Embedded System Enclosures: Should you go with Metal or Plastic?

Embedded System Enclosures: Should you go with Metal or Plastic?

When choosing a case for a desktop computer, the material used is often based on personal preference. However, when it comes to industrial PCs, the material must be chosen carefully as it can affect the performance of the device. There is no single material that is ideal for all situations, as the best choice depends on the specific needs and conditions of the environment.

Here is an overview of the pros and cons of each one.

Metal Enclosures – The Fanless Industrial Choice

Metal enclosures are the go-to choice in industrial settings due to their durability and ability to withstand harsh conditions. Stainless steel and aluminium are the most commonly used metals for this purpose. Aluminium is the more popular choice due to its lower cost and lighter weight, but steel is often chosen when impact resistance is a priority.

  • Metal enclosures are extremely durable and able to withstand harsh environments, making them ideal for rugged PCs used in industrial settings. While steel enclosures are stronger than aluminium, even aluminium can be more resistant to damage than plastic.
  • Aluminium and stainless steel are also highly resistant to corrosion, making metal enclosures suitable for use in industrial processes that produce noxious fumes. Plastic enclosures, on the other hand, may deteriorate over time in these conditions.
  • For fanless systems, the cooling relies on fins on the surface of the enclosures. In order to create a passive airflow and keep the system functioning properly in high temperatures, a thermally conductive material like aluminium is needed.
  • Metal enclosures tend to be more expensive than plastic ones, although the cost difference can be partially offset by choosing aluminium over steel. If purchasing in large quantities, plastic enclosures may be more cost-effective.
  • Metal enclosures are also generally heavier than plastic ones. While aluminium is lighter than steel and can be used as an enclosures material for any type of embedded PC, it is still heavier than plastic.

Plastic Enclosures – The Low Cost Aesthetic Option

In some commercial settings, durability may not be a major concern. For example, embedded computers used in stores for surveillance and ticketing systems are unlikely to be exposed to harsh temperatures, chemicals or require shock resistance.

In these cases, plastic enclosures may be a good choice. They are inexpensive, easy to clean and have a more attractive appearance. Additionally, their insulating properties prevent the risk of accidental electrical discharges.

  • The main advantage of plastic enclosures is their lower cost. When purchasing PCs in large quantities, plastic enclosures can significantly reduce costs compared to metal ones.
  • Because plastic is an insulator, it can prevent issues related to excess heat buildup or electrical shocks. This makes plastic enclosures a good choice for applications where the PC will be frequently handled.
  • Plastic enclosures also have a more attractive appearance than metal ones, making them a popular choice for applications where the embedded system will be prominently displayed, such as in commercial settings.
  • Plastic enclosures are not very durable and may not be suitable for use in harsh environments. Metal enclosures should be used instead in these situations.
  • It is not possible to implement fanless cooling with a plastic enclosure. Metal enclosures, which are designed with aluminium fins to dissipate heat due to their superior thermal conductivity, are needed for this purpose.
  • Plastic is also susceptible to corrosion, making it a poor choice for use in facilities that use reactive chemicals. The gradual degradation of the plastic can leave the computer inside vulnerable to damage.
Embedded System Enclosures Excample


In conclusion, aluminium enclosures are the best overall choice. They are durable, lightweight and cost-effective to produce. They can also be configured for fanless cooling, which is important for rugged systems that will be used in high temperatures.

This is not to say that other materials are not useful. Plastic enclosures, for example, are well-suited for indoor deployments where durability and cooling are not major concerns. They have a more attractive appearance and are even cheaper than aluminium, as well as being safer to handle directly.

Stainless steel is only used in situations that require high impact resistance, where the added weight and cost are acceptable. This includes industrial automation, where rugged PCs are mounted on steel enclosures near heavy machinery.

Ultimately, the choice of material for the enclosure depends on where and how it will be used. Both plastic and metal enclosures have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice will depend on the specific needs of the application.

Embedded Design Service
BVM create custom enclosures to befit product aesthetics, tactility and practicalities such as size, interactivity and interconnection with other devices.

Bespoke Design & Manufacturing Services – Custom Chassis and Enclosure Design

Not everything ‘off the shelf’ will be a fit for your specific application. Like most things in life, one size doesn’t fit all and BVM take the same approach when looking at an overall system design – particularly where the enclosure is concerned.

BVM’s design team utilise the very latest in 3D modelling CAD software so we can design suitable housings to provide the exact fit, feel and practicalities needed to house & accommodate the central intelligence and interactivity behind your product – inclusive of motherboards, TFT displays with integrated touch, required cabling – and any other peripheral devices needed to aid your application.

We like to make life easier ….

BVM supply a wide and diverse range of Industrial and Embedded Systems.
From Industrial Motherboards, SBCs and Box PCs, to Rack Mount computers and Industrial Panel PCs.

Our technical & commercial team members will always provide you with valuable but impartial advice around the products and services that BVM provide. With their collective backgrounds, they’ll provide you with the benefit of their knowledge and experiences when & where you need it. We’ll always help you in the first instance and get back to you when additional information is required.

You can either call us directly on +(0) 1489 780 144 and talk to one of the team | E-mail us at sales@bvmltd.co.uk | Use the contact form on our website

BVM Design and Manufacturing Services: The manufacturer behind the solutions you know

When a standard embedded design won’t suffice for what you need, you can always turn to BVM for help and use our custom design and manufacturing services.