/ Blog / Ventilation Options for Your Sheet Metal Enclosure

Ventilation Options for Your Sheet Metal Enclosure


As an engineer, scientist or designer, you know that you need ventilation in your enclosures. Components generate heat, and that heat needs to get out – it cannot pass through solid metal, after all. This blog post reviews ventilation design, as well as explain the options that we offer here at Protocase to create ventilation that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Ventilation Types and Rates

Before reviewing our options for ventilation, let’s explore ventilation rates. If you have large heat-producing items, you really need to engineer ventilation rates properly. On the other hand, if you are designing a device with low-power components inside, then you can take a more intuitive approach.

If you are engineering your ventilation, you first must calculate required flow rate (in volume per unit time such as Cubic Feet per Minute or CFM) by energy balance.

That is to say, the heat created per unit time (Power x Time) must equal the temperature rise in the mass of air moved per unit time (Volume x Density x Specific Heat x Target Temperature Rise). You can use this to determine required flow rate.

Then, with target flow rate in hand, you must figure out how to get that flow through your enclosure. This is straightforward if using Forced Ventilation (i.e. fans). Just make sure to use a fan, or multiple fans, that exceeds your requirement by a reasonable safety factor. You must then make sure that the air can flow in and out of the enclosure without constriction.

Forced sheet metal ventilation is typically used for higher power dissipations. Natural convection is used at low powers. Although natural convection can be engineered, usually enclosures for lower-power devices are ventilated by using a reasonable amount of openings.


Once you’ve considered ventilation type and rate, you need to figure out the cutouts required for your enclosure that will be appropriate for the amount of ventilation you need.

Sciens Innovations enclosure
Sciens Innovations Mora Development Box custom cutouts

With laser cutting, there is no tooling involved. That means there are very few limitations to the cutouts we can do. For the most part, if you can draw it, we can cut it!

Decorative Ventilation Cutouts

Keep in mind that your ventilation cutouts can be completely practical. On the other hand, you can use them to achieve visual and aesthetic goals as well. As an example, longtime Protocase customer Keo Scientific designs and builds instrumentation for imaging of space weather. These include aurora borealis and australis. Besides employing slot cutouts in artful diagonal patterns, the company also uses custom cutouts of its logo and an aurora shape. An eye-catching design that also provides excellent ventilation!

Keo Scientific Enclosure E-drawing
Keo Scientific enclosure e-drawing

Cutouts work great for ventilation and allow you complete creative control, which can add certain finesse to your enclosure. However, there are some limitations to the number of cutouts you can have in one space. This is to preserve the shape of your sheet metal.

Keto Scientific enclosure
Keto Scientific enclosure

Limitation on Excessive Cutout Density

When using a thin metal in your design, employing hundreds of tiny holes (such as in the example below) may cause the sheet metal to warp due to the density of the holes present. We don’t have any hard and fast rules, but Protocase’s Engineering and Design Services can advise you if your design will be subject to warping, should you choose such a cutout pattern.

Having numerous tiny holes can be problematic

Instead of having the laser cut multiple little holes, you could opt for larger slots within the same space in order to serve the exact same purpose. As you can see in the example below, this provides just as much open area with fewer cuts. The risk of warpage is far less likely, and you will still achieve the same amount of ventilation.

Sheet metal panel with larger cutout slots
Larger cutout slots can be helpful
LiveEdit enclosure using perforated metal with ventilation
LiveEdit Producer system

Perforated Material

When you need to use a very large number of holes for ventilation and filtration, consider using perforated metal. It is a much more cost-effective option compared to laser-cutting hundreds of holes individually. This also circumvents any problem with cutout density.

Nanovea high temperature enclosure
Nanovea high temperature enclosure

Perforated metal is lightweight, versatile, durable, and can be aesthetically pleasing. But don’t forget, the surface of the perforated metal will be situated at the underside of the sheet metal to which it is attached. Because it won’t be flush with the top of the sheet metal, you need to consider its look and any functional issues that this step-down in material may impose.

Protocase stocks 20 gauge (0.032” | 0.81mm) perforated aluminum and 22 gauge (0.030” | 0.76mm) perforated cold rolled steel. Each of these types of perforated sheets feature a 0.125” (3.18mm) circle diameter pattern. (For additional lead time and cost, we can order other types of perforated sheet metal for your project).

Both types are easily powdercoated, and can even be painted a unique color from your base enclosure, for a striking look, as seen below.

Front view of perforated panel after powdercoating
Rear view of perforated panel after powdercoating

Sheet metal enclosures or panels can have perforated sheet metal attached to them, via welding or by using fasteners.


Louvers are a great way to provide ventilation openings in your enclosure, and they also offer a degree of protection against accidental entry of dirt or foreign objects because of the opening’s overhang.

These are formed on our press brake using special tooling. To avoid extra lead times and tooling charges, we maintain tooling for making the nominal 2″ louvers (as shown below). If you require a different size louver, contact us! We have the ability to order other tooling (additional lead time) and will be happy to work with you to get you exactly what you want.

Louvers in a green enclosure
Louvers can be used to provide ventilation in your enclosure

Ventilation in Protocase Designer

A great feature in Protocase Designer, our free enclosure design software, is that it features an extensive library of cutouts. One type of cutout in particular that’s useful for ventilation purposes are our fan cutouts.

Fan on Protocase Designer
You can use the Cutout Library on Protocase Designer to add ventilation to your enclosure

Once you’ve decided the fan you’d like to use your enclosure to achieve proper ventilation, there’s no need to painstakingly create the corresponding cutout for it. Protocase Designer has already done the work for you, saving you considerable time. All you have to do is choose your pattern and drag it to your desired location.

Another option for sheet metal ventilation within Protocase Designer is to create your own custom vent cutouts. They are then saved as part of your library and can be re-used with the same simplicity as stock cutout patterns.

You can also create ventilation patterns using the Array tool on Protocase Designer. Once you add a cutout, you should select the “Pattern” tool and then choose the array type – options include linear, rectangular and circular. You can find more details about using the array tool here.

Creating Vent Patterns in Protocase Designer

Once you’ve mastered the basics of the Array Tool, you can use Protocase Designer to create creative vent patterns in just a few clicks.

Dean shows some hacks to improve your ventilation patterns’ aesthetics and speed up your design time.


Sheet metal ventilation is a crucial factor to consider when designing your enclosure to fit your electronics and components. After all of the time you’ve spent figuring out the electronics and components for your project, the last thing you want to happen is the inside of your enclosure overheating, causing your hard work to malfunction.

If you have any questions or want to discuss your design, please contact us by emailing info@protocase.com.

Newsletter Signup

Sign up to be the first to know about new blog posts and other technical resources

Stay Updated

Subscribe to our newsletter
to get our latest news.

Social Links

Terms & Conditions

© Protocase 2022 - All rights reserved.