Comparing Enclosure Construction Materials

When researching telecommunications cabinet, enclosure and shelter solutions, network providers might notice that in addition to coming in a variety of sizes and looks, enclosures/shelters are available in a range of materials, too.

From aluminum to concrete, network providers have a few different materials to consider for their enclosures. But, which type of material is better? Is one actually better?

Let’s take a look to find out.

Steel

Steel is a common material for crafting outdoor enclosures. Unlike the other materials on this list, steel comes in a number of forms–the most common being mild steel, stainless and galvanized.

Mild and galvanized steel share many of the same base properties, except that mild steel doesn’t have a zinc coating. This means that while mild steel can be turned into a solid, durable enclosure, it isn’t corrosion resistant and will be better suited for indoor applications. Manufacturers can powder coat or paint the enclosure, but if the coating ever gets scratched, the steel will rust.

Galvanized steel, on the other hand, has a zinc coating that helps it resist corrosion. The zinc layer can be applied chemically or with heat. Some organizations, such as American Products, improve the corrosion resistance even further by powder coating the enclosure. If the powder coating gets scratched, the zinc layer will continue providing corrosion protection. This method, though, only applies to the heat-applied galvanized steel–if the zinc is applied chemically, it will be next to impossible to get powder to stick. Chemically treated galvanized steel is still acceptable for outdoor use. In fact, it’s used quite often in ducting. The metal will be resistant to rust–it will just oxidize and turn white.

Stainless steel is created by adding chromium to molten steel. This makes a material that is extremely strong and even more resistant to corrosion than galvanized steel. Additionally, manufacturers can enhance the corrosion protection by powder coating the enclosure. Whether it’s powder coated or not, stainless steel is one of the few ways enclosures/shelters can receive a NEMA Type 4X rating, which denotes extra corrosion resistance.

On the other hand, steel is heavier than other metals, which will result in heavier cabinets/enclosures. Depending on the application, this might not be acceptable to the network provider. In that case, they might consider aluminum, especially if the cabinet is going in a corrosive environment, e.g., near saltwater.

Stainless steel is significantly more expensive than the other types of steel and aluminum, which can result in a pricier enclosure.

Aluminum

While steel is a popular enclosure material, its heavy weight and the high cost of stainless steel can be deterrents to telecom organizations and enclosure manufacturers.

Aluminum is a lightweight, yet still extremely durable, alternative. Aluminum is extremely corrosion resistant–in fact, it’s second only to stainless steel. This makes it great for larger cabinets, especially if said enclosure is going into a corrosive environment. Powder-coated aluminum and stainless steel are the best ways to achieve the NEMA Type 4X rating.

The biggest downfalls of aluminum are its price and the effort required to weld it.

Wood

While American Products exclusively uses metal for the exterior of our enclosures, some manufacturers offer wood-built shelters. They generally construct these types of shelters like a house, building them on-site with stud walls.

Wood enclosures, the majority of which are walk-in shelters, will be more cost-effective than their metal counterparts.

But, wood enclosures are going to be subject to the typical wood issues, including termites, wood rot and fire. Wood typically does not stand up to the elements as long as metal will, either.

Concrete

Some organizations also offer concrete shelters.

On the positive side, concrete provides ballistic resistance, meaning the right thickness of concrete can stop bullets and other projectiles from penetrating the shelter and damaging the equipment inside. Organizations should note that while the concrete portions of the building will stop bullets, the door, HVAC system and other exterior components can be penetrated and result in damage.

Another advantage of concrete will be its durability. Concrete lasts a very long time, and it won’t corrode as much in the elements. It’s also going to be fire resistant.

Even though concrete is tough, it is prone to cracking. Either from moving or just settling over time, the cracks could become deep enough to allow water intrusion or to even pose a danger to the building’s structural integrity. If that becomes the case, the owner would have to hire someone trained in fixing concrete to rectify the issue, which could be very costly. Metal and wood, on the other hand, are very unlikely to crack while moving or settling, and any damage they sustain over time can almost always be repaired by the organization’s own techs.

Concrete is going to be extremely heavy, too, which will result in much higher costs for shipping and deployment. Generally speaking, a concrete shelter can be about four times heavier than a comparable metal enclosure. When unloading premade concrete shelters and/or pieces, organizations would have to secure a crane, rather than just a forklift or digger line truck. This extra weight also makes concrete structures more prohibitive to relocate if necessary.

That, combined with the materials themselves and the labor involved, can result in a shelter that will be significantly more expensive than its metal or wood counterparts.

 

Telecom organizations have a number of factors to consider when looking for quality enclosure solutions to house and protect their equipment. At American Products, our sales consultants will listen to your needs to understand your network and your equipment. Then, we’ll walk you through enclosure solutions to help determine the materials, enclosure size and integrated systems that meet your budget and your needs. In the end, we’ll help you find an enclosure solution that will serve you and your customers for years to come.

If you’re interested in learning more about American Products and our enclosure solutions, please contact the sales specialists at 417.323.6312.

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