Electronic Housings for the Off-Road Vehicle Market

By Michael Wayde | June 25, 2024

Off-road conditions subject electronics to a wide range of stressors. To ensure reliable, seamless integration into off-road vehicles, design engineers should look for special features when specifying housing systems.


Electronic housings designed for the off-road vehicle market face a unique set of environmental factors that most electronic housings are not designed to handle. To ensure reliable, seamless integration into automotive applications, design engineers should look for special features when specifying housing systems.

Protection from contaminants

Protection against solid and liquid contaminants is a major factor when selecting the correct housing platform for electronic devices in automotive applications. This is especially true in off-highway applications, where vehicles are subjected to more extreme conditions like sand, mud, dirt, chemical exposure, even insects.

Because these housings often protect devices critical to occupant safety, they require a higher ingress protection (IP) rating. IP ratings measure the level of ingress protection an electronic enclosure can withstand against both solids and liquids.

The first value in the rating system goes from 0-6 and measures the protection against solid particles. The higher the number, the smaller the solid particles the enclosure can protect against. The second value in the rating system goes from 0-9, and measures the protection level against moisture. A rating of 9 means the housing can withstand powerful high-temperature water jets and can be submerged in up to three meters of water for up to 30 minutes.

Housings with an IP69 rating are typically installed in areas that get washed, such as in manufacturing, medical, or industrial food processing applications. The automotive industry requires IP69K-rated enclosures. This rating ensures that electronics in these enclosures can withstand the severe wash-downs typical for these types of vehicles.

Electronic housings for outdoors

Robust outdoor housings, like the Phoenix Contact ECS series, can protect sensitive electronics used in indoor and outdoor applications from dust, dirt, and water.

Standing up to vibration

Vibration control plays another critical role in the selection of an electronic enclosure for off-highway applications. For example, vehicles in the construction industry inherently have high levels of vibrations, and the housing design needs to factor this into consideration. Vibration protection covers both the housing itself and any electronics installed within the housing.

To ensure vibration protection for the housing, you need a solution that can integrate seamlessly into various surfaces or positions in the vehicle design. Vertical or horizontal placements on walls, components, or pipes should be factored into the housing selection. In some applications, DIN rail mounting is possible. In others, a VESA mount would work better for added stability and easier removal. Built-in mounting features can shorten installation and replacement time, as well as reduce the cost for external rack or mounting systems.

Inside the housing, the same vibration considerations need to be made for printed circuit boards (PCBs) and other electronics. PCBs designed to housing specifications provide the tightest, most secure fit within an enclosure. Barring that, including proper mounting features can ensure electronics won’t bounce or flex within the housing. In many applications, potted solutions might provide the highest level of vibration protection, but you sacrifice accessibility and repair with these types of solutions.

Withstanding extreme heat and cold

Unlike control cabinet applications, off-highway enclosures need to withstand pressure and temperature differentials. Construction equipment can be exposed to extreme heat and cold, which can quickly break down the structural integrity of some plastics and provide inadequate thermal protection for some metallic enclosures. Extreme heat can cause distortions, softening, expansion, brittleness, and faster-than-normal wear on some types of plastics. Conversely, extreme cold temperatures can cause hardening, brittleness, and shrinkage.

When selecting the right enclosure for off-highway applications, engineers should consider housings that can withstand temperature swings between -40 °C and up to 100 °C. Polycarbonate designs with the proper UV-stabilized plastics can handle these high-temperature swings without the need for powder coat paint finishes used in some metallic enclosure options.

With these temperature swings or with increased altitude, pressure can build up in sealed housings. This can cause moisture buildup, which can damage electronics. Built-in relief valves can eliminate these pressure buildups and should be considered in any application where high-temperature swings are expected.

Smart systems have high requirements

As off-highway vehicles become more advanced and turn into smart systems, the range of devices required in these vehicles increases. Sensors, cameras, and controllers are all integral components that will drive the smart systems of the future.

These aren’t just standalone devices; they need to communicate seamlessly, which requires the inclusion of a significant amount of cables and connectors. These devices need to be robust enough to withstand extreme conditions like temperature fluctuations, vibrations, and environmental contaminants. They may experience high vibration and high shock, making potential sealing scenarios for wet and dusty applications or industrial fumes critical. High voltage spikes can also occur, so they may also need shielding.

Flexible expansion options are required to handle future technology upgrades. The ease of adding more ports like RJ45s, M12s, high-speed antennas using RF and coax connections, and USB 3.0 connectors can help with future processing or connectivity. A housing solution that makes it easy to add these connection types into the system can help future-proof the design.

When selecting an electronic enclosure for smart off-highway applications, pay special attention to the connection technology available in each solution. The IP rating for your electronics is only as high as the IP rating of the cables and connectors built into the housing.

Visit Phoenix Contact to see more connectivity solutions for heavy-duty applications.

Like this article? Check out our other Connected Vehicles and Heavy Duty articles, our Transportation Market Page, and our 2024 Article Archives

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Michael Wayde
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