Any metal enclosure can rust, it’s just that the process is faster in some and much slower in others. The rust deteriorates the metal in some cases and coats it in others, making enclosures look unpleasant. In most cases, the ideal sheet metal fabrication remedy is usually to prevent the enclosures from rusting in the first place.
Understanding Rust and How It Occurs
Rust is a natural oxidation process that occurs when metals or metal alloys come into contact with water and oxygen. The result is an oxide—a red or brown crumbly material that deteriorates and corrodes metal surfaces. The material eats away steel and iron and causes tarnish on others. Because iron and oxygen have opposite charges, their molecules attract one another and combine through a chemical reaction to form ferric oxide (rust). As the oxide flakes the surface with time, it exposes other iron molecules, which also begin to rust. Continuous exposure eventually causes the entire structure to disintegrate. The rusting process is faster in the presence of certain conditions like heat, salt, chemicals, and acids. Rust is such a problem for metal enclosures because, besides making them unattractive, it causes them to decay, become flaky, crumbly, and weak. Enclosures are transformed from being strong materials to protect things like electronics, vehicles, etc., to be one of the weakest.
Enclosure Materials Prone to Rusting
Here are some materials used to make metal enclosures and their rusting potential.
Iron oxidizes faster than all other metals. When exposed to water, a film of rust forms around it in just a few hours. Exposure to heat also forms a brown film on the surface when the metal cools. That eats into metals and interferes with the structural integrity of metal enclosures. So you need to pay attention when applying iron material during the sheet metal fabrication process.
Steel is an alloy of carbon, iron, and other metals. As long as iron is in the picture, expect enclosures made of steel to rust. However, steel can be treated before making enclosures to prevent it rusting as quickly as iron.
Metal enclosures made from aluminum don’t rust as fast as steel and iron, but they do corrode. With time, the products become less shiny, tarnish less, and harden. The hard layer actually protects the metal enclosure from further damage instead of disintegrating it like rust. The hard layer doesn’t easily flake or chip, and it is difficult to remove.
Copper oxidizes easily, but not as severely as steel or iron. It corrodes like aluminum, from a brown surface to a bright green. The oxidation process forms a hard layer over the metal to protect it from further oxidation.
How to Prevent Metal Enclosures from Rusting
Luckily, sheet metal fabrication experts can adequately prepare the above metals before creating enclosures. Various techniques that prevent rusting include:
Dehumidifying Enclosure Environments
Metal is one of the primary factors that causes metals to rust. Humid conditions have a lot of moisture in the air that makes metals corrode faster. Therefore, any device with a metal enclosure should be stored in a dehumidified environment that is moisture-free.
Cleaning Metal Enclosures
The precautions you take would defeat the purpose of rust prevention if you don’t clean and maintain your metal enclosures. Simply put, negligence increases the risk of rusting. Coatings such as paint eventually wear out as surfaces get small scratches and nicks. Furthermore, dirt and grime erode enclosure surfaces, exposing them to rusting conditions.It would be best to clean your equipment regularly, especially large ones like vehicles and machines. If they sit for too long, their enclosures begin to deteriorate.
A Rust Inhibitor
Rust inhibitors are chemicals that react with metal surfaces to suppress electrochemical processes that cause rust. When applied to metal enclosures, i.e., machinery, it forms a protective film that gets rid of surrounding chemicals and gases that cause rusting.
Rust-resistant Metal Enclosures
Manufacturers use various sheet metal fabrication techniques to prevent rust after determining the material to make particular enclosures. However, it’s good for you if you get the luxury of choosing the metal for your enclosure. It would make sense to choose an option that resists rust, such as aluminum, stainless steel, or nickel alloy. These metals would give you an easy time maintaining your enclosures’ structural integrity and appearance. In light of this, it is up to metal enclosure fabricators to ensure the alloys they use can significantly prevent rust and other forms of corrosion. Other metal properties, such as hardness, appearance, and conductivity, also change in the process. Various welding techniques also affect the rusting rate of metal enclosures.
Oil and Dry Coatings
Metal enclosures for firearms have to be oiled even when their carriers don’t frequently use them. Besides lubricating surfaces and reducing friction, oil protects metals from rust. The principle is simple: moisture can’t penetrate oil to react with the metal underneath to cause oxidation. Oil might be a last resort because it is slippery and unpleasant to work with. You can still use dry coatings to create a protective barrier without leaving residue behind. Dry coatings are used for enclosures that need to be cleaned and dried for a solid grip. The products are available in the form of sprays, washes, or dips.
Paint for Metal Enclosures
Paints form protective barriers on metal enclosures to make the surfaces moisture-free. While painting might not keep moisture away completely, it is a great way to slow down rust. It is also a great solution if you want to change the color and appearance of your metal enclosure. While at it, using the right paint to prevent rust is crucial. The paint must adhere well to the metal, keeping in mind the existing finishes on your metal enclosure. Consider oil-based paint instead of water-based paint. The former keeps away contaminants and excessive moisture. Essentially, weak spots such as bolts and welded joints will begin to rust if not properly covered with paint.
Stop It Before It Starts
Rust can become a big issue when ignored. It ultimately interferes with the functionality and stability of critical enclosures for machinery, vehicles, firearms, etc. Plus, it will cost you more money to repair or replace the deteriorated parts. The best way to prevent rust on your metal enclosures is to stop it before it starts. A tiny hint of the red-oxide color can be difficult to contain if it spreads quickly and unseen. The methods above will make your quest easier and more cost-effective to prevent further deterioration.