintenance and cost requirements that go along with it, then you can help your company prevent malfunctions and shutdowns keeping them safe and productive. 

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