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What Are IP Ratings?

What Is An IP Rating?

An IP rating, or ‘Ingress Protection’ rating, is used to classify the degree of protection a mechanical or electrical enclosure provides against ingress from foreign bodies. 

Defined by the IEC standard EN 60529, the Ingress Protection rating sets a clear resistance standard measuring the performance of an enclosure against the intrusion of hands, dust, dirt or liquids that have the potential to pose a hazard. 

Why Do We Need An IP Rating System?

The IP rating system provides our customers with a clear and precise indication of a component's resistance level to ingress.

This means that they can have confidence that their chosen component is safe and appropriate for the intended use in electrical or mechanical assemblies. 

Most electrical appliances will have an Ingress Protection rating. As an internationally recognised standard, IP ratings guarantee a global uniformity regarding the level of sealing effectiveness of electrical enclosures. 

How Are IP Ratings Measured?

Ingress Protection ratings are devised by the letters ‘IP’ followed by a two number grading system. 

The first number measures the level of protection against solid foreign objects on a scale from 0 (or x) to 6. The second number measures the level of protection against moisture on a scale from 0 (or x) to 9k.

A higher number corresponds to a higher level of protection.

Occasionally, one of the two numbers will be replaced by an ‘X’ indicating that there is little to no data regarding this enclosure's level of protection against ingress of this sort.

In some instances, you may find a letter at the end of the Ingress Protection rating. This letter (D, F, H, M, S or W) is a supplementary letter outlining additional information from the product standard indicating this product's level of protection from other hazards. These are outlined below.

IP Rating Charts

Determined by undergoing certain tests, the IP rating charts for Protection from Solid Foreign Bodies and Protection from Liquid or Moisture provide a clear outline of what each digit represents in terms of protection against ingress.

When Do You Need An IP Rated Component?

More often than not, if your project contains electronics and is intended to be used outdoors or in a location where ingress of dust or water is likely to occur, then you will need to invest in IP rated components. 

Protecting electronics from dust and water ingress is critical. If ingress does occur, a number of dangers may follow suit:

  • Damage to the electronics leading to suboptimal performance or causing the electrics to stop working altogether
  • Water ingress which can result in the device short circuiting and, in turn, can cause electrical fires
  • Electric shocks
  • Damage to internal wiring 

Ingress Protection ratings are an excellent way to determine how an electrical or mechanical enclosure will perform when exposed to external forces, most commonly water and dust. 

The IP rating offers a guarantee that the enclosure has been tested and therefore, providing you choose the correct IP rating for your project, the above dangers are unlikely to occur. 

Though IP ratings are primarily intended to protect electrical enclosures, their protection rating can also prove valuable for other projects where ingress related corrosion is a concern. 

For example, in marine environments, an IP rated component can prevent the ingress of salt water. which,  in turn, can reduce the risk of any damage or corrosion as a result of rust.

Rust can often be associated with Galvanic Corrosion, a type of corrosion caused by two dissimilar metals being in contact with one another in the presence of an electrolyte, such as water. 

For more information about galvanic corrosion, see our article, ‘What Causes Galvanic Corrosion And How Can I Prevent It’.

Though the IP rated product may prevent water ingress at first, if the material of the component is not appropriate for its environment, it will begin to degrade and ingress is likely to occur. 

For this reason, IP rated components are not an alternative to high quality materials which are ideal for specific harsh environments, such as Marine Grade Stainless Steel. 

Therefore, using stainless steel fixings alongside IP rated components would be an ideal choice to ensure long term resistance against issues such as galvanic corrosion and water ingress in these harsh environments.

You can learn more about Stainless Steels by reading ‘The Engineer’s Guide to Austenitic Stainless Steel.’


Alternatives to IP Rated Products

Though they are suitable for many applications, IP rated products are not always essential when ingress is a concern and there are also other components that can be used instead.

Grommets, for example, can be used to protect cables and wires from the ingress of dust or dirt. 

Alternatively, for projects where water is a concern, Sealing Screws can be a great alternative to IP rated components as they are designed to protect equipment from leakages of fluid and gas.

When fitted with an O Ring, these components offer a 360° hermetic seal against any foreign bodies that may be present, providing a degree of protection that may be ideal for your project.

For more information about Sealing Screws, head to ‘What are Sealing Screws?

Making these critical decisions at the initial stage of building can be more cost effective as it reduces the likelihood that you will need to replace damaged parts time and time again. 

If your project does not include any form of electrical or mechanical function, such as securing a garden gate, it is unlikely that you will require IP rated products.

If your project is likely to contain electronics, however, Accu has a wide selection of IP rated components and products which offer varying levels of protection. 

Choosing The Best IP Rated Products For Your Project

Most industries, if not all industries, will use electrical and/or mechanical devices where IP ratings are essential. For example, inside an average office building you will likely find computers, plug sockets, printers and much more, all of which enclose electrical circuits. 

Choosing the best Ingress Protection rating for a product then depends on its intended use. 

Referring to the IP rating charts above, the highest IP ratings (IP67, IP68 and IP69K) are best suited to enclosures which are frequently submerged in water.

These IP ratings are often considered to be weather and waterproof. For example, being frequently submerged in water, it is essential that the IP ratings used in electrical enclosures on pleasure boats are watertight. 

Higher, or waterproof, IP ratings can also be a popular choice for organisations wanting to establish customer trust in their product, such as mobile phone manufacturers.

Mobile phones have a complex internal functionality, acting as a portable computer. Without measures to prevent the ingress of dust, dirt and water, this functionality would be at risk and the phone's performance would degrade quite quickly.  

For this reason, most mobile phone manufacturers will aim to procure high IP Ratings such as IP67 or IP68. This ensures that their customers can trust that the product is premium and that its performance will not be compromised by ingress.

Such is the same for electrical enclosures in the automotive and manufacturing industries. These high activity workplaces often emit large volumes of dust and therefore require products with high protection against ingress. 

Tools such as Accu’s IP65 rated Digital Outside Micrometer are designed for these environments. As an electronic device, the IP rating ensures that these calipers are durable enough for outdoor and workshop conditions where they may be exposed to water, dust and oil. 

Some components, such as Sealing Grommets, can have IP ratings despite their lack of an electrical circuit. In this instance, the IP rating is used to confirm that this component is suitable for use in electrical enclosures.

When an electrical enclosure has a high risk of coming into contact with water, but will not be completely submerged in water, the highest IP ratings (IP67 and above) are not always essential. 

Instead, the required IP rating can be determined by assessing the enclosure's proximity to water.

An enclosure that is closer to water and likely to experience splashes will require a higher IP rating than one that is further away from the water source. Though, it is worth noting that an enclosure further away from water may still come into contact with moisture and condensation. 

Exterior electronics, such as outdoor lighting, may be vulnerable to the rain. In this instance, weatherproof IP ratings can be the most appropriate. 

For the most part, rainwater is vertically falling and, as a result, weatherproof IP ratings do not need to achieve the highest level of moisture protection, some moisture protection will usually suffice. 

Lower Ingress Protection ratings, by comparison, are better suited to applications in areas without significant moisture or dust such as indoor or sheltered enclosures. 

In many cases, IP rated components will not be required for your project. However, being aware of IP ratings and when you might need them is best practice to protect your electronics from any harsh environments that they might be exposed to.