As engineers, our thoughts are consumed with finding solutions to problems we see in the world. However, finding a solution to a problem is only one small part in a much larger process of bringing a product to market.
Another part of this process is packaging your solution in some type of enclosure. Finding an enclosure solution that meets your applications goals while staying inside of the project’s resource constraints can be a daunting task at first. in this article I’ll share my experience and tips for doing just that.
Why Do I Need Custom Enclosures?
An enclosure takes your bare PCB and elevates it into a product. While useful PCBs are hot in the maker community, no end consumer customer would be comfortable interacting with a PCB. Consumers want a polished finished product. An enclosure is a great way to generate the product appeal you need to convince customers to buy your product. Enclosures can also give the consumer information about how to use your product by using printing and graphic overlays to guide users.
High volume products often use completely custom enclosures,. However, because of the resources involved in creating one, these are not practical for small and medium volume products. The solution we’ll investigate in this article is to use an off-the-shelf enclosure with customization. This is an easy way to get to a finished product without the huge time and financial investment of a fully custom design.
What Options Are Available?
Off-the-shelf enclosures come in just about every size, shape, and material combination under the sun and manufacturers can be found in the US as well as overseas.
The lowest cost option is often an injection molded plastic case. These enclosures can easily be customized and often come with features like mounting bosses for your PCB and built-in battery compartments. Some models even include environmental protection for applications that will spend their life outdoors.
These cases can really step up the look and feel of a product but come at an increased cost. Aluminum custom enclosures can typically be customized in the same fashion as their plastic peers, but don’t have mounting bosses or battery compartments. Instead, typically PCBs are slid into rails formed in the aluminum extrusion. Environmental protection is available in some models, and some extruded cases can even be customized in overall size.
Remember your old desktop PC case from the ‘90s? It’s a great example of a folded metal case. These enclosures are formed from folded aluminum or steel sheet metal and typically have two or more pieces that screw together to form a box. For applications that have a larger physical footprint, these enclosures can be a cost-effective custom solution.