Understanding IP vs. NEMA Enclosure Ratings

Enclosures protect electrical equipment from indoor and outdoor hazards, but not all enclosures offer the same level of protection. Why is this important?

Well, imagine this scenario: It's a dreary, rainy Monday morning. It stormed all night, and you didn't get much sleep. You're really looking forward to swinging through the coffee shop. But, as you pull up, you see the self-order kiosk is out of order.

The culprit?

Rainwater managed to seep into the kiosk, causing the electrical equipment to short circuit and damage the screen. An enclosure designed and rated for these conditions could have prevented the water damage — and your rough morning.

Fortunately, companies can use NEMA and IP ratings to determine whether the enclosure they are considering offers the level of protection their application requires.

Ratings from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) and the Ingress Protection (IP) standard created by the International Electrotechnical Commission are two systems for understanding the type of protection offered by electrical enclosures. Understanding the ratings and how they compare to one another is critical for the safety and functionality of your personnel and equipment.

In this post, we’ll explain NEMA and IP ratings, the differences between the two, what to consider when selecting which rating you will apply to your product and why it’s critical to choose a fabricator with NEMA/IP enclosures rating experience.

IP vs. NEMA Enclosure Ratings: What are they and how they're different

What's the difference between NEMA and IP enclosure ratings? Both help users understand what claims like "dust-proof" or "waterproof" mean. Although they are similar, the ratings take different approaches and evaluate a different set of variables.

NEMA developed NEMA ratings to offer a set of defined standards for electrical enclosures typically used in industrial settings in North America. They follow a number system with each number corresponding to protective measures. For example:

  • A NEMA 1 rating means a product offers general protection against dust but is not "dust-proof."
  • A NEMA 3 rating means a product is weather-resistant, offering protection against dust, water, rain, ice, or other weather hazards.

The chart below offers more detailed descriptions of NEMA ratings. One thing to keep in mind is that as the numbers/ratings in the chart increase, that doesn't mean they include all of the protection found in earlier numbers/ ratings. For example, A NEMA 10 rating doesn't mean that it contains the same protection as previous ratings (NEMA 1 through NEMA 9 ratings).

NEMA Rating Number Protection Level
1 General-purpose. Protects against dust but is not dust-tight. Protects personnel from hazardous parts. Used indoors under normal atmospheric conditions.
2 Drip-tight. Similar to Type 1 but protects against light splashing; used indoors where condensation may occur.
3 Weather-resistant. Protects against falling dirt and windblown dust, against weather hazards such as rain, sleet, snow and ice. Can be used indoors but primarily used outdoors such as on self-service kiosks, or construction worksites.
3R As 3, but omits protection against windblown dust.
3S As 3, but also operable when the enclosure is laden with ice.
3X, 3RX, 3SX Offers additional corrosion protection; often used when saltwater is present.
4 and 4X Watertight. Used outdoors in places such as wastewater treatment plants, housing developments, and breweries. 4X indicates additional corrosion resistance.
5 Dust-tight. Protects equipment inside the enclosure against some solid foreign objects such as falling dirt and settling airborne dust, lint, fibers, and debris.
6 and 6P Temporarily submersible under certain conditions. 6 is temporarily submersible; 6P withstands occasional prolonged submersion and provides an additional level of protection against corrosion. 6P also protects against external formation of ice on the enclosure
7 Certified for use in areas with specific hazardous conditions. For indoor use in Class I, Groups A, B, C, and D environments as defined in NFPA standards such as the NEC.
8 Enclosures constructed for either indoor or outdoor use in hazardous (classified) locations classified as Class I, Division 1, Groups A, B, C, and D as defined in NFPA 70.
9 Enclosures constructed for indoor use in hazardous (classified) locations classified as Class II, Division 1, Groups E, F, or G as defined in NFPA 70. 
10 Enclosures constructed to meet the requirements of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, 30 CFR, Part 18.
11 General-purpose. Protects against the corrosive effects of liquids and gases. Meets drip and corrosion-resistance tests.
12 and 12K For enclosures with knockouts, intended for indoor use. Provides some protection against dust, falling dirt, and dripping non-corrosive liquids. Meets drip, dust, and rust resistance tests.
13 Used indoors to provide protection against dust, spraying of water and non-corrosive coolants. Meets oil exclusion and rust resistance design tests.

Source: www.NEMA.org

IP ratings provide similar information in a slightly different format. Here, two numbers correspond to a particular set of enclosure protection — the first indicates a level of solid particle protection, the second a level of liquid particle protection. Letters with specific meanings may also be applied in some instances but are not mandatory.

For example:

  • IP20 means an enclosure offers protection against dust in amounts less than 12.5 mm/0.49 in, and no protection against water ingress
  • IP55 means an enclosure protects against dust ingress and certain types of water ingress

One significant difference between the NEMA ratings and IP ratings is that IP ratings do not include any ratings or testing for ice or icy conditions. NEMA ratings do require such testing. So this may be a factor in deciding which rating you design and manufacture your enclosures to. An enclosure installed in a location where ice may build-up, like the self-order kiosk in our example above, may need a NEMA rating instead of an IP rating.

Click here to see real-world examples of comparisons between NEMA and IP Ratings on IP vs. NEMA Ratings Chart

Meeting Enclosure Ratings: Manufacturers Matter Now that we've covered the two rating systems, we want to emphasize the importance of partnering with a fabricator who understands how to engineer and manufacture to your desired NEMA or IP enclosure ratings. Some examples of products that typically use these ratings include:

  • Digital menus
  • Self-service devices like an ATMs
  • Self-order kiosks
  • Vending machines
  • Energy storage
  • Power generators

When deciding on using an IP enclosure rating, a NEMA enclosure rating or no rating, think about how and where your product will be installed. Many kiosks are employed in various environments and need to be sure they succeed in all, or there are product variations to fit all climates. That will give you an idea of how your enclosure should be rated.

Next, it's essential to select a fabrication partner with experience in engineering and manufacturing to your ratings. Why is this so important? A company with experience will be able to apply past scenarios to help you navigate any design questions before entering the fabrication process. They can provide guidance on joining methods, finishing techniques and other processes to help you achieve your rating goals.

At Maysteel, we have more than 80 years of manufacturing expertise, and many of our customers require NEMA 3, 4, and 4X rated cabinets. We've applied these to enclosures for a diverse set of industries including:

When clients approach us with their enclosure designs, chances are our team has done it or something similar in the past.

Here's a quick hypothetical example of our process.

If a client came to us and asked for a large enclosure for the renewable energy market and wanted it to be NEMA 4 rated, the Maysteel team would first question, "Why?"

We ask because we want to understand what our clients want to achieve. In this case, a NEMA 4 rating may not be necessary for the application, or the rating is needed, but the enclosure/ manufacturing processes need to be modified.

Select a fabrication partner that can ask the right questions up front, has a thorough understanding of how to take a design and fabricate to your rating requirements and who has the capabilities and in-house talent to apply these on the shop floor.

Summing It Up

We hope this blog post provided a clear view of NEMA and IP ratings, the main difference between the two, why it’s important to choose the right rating for your product and that it's critical to find a fabrication partner with experience with your rating needs. Both NEMA and IP ratings are great guidance for ensuring your kiosk, enclosure and cabinet outlast their environments.

Learn more about Maysteel’s NEMA rated enclosures, kiosks and cabinets, or contact us to get started on your next project.

©2020 Maysteel Industries, LLC

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