There is a belief that many IT managers have diverted their attention away from increasing processing power and are focusing on energy efficiency. After all, an organisation still demands instant access to its IT resource and therefore pushes for more speed and storage, but at the same time demands greater efficiency. So how can the rack not only deal with greater processing demand but also a demand for greater efficiency? Barry Maidment from Rittal comments

In the mind of the IT purchasing manager the humble rack has always been bottom of the supply chain. Changes in server technology, however, have resulted in the rack selection being more critical then ever, especially when integrating the power and cooling.

So, what makes a rack future-proof to these different technologies and how is it possible to ensure consistent quality? Look at the three major factors of great design, sophisticated manufacturing and slick logistics and break these down a bit further. As an example, let us take a look at enclosure manufacturer Rittal.

Rack design is not just about mechanical fit, form and function, it is about understanding the application. This means that the designer needs to be aware of a plethora of technologies that could sit within the rack’s mechanical frame – varying from the humble patch panel to the power hungry blade servers. Getting into the mind of both the installer and the customer is therefore essential when initiating the design, and it is these nuances that make a great rack.

Good design is about solving problems, not creating them. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get a server to fit into a rack when it is obvious that these two items have never met before in their lives. The best place to learn about an application is in the field, scraping knuckles on a protruding edge or snagging a fibre optic cable as it enters into the rack!

Partnering with key OEM’s is essential, not only for covering the business overheads but also sharing and understanding where the next generation of servers, storage or switches will be going to. This means companies such as Rittal design not only for the present requirement of today’s market but also those of tomorrow. This is why extension frames that connect to the back of the rack allow the depth of the rack to be upgraded at any point within its life cycle, allowing for future-proofing.


New design tools at Rittal’s UK manufacturing site in Plymouth allow the modern rack designer to not only build in 3D in a virtual world but also to test. Using finite analysis the rack concept can be tested under different forces and frequencies to determine potential weaknesses before any metal is cut.

There is no replacement for load testing in the real world and therefore when simulating drop tests, curb is essential to validate the virtual tests.

By linking the CAD with state of the art laser cutting it is possible to go from concept to prototype in under 15 minutes, a benefit with businesses demanding faster reaction times – and sophisticated design and prototyping tools are allowing us to do this.

There is a balance between designing for manufacture. The purists will always advocate design without thinking how you are going to build it, i.e. do not let manufacturing inhibit the design. At the other end of the spectrum the business case should be to utilise assets and therefore design something that can be built. In reality it is a mixture of both, if the benefit to the customer justifies enhancing the production line then it should be invested in.

Anyone can make a rack. Technically it is not the most challenging product to make – all that is needed is the ability to be able to cut, punch, fold, weld, paint, assemble and pack the product. The secret to good manufacturing again is simple: consistency, quality and on time. Automation is pivotal to solving these issues in the same way robots revolutionised the manufacturing of the car industry.

Racks are no different. Removing the human element increases capacity, increases consistency and maintains quality. This allows the whole factory to modulate depending on the demands of the customer. Automation does come with some restrictions and that is specials based on customer requirements – this will typically go down a different route which will require a more labour intensive manufacturing process, but one which can be handled really easily.

Painting and assembly

The slowest process of any rack manufacturing line is the paint line, and ensuring that this is fully utilised is an exact skill of matching demand with multiple paint changes. The paint line is not a simple process, with an onsite chemist essential, especially, for example, at the Plymouth factory where the paint line is one of UK’s largest outside of the automotive industry.

Each raw rack component is firstly cleaned using a phosphate spray that cleans the oils away from the metal surface, which then gets fully dipped into a wet paint tank. This ensures 100% coverage of the metal which means that it has a greater resistance to corrosion. The dipped component then enters the epoxy powder coating line, the paint being a ‘charged’ powder. By applying an electric current to the rack component we can create a magnetic field and, if we then apply the inverse of the magnetic field to the paint particles, the powder paint effectively sticks to the rack. By varying the charge you can vary the paint thickness being applied. Once the component is coated it is then put through an oven to ‘enamel’ it permanently. The powder coating not only provides a very efficient form of painting but being a dry powder it is easier to clean down the spray booth in preparation for a different colour.

Racks are then assembled to the customer specification and packed. If any damage happens it is generally incurred within transit from the manufacturing facility to the end user,  and minimising the amount of road transit is essential not only to reduce the potential of damage but also the impact on the environment.

Approximately 2000 products are stored within the production facility, allowing a rapid delivery (next day) but also a lean route to the final customer. Packaging is a necessary evil and expensive, so just as much design time and effort is spent ensuring that the packaging is fit for purpose but also cost effective.

So, as you can see, the humble rack is not so humble after all.


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