BATTLE OF THE BOXES: 7 WAYS POLYCARBONATE BEATS FIBERGLASS

Polycarbonate and fiberglass are two of the most commonly used materials for industrial enclosures. While fiberglass has long been considered the standard for its low cost and versatility, it is no match for the newer and stronger material on the scene – polycarbonate.

Overlooking the advantages of polycarbonate could be a costly mistake for outdoor and industrial applications. That’s why it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each material and consider the environment it will reside in, before making a purchase.

The helpful chart below highlights some of the key factors that should be considered.

Installation

When it comes to installing enclosures there are a few important factors that should be considered for both the application and the installer.

Polycarbonate enclosures are about 40% lighter than their fiberglass counterparts, making it easier for one person to complete the installation. A lighter enclosure also means less stress on mounting hardware and less costly provisions required for mounting. It also reduces the cost of shipping the enclosure to the desired location.

The safety of the installer is also a benefit of working with polycarbonate. Fiberglass is tricky to drill and requires safety gear such as masks and gloves to protect the technicians. Fiberglass shards are produced when adding modifications in the field which can cause lung and skin irritation.

Machining

When it comes to machining and component installation, polycarbonate can easily meet any requirements. Integra modifies almost every enclosure ordered with precise CNC machining to meet the customers’ needs. Drilling holes in the field is also easily accomplished will none of the health and safety concerns that fiberglass poses. Polycarbonate cuts like butter and leaves behind small curls of plastic that can easily be swept up.

On the other hand fiberglass is harsh on tools, dulling drill bits and leaving sharp, unsightly edges. Many manufacturers will leave the modifications to the customer, due to it being more of a hassle than the service is worth.

Durability

The difference in tensile strength between these two materials is unmatched. Fiberglass is calculated to have a tensile strength of about 200 inches/pound while polycarbonate has a tensile strength of about 900 inches/pound, making it more than four times stronger. This added strength is vital to protect electronics from violent vibrations, flying objects, strong winds and even vandalism.

Naturally, damage from shipping and handling is also a major concern for fiberglass enclosure customers. A very brittle material, fiberglass risks damage any time it is dropped or mishandled. Because of its durability, polycarbonate is rarely damaged from shipping or handling.

Cost

Polycarbonate and fiberglass enclosures are generally similar in price and can be more cost-effective than metal enclosure options. However, it’s also important to consider the lifetime costs of each material.

Fiberglass enclosures, or more accurately, fiber-reinforced polyester (FRP), are made using a process called thermoset molding. During the manufacturing process, FRP can crack or scratch—these imperfect enclosures are usually discarded and sent to a landfill. The material cannot be reused or recycled, leading to higher manufacturing costs and a greater impact on the environment. FRP enclosures also break down much faster in outdoor environments, which means they need to be replaced more often than polycarbonate enclosures.

Polycarbonate maintains its strength and composure even after decades in harsh, outdoor environments. This is what makes this material a popular choice for green houses, safety glass and automotive headlights. Integra polycarbonate enclosures often outlast the components housed inside them – making the lifetime cost of the enclosure far less than fiberglass.

The material is also recyclable at the beginning and end of its life cycle. Even if there is a defect in the manufacturing process, the enclosure can be broken down and reused in future production runs, leading to a more sustainable and cost-effective process.

Solar Protection

UV radiation is a significant concern for some materials, such as fiberglass, that degrade when exposed to sunlight. With a fiberglass enclosure, UV protection is offered as an additional coating that attempts to safeguard the fibers from inevitable deterioration or even failure. However, this coating will eventually break down, exposing the fibers and threatening the protection of electronic components.

Polycarbonate has excellent shielding against UV radiation because the UV inhibitor is mixed into the material before it is molded. Since the UV inhibitor is a component of the polycarbonate formulation, each enclosure can last decades in the sun with no additional layer of UV protection needed.

To learn more about the harsh affects of UV radiation, read our technical article

When it comes to choosing an enclosure material for rugged outdoor applications, polycarbonate can’t be beat. The advantages of cost, durability, customization, and protection are unmatched by other materials.

As the largest manufacturer of polycarbonate enclosures in the United States, Integra Enclosures is uniquely positioned to assist with all your electrical enclosure needs. We offer a wide range of sizes, configurations, and modification services to fit any application. And since all of our enclosures are made in the USA, you can always count on top quality and fast availability.

For more information, Contact Us or call 440-269-4966 to speak with an expert.

View Recent Articles