Battle of the Boxes: Polycarbonate vs. ABS vs. PVC -Which material makes the best Electrical Enclosure?

In the Electrical Enclosure Industry there are several different thermoplastics to choose from. Some of the more widely known thermoplastics are Polycarbonate (PC*), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS**) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC***). These materials are all used throughout the telecom, electrical, and construction industries. However, they are not interchangeable. So how do you know which material is best for an electrical enclosure?

First, it is important to distinguish the differences between thermoplastics. Polycarbonate is a homogeneous material, meaning it is made of a single type of plastic.  ABS is a combination of acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene plastics. Lastly, PVC is made up of chlorine and carbon.

The next step in choosing the correct material for your application, is to look at the features each material offers: tensile strength, impact strength, UV resistance, flame retardancy, and thermal aging.

Tensile Strength

PC is more than twice as strong as ABS and considerably stronger than PVC.  PC has a tensile strength of approximately 10000 psi.  ABS has a tensile strength of approximately 4500 psi.  PVC has a tensile strength of about 6300 psi.

Impact Strength

PC is also able to withstand more impact than ABS and PVC.  This makes polycarbonate enclosures ideal for rugged, outdoor applications and high-traffic environments. PC has a notched izod impact strength of 12 ftlb/in.  ABS has a notched izod impact strength of 4.0 ftlb/in.  PVC has a notched izod impact strength of 10 ftlb/in.

UV Resistance

PC is rated at UL 746C f1. PVC isn’t measured that way, but also is used on lots of direct sunlight applications (Like windows).  ABS is not.

Flame Retardancy

PC and PVC are both rated UL94 V0-5Va.  ABS is rated UL94 HB.

Thermal Aging

PC has a Relative Temperature Index (RTI) rating of 221 degrees F, making it a much safer choice for high heat environments. ABS has an RTI rating of 140 F.  PVC has an RTI rating of 185 F.


PC is naturally ‘water clear’. That is advantageous if you’d like to see inside the enclosure without opening it up. It’s also cost advantageous because a window doesn’t have to be installed. PVC can also be water clear, however, ABS is naturally opaque beige.

Because of it’s superior strength (both tensile and impact), outdoor suitability, flame rating, heat tolerance and colorability, Polycarbonate is the ideal (and often necessary) choice for enclosures used in rugged environments.  Whether it bakes in the sun day after day, submerged in seawater, encased in concrete, buried in the ground, or on the business end of uninvited target practice…it’ll do it’s job in the midst of the most challenging conditions.

Integra’s polycarbonate enclosures are ideal for those the construction, telecom, marine, oil and gas, utilities, water treatment, instrumentation, remote monitoring, alternative energy and many other industries that require non-corroding, non-conductive enclosures that are easy to transport, modify and install…at a reasonable cost.

*PC grades suitable for use in UL50 or IP66 Enclosures/applications used for comparison purposes.

**ABS grades suitable for use in non UL50 or IP66 Enclosures/applications.

***PVC grades suitable for UL50 or IP66 applications.

Learn more about Integra’s Polycarbonate Enclosures

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