Author Topic: 3D Printed Enclosures  (Read 3393 times)

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Offline charlespax

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3D Printed Enclosures
« on: July 18, 2012, 06:21:49 pm »
I recently uploaded to Thingiverse a custom enclosure for the uCurrent. http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:26878. Try it out if you have a uCurrent and a MakerBot.

This got me thinking about how hobbyist electronics are designed. It seems that most projects don't have any enclosure while others build around existing enclosures from Hammond and other companies. With MakerBots being fairly affordable and services like Shapeways being inexpensive for small runs, when might we see the hobbyist electronics community begin using custom enclosures?

I'd like to know what are the road blocks you face in using a custom or existing enclosure?
 

Offline haxby

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Re: 3D Printed Enclosures
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2012, 05:43:14 am »
It's a big issue for me. We do some pretty cool PCB design here but because they are all 1 or 2 off's, we can't get good looking cases for them. The result can end up looking relatively average.

Here are some things that have worked for us:

Capacitive touch sense buttons now allow us to print a front panel onto glass. This gives a great look and allows back lighting via LEDs a breeze. The glass screening procedure is still relatively expensive tho, but if the final case is, say, a rack mount case, you get quite a professional result.


The extruded aluminium cases that you can cut to size are pretty good too. They come as a long hollow rectangular tube with internal PCB slots. You cut them to your board size and add the two laser cut end pieces. Sometimes you can get rubber surrounds that finish the case very well. Look up extruded heat sink case in element14.

 

Offline slateraptor

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Re: 3D Printed Enclosures
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2012, 05:58:43 am »
...when might we see the hobbyist electronics community begin using custom enclosures?

I suspect when setup plummets and quality skyrockets.
 

Offline free_electron

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Re: 3D Printed Enclosures
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2012, 06:02:18 am »
The problem is that the surface finish of most rapid proto systems is absolute crap. All those hot-plasic extruders are junk in my opinion. It is brittle, rough and not as sturdy as a real injection molded ABS box.

The only systems that work are laser-sintered plastic or liquid polymer stereolitho machines. I have used a couple of companies at reasonable prices.
protolabs.com or emachineshop.com
Professional Electron Wrangler.
Any comments, or points of view expressed, are my own and not endorsed , induced or compensated by my employer(s).
 

Offline slateraptor

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Re: 3D Printed Enclosures
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2012, 06:11:15 am »
The problem is that the surface finish of most rapid proto systems is absolute crap. All those hot-plasic extruders are junk in my opinion. It is brittle, rough and not as sturdy as a real injection molded ABS box.

Exactly my thoughts.
 

Online EEVblog

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Re: 3D Printed Enclosures
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2012, 08:50:06 am »
This got me thinking about how hobbyist electronics are designed. It seems that most projects don't have any enclosure while others build around existing enclosures from Hammond and other companies.

Yep, that's the way it's always been for the 30+ years I've been in hobby electronics.

Quote
With MakerBots being fairly affordable and services like Shapeways being inexpensive for small runs, when might we see the hobbyist electronics community begin using custom enclosures?

The answer is "only when you need too". For something you can't do with an off-the-shelf case.
If it's just your standard projects of a few switches and LED's in a box, there is no real advantage to printing one.
Injection moulded off-the-shelf cases are also streets ahead of 3D printed ones in terms of quality and finish. Absolutely no contest.
Also, I'm not sure how well 3D printed cases would silkscreen up either. With the likes of Polycase doing custom machined and silkscreened enclosures for one-off or small runs, the 3D enclosure can't really compete with that I suspect.

e.g Look at the superb professional finish:


Quote
I'd like to know what are the road blocks you face in using a custom or existing enclosure?

Existing:
a) Availability. If you don't have it in stock, at best you have a long trip to the local Farnell trade counter, or you order it next day.
Still, given that the Replicator tells me the uCurrent case will take 3+ hours to print, I can easily go to Farnell and back, and build the thing and drill the holes before the Makerbot has finished it's print. Still there is a wide selection of off-the-shelf cases available next or same day.
Jaycar is just down the road and have wide selection of cases.

Custom 3D printed:
a) Modelling the thing. This is not something that is trivial to do for most people.
b) The look and finish is very rough.
c) May not be cheap, certainly for big custom cases. Worse if it goofs and you have the re-print.
d) Time to print is long.
e) No shielding. Unless you use nickel screening paint.
d) Robustness. Likely not as good as injection moulded or diecast alloy cases.

Dave.
 


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