There are many different reasons to build an enclosure (or a partial enclosure often called a safety guard), and it’s one of the most common types of framing structures we build here at F&L Industrial Solutions. We build custom enclosures every week using 80/20 aluminum t-slot extrusions for a variety of applications. The main reasons our customers build custom enclosures are as follows:
- Prevent Flying Debris
Dangerous flying debris is a leading cause of injury in the workplace, and an enclosure can insulate workers from machines or processes that produce or have the potential to produce dangerous flying objects.
- Suppress Dangerous Fumes or Particulates
If an internal machine or process produces dangerous fumes or particulates, an enclosure can prevent or reduce those contaminants from entering the worker’s environment. Sometimes these types of enclosures are designed for fume extraction or have a HEPA filter mounted on the top of the unit.
- Create A Controlled Environment
Similar to #2 above, sometimes enclosures are required to purify the air coming into the unit, or to maintain specific humidity levels so that scientific testing or other process can be done more reliably.
- Contain Splashing of Fluids
Many types of research use enclosures to protect workers from accidental splashing or exposure to blood-borne pathogens, drugs or other types of dangerous fluids.
- Prevent Physical Injury
This is probably the type of enclosure everyone is most familiar with – the type that prevents a person from getting their hand or finger injured in a machine. In many manufacturing environments, enclosures and safety guards made from t-slot extrusions provide an extra level of safety for workers that are around machines that could hurt them. While common sense would assume you would stay away from dangerous machines, OSHA has determined that certain machines require an enclosure or safety guarding to prevent worker injuries. Did you know that OSHA approved safety guards must require a tool to remove them? That's right, if you have a simple latch or thumb wheel - that is not within OSHA code.
- Reduce Noise
Enclosures are often recommended for noisy machines or other loud processes to both protect nearby worker’s hearing, and improve the workplace satisfaction of workers. To improve noise reduction, use thicker materials and gaskets on the panels and doors.
- Protect Eyes
Some enclosures are made to house lasers and other lighting that can damage your eyes. There are special types of plastics used for the viewing panes of these types of enclosures, so operators can see what is going on with jeopardizing their eyes or health. They are not cheap, but neither are lasers.
- Keep Things Clean
Sometimes enclosures are used to just keep things clean in between manufacturing processes or during temporary storage.
- House A Pet
Reptile and bird enthusiasts often create professional enclosures to house their pets and provide a natural habitat that is good for the living organism, yet enhances the view-ability and enjoyment by the owner.
Sometimes enclosures are needed to keep valuable items secure. These enclosures can be very large like a tool room at an automotive manufacturer or a chip storage room at a computer manufacturer, or small and mobile – like a rolling cart that is locked with medicine in a hospital environment
Once you identify why you need an enclosure, the next step is to choose what type of enclosure you want or need. Enclosures come in two general varieties – Encapsulating or Partial enclosures.
Partial Enclosures are made to sit directly on the floor or on the top of a table. Partial enclosures usually do not include all 6 sides. Many times the machine or process to be enclosed it already at its location and it would be too difficult or costly to move it – so the enclosure must be built around an existing item. For example, a large plastic injection molding machine or a printing press would usually be mounted directly to the floor; consequently, an enclosure would have to be built around the existing machine.
Encapsulating Enclosures are made to fully contain a device, a process, a room, or even a living thing like a snake at the zoo. Encapsulating enclosures give the owner more control over what goes on inside of the enclosure – often to prevent the mixing of what goes on inside with what goes on outside. Like previously mentioned, preventing debris, fumes, noise, particulates, or liquids from interacting with the work environment in which they reside is a common goal.
All aluminum t-slot enclosures have several common characteristics, no matter what type of enclosure they are or what their actual purpose is.
Viewing – almost all enclosures allow viewing of the internal process. Humans love to see what is going on in an enclosure, so most enclosures are with a lot of viewing panes. In most cases, clear polycarbonate (Lexan) is used as it is virtually shatterproof and provides the most cost effective safety while providing window-like transparency. Clear acrylic is also used occasionally where optics are more important than impact safety as acrylic is optically more clear, and scratches a little less easy than polycarbonate. Glass, especially safety tempered glass is sometimes required for chemical and blast chambers due to its superior resistance to heat and fire. No matter what the material, viewing is a common important component of any enclosure.
Entry & Exit – how will the operator get in and out of the enclosure is very important as it usually needs to be done on a very frequent basis. For enclosures on an assembly line meant to prevent human injury, they sometimes have electronic locks that shut off a machine when the door is opened – thus drastically reducing the chance of an injury, even if the employee does not follow the safety protocol. Sometimes an enclosure is simply intended to prevent dust from falling into an open can while it is being filled with soup – in this case it would be designed as a canopy above the processing area, minimizing the possibility of contaminates getting into the final product.
Enclosure Size & Strength – for encapsulating enclosures that will provide a platform to hold the machine or process, it is important to know the size needed and the strength required. By strength, we mean how strong does the table or cart frame need to be to support both the machine or object, and the intended enclosure. Based on the answer to these type of questions, we will build the enclosure out of 1”, 1.5”, 2”, 3” or 6” bars – and thin or thick viewing panels to safely accommodate the item. If the machine that is being enclosed is capable of throwing a bottle cap 500 feet, we would probably use a thicker polycarbonate panel than it the machine could only throw it 5 feet. Especially for safety-related enclosures, specifying the right amount of strength and safety margin in the design is paramount.
Functionality – many enclosures require some type of functionality beyond basic containment and guarding. It is not unusual for enclosures in a manufacturing setting to include lighting, cameras, safety locks, filters, electrical outlets, insulation, fluid pans, conveyor system, robots or other systems. Some of these functions require modification, capabilities or facility by the enclosure itself. So it’s always a good idea to think about and discuss these possibilities before you design your enclosure.
Installation – adding a safety enclosure or guard to an existing piece of equipment often requires the equipment to be shut down during the installation and testing times. Consequently, this should be considered when designing an enclosure. If down time is critical, much of the enclosure may be able to be built ahead of time at an off-site facility – then installed quickly to reduce downtime. However, if the location dictates that everything must come up a winding staircase and through a standard size door – then you may be stuck with an onsite build and a longer installation period. Experienced designers will ask about the installation location and schedule to make sure the enclosure or guarding design fits with your expectation and business requirements.
Enclosures build from t-slot aluminum extrusions by F&L Industrial Solutions are designed in partnership with our customers to ensure they meet any and all requirements. We utilize professional CAD Design software to create and illustrate the enclosure’s features to customers, and to make certain all machining and cutting of components are done precisely. Building an enclosure with 80/20 t-slot aluminum extrusions can be fun and informative for simple or basic solutions.
T-slot aluminum extrusions like 80/20 are our preferred material because they are easy to build with and offer an almost unlimited catalog of compatible parts and components (over 8,000 and growing). 80/20 t-slot aluminum is cleaner and stronger than steel, and it can be built with just a few common tools without welding torches or having to paint it afterwards to prevent corrosion. Many DIY engineers find building with t-slot to be intellectually stimulating and rewarding – once they get the hang of it. But for more comprehensive designs or concepts, F&L Industrial Solutions would be happy to design and build a custom 80/20 aluminum t-slot enclosure for you or your business. Or perhaps, have us design and machine all the parts, and you build it! We work with customers in all different ways and I am sure we could help you build a great aluminum t-slot enclosure.