Metal Enclosure Design Tips: Metal Thickness (Gauges or Inches?)

What’s the worst case scenario for an engineer designing a metal enclosure or cabinet? Its structural integrity failing. The metal thickness used in an enclosure directly impacts its structural integrity, and poor structural integrity can compromise your design.

If you’re unsure what metal thickness to use for your product, we're here to help! After reading, you will have a better understanding of metal thicknesses, how they differ between metal types, how to measure different metals and how to choose a gauge/thickness for your project. For quick reference, we’ve created a downloadable desk guide for metal gauges.

Take me right to the desk guide...

Maysteel - Metal Gauge Guide

Why does metal thickness matter for enclosure fabrication?

As mentioned above, selecting the proper metal thickness is vital to a successful design. Its the difference between a product lasting and failing during transportation, installation or while deployed in the field.

Incorrect material thickness can have many consequences, ranging from minor to catastrophic. For example, an unnecessarily thick piece of metal can add too much weight to an enclosure. The additional weight makes it difficult to transport and install the product. It can also cause product failure in the field. Think of a tall kiosk installed in a public domain. For safety reasons, you would not want to chance that tipping on a customer or user.

On the other hand, let’s use a utility cabinet as an example. A company may request a thinner gauge panel for the door to make it easier to open. If the gauge is too thin, the metal can bow and bend from the repeated motion of the door opening and closing. The bowing of the door means that it will likely need to be replaced for multiple units and will result in higher material costs, rework and maintenance hours.

Maysteel - Gauge or Inches

Gauges or Inches? How do you measure metal thickness?

Certain metal types are measured differently in terms of thickness.

For ferrous metals, like stainless steel and galvanized steel, its thickness is measured in gauges. Common gauges range from 14 gauge-24 gauge for galvanized steel and 8 gauge-22 gauge for stainless steel. The higher the gauge, the thinner the metal. For example, a 14 gauge sheet of stainless steel is thicker than a 20 gauge sheet. Many sheet metal manufacturers utilize 8 gauge steel or thinner. If you get thicker steel than that, it is no longer referred to as sheet metal and instead is known as plate metal.

The thickness of aluminum and other non-ferrous materials is measured in inches. Common aluminum thickness can vary between .030” and .186”.

Metal thickness is often talked about and written in conjunction with tolerances and nominal sizing. For instance, a 16 gauge sheet of stainless steel has a nominal size of .057” with a tolerance of +.006/-.000. Since aluminum is non-ferrous and not measured in gauges, it’s thickness would be described as .061 ± .002. So how do you choose the right metal thickness for your product?

Choosing the right material thickness for your metal product

Engineers typically decide gauge or thickness on a case-by-case basis. The best place to start is taking inventory of your product needs and evaluating material type, weight and strength requirements and allowable flex.

Next, discuss your program needs, including installation sites, climate, transportation requirements and other variables. Now that you have these questions answered, you will be able to select the gauge/thickness that reflects those specifications and needs. There may be other factors, such as cost and availability, that go into the selection process, but this is a great starting point.

Here’s another quick tip: If thinner sheet metal is necessary due to weight or other requirements, consider adding stiffeners or form features. They are commonly added to sheet metal enclosures to maintain structural integrity.

How can you keep track of it all? We’ve created a handy desk guide for quick reference during the design process that includes common sheet metal thicknesses and tolerances. While there are additional gauges and thicknesses available for the metals in this guide, we did not include them as they are not considered “standard” and would typically take longer to custom order and be more expensive.


Wrapping it up

For this month's enclosure design tips, we reviewed how to measure the thickness of various metals, and why it’s important to choose the proper thickness for your sheet metal product.

Choosing the right metal gauge/thickness for your project is only one step in the design process.

Are you looking for additional metal fabrication design tips? Learn how you can apply design for manufacturing (DFM) principles to speed up production and cut costs. See how! Are you looking for a fabrication partner for your metal enclosures, kiosks or cabinets? Talk to our team:

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