Stainless Steel Enclosures vs. Carbon Steel Enclosures

Industrial use of electrical and electronic steel enclosures has numerous applications. Stainless steel and carbon steel are both used to fashion these enclosures. Let’s examine the differences between stainless steel and carbon steel enclosures, their applications, and how they perform under various industrial conditions.

Differences Between Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel

Stainless steel and carbon steel are both alloys of iron, carbon, and sometimes other elements. Stainless steel, in particular, is composed of iron, carbon, chromium, nickel, and molybdenum. The primary differences between stainless steel and carbon steel include the following properties.

Corrosion Resistance

Stainless steel, as the name implies, resists staining due to corrosion. Iron-based metals such as steel are susceptible to oxidation (rust and corrosion) – a chemical conversion caused by exposure to oxygen – which eventually disintegrates the iron component.

Stainless steel prevents oxidation due to its high chromium content (10.5 percent by mass), which is not susceptible to oxidation. Chromium’s corrosion-resistance protects the iron content from exposure to oxygen.

Carbon steel’s higher carbon content might make it a durable metal, but it lacks the corrosion protection from exposure to oxygen and ambient moisture possessed by stainless steel.

Higher Carbon Content

The other main differentiator between the two types of steel is carbon steel has a higher carbon content than stainless steel – 0.05 up to three percent by weight depending on the grade. Carbon steel’s primary characteristics are:

  • The degree of carbon content
  • Strength and hardness
  • Lack of corrosion resistance

Applications for Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel Enclosures

Stainless steel enclosures are very useful in the extreme environmental conditions often found in many industrial settings. Stainless steel enclosures protect their contents from exposure to moisture, corrosive materials, and extreme temperatures. These enclosures are versatile and easily customized for specific industrial applications.

Some of the industrial uses for stainless steel enclosures include:

  • Wastewater treatment
  • Oil and gas production
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing and production
  • Food supply handling and processing
  • Hospitals
  • Other sterile environment applications

Carbon steel comes in four different grades based on their carbon content. Manufacturers use different categories of carbon steel to make various parts and industrial equipment.

  • Low Steel – contains the smallest amount of carbon. Highly malleable, low-cost, and less strength and durability. Used in construction.
  • Medium Steel – a more durable alloy used to make axles and shafts.
  • High Steel – one of the most durable carbon steel alloys used to make high-strength parts like springs and wires.
  • Ultra High Steel – sturdy, tensile steel used in the manufacture of axles and cutting tools.

Carbon steel enclosures require additional finishing, such as paint or powder coating for protection from the elements. While stainless steel enclosures – like our 316 stainless steel enclosures from Integra Enclosures – with their inherent protective chromium component, resist rust and corrosion.

NEMA Types, Adverse Environments, and Marine Applications

Our NEMA-rated stainless steel enclosures withstand adverse environmental conditions and have higher moisture and corrosion resistance than carbon steel enclosures. NEMA ratings for electrical enclosures include protection from a variety of environmental factors.

Type 1 – external impact; used indoors.

Type 2 – external impact and falling water.

Type 3R – rain, snow, dust, and drainage in high humidity.

Type 4 – ice, rain, dust, and streams of water; for indoor and outdoor use.

Type 4X – NEMA type 4 with additional corrosion resistance.

Type 12– protection from non-corrosive liquids and external impact, for indoor use.

Type 13 – protection from non-corrosive coolants, external impact, and oil.

NEMA Enclosure Types →

The steel used in foodservice and marine applications requires corrosion resistance to withstand contact with corrosive cleaners, saltwater, and acidic substances. Stainless steel enclosures like Integra Enclosures StrongBox line meet NEMA 4X specifications and are custom made to any size or specification.

In contrast, carbon steel enclosures often lack the corrosion-resistance properties of stainless steel enclosures and their corresponding NEMA rating.

Performance and Customization

In terms of performance and customization, stainless steel enclosures like those at Integra Enclosures have numerous advantages over carbon steel enclosures.

  • Sturdy and impact resistant
  • UV protection
  • Resistant to corrosion and chemical exposure
  • UL50E and NEMA 4X certified

Stainless steel enclosures provide heat protection inside and outside. They resist corrosion from weather, saltwater, and chemical exposure. They can also shield external environments from heat generated by internal electronics.

Stainless steel enclosures can withstand hose-down cleanings, making them ideal for sanitary and sterile working environments.

Custom sizing and configurations are a feasible and cost-effective alternative when choosing stainless steel enclosures. Integra Enclosures offers custom-made, heavy-duty and corrosion-resistant grades of stainless steel enclosures designed to withstand the elements while maintaining appearance and durability.

Stainless steel enclosures can be custom built to accommodate unique sizing, back panel, mounting style, and other options. Integra Enclosures’ custom-made stainless steel enclosure designs include numerous options:

  • Multiple latch designs
  • Our foam-in-place polyurethane gaskets
  • Multiple mounting selections
  • Custom back panels
  • Multiple latching options
  • Multiple hinging options

In contrast, carbon steel enclosures are frequently mass-produced and ultimately lack the corrosion-resistant properties of stainless steel. Carbon steel does not have the yield strength (resistance to impact) and tensile strength (resistance to breaching) that stainless steel possesses and is slightly brittle by comparison.

Furthermore, carbon steel enclosures lack the heat resistance of stainless steel and the certification required for use in foodservice and marine applications. Carbon steel enclosures often fall short of the numerous customization options of a stainless steel enclosure since they tend to be mass-produced.

Which enclosure provides the most value?

In terms of cost, options, durability, and resistance to corrosion and adverse industrial environments, stainless steel enclosures are a better investment. Overall, the performance and durability of stainless steel enclosures outmatch carbon steel. Stainless steel enclosures have the required certifications for use in marine, industrial, and healthcare environments due to their superior corrosion resistance.

Furthermore, the ability to customize a stainless steel enclosure for any industrial application versus choosing an off-the-shelf carbon steel enclosure makes stainless steel even more attractive.

Contact us online or call Integra Enclosures at 440-269-4966 to discuss your stainless steel enclosure requirements. We can help you select or design a solution that meets your specifications.

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