Enclosure design prototypes for fit & function testing are common requirements in a product design lifecycle. It’s been well demonstrated how using 3D printing for these functions can cut months off a product design lifecycle.
But, have you considered using some of the other advantages that 3D printing offers when designing enclosures for your products?
3D printing gives access to a design flexibility, that injection moulding or CNC milling machines just can’t offer. With a mould or CNC’ed part, you won’t easily be able to change its design to make modifications for your final parts. If you need to modify a design, then you will need to start from the beginning and re-do the whole process again. Adding cost and time to your project.
3D Printed Plastic Electronics Housings
If, for example, you have a change in electronic component selection due to supply issues, the new component form factors or the revised PCB board may impact your custom enclosure design. With Additive manufacturing you only have to modify your enclosure 3D CAD design file. This won’t interrupt your manufacturing process at all. Having this reactivity in your design and manufacturing process means you can adapt to immediate needs without losing time and money.
When using 3D CAD files and 3D printed parts in your manufacturing workflow, the lifetime of the enclosure or individual enclosure part designs are not a factor. You can implement all the changes you need, when you need them.
3D printing requires no tooling. No tooling means no set up fees. You only need to order what you need, meaning you don’t need to order 10,000 units in the hope that you use them all. If you need 342 enclosures, order 342. When you need more, order what you need. And if you need to make a design change, you don’t have to retool. This way, you won’t end up with redundant components filling up your inventory, warehouse space and tying up your cash.
Expanding the possibilities for your enclosure
With 3D printing, you can think about what you want to create, and not be limited by what you can create based on the constraints of traditional manufacturing techniques.
You can take into account all the functionality your product requires and determine if there is away to integrate them directly into your enclosure design.
A great example is 3D printed high performance thermal cooling designs, incorporated into the enclosure. You can investigate adding a highly efficient heatsink into the enclosure design. All while creating a lightweight enclosure and reducing the assembly steps at the same time.
You can 3D print fully functional ‘assembled’ hinged enclosures. Add snap fits, interlocking joints, threaded fasteners, cable support brackets, OLED panel holders, PCB mounts, arms, living hinges and product branding — all possible when 3D printing enclosures.
Optimising your electronic enclosure design can significantly improve your whole manufacturing process and business.
If it is an untested new product you are developing, committing to volume to reduce part cost can result in cashflow tied up in unused inventory. Using 3D printed enclosures, with integrated features, will not only speed up your time-to-market, it will reduce your up-front investment risks. You can roll out your product with lower volume, additively manufactured enclosures and, then when your volume increases, commit to traditional high volume manufacturing workflows.
Mass-customization is another great benefit of additive manufacturing. You can adapt your 3D CAD file to the needs of your customer, e.g., custom branding. It won’t be more expensive to manufacture several iterations of your enclosure using 3D printing!
Read this story of how Raptor Rescue worked with Akhani 3D to optimise a 3D printed housing for trackers fastened to Raptors, reducing the weight from 90g to 6g — a 93% improvement.
What materials are available for enclosures?
Plastic electronic enclosures can be developed using 3D printing materials such as Nylon PA12 or Nylon PA11. If you are looking at metal enclosures, you can use 316L Stainless Steel, Aluminium 6061, MS1 Maraging Steel and Copper.
For lower volume plastic enclosures you can use fibre reinforced plastics — chopped carbon, carbon fibre and glass fibre, for e.g., Onyx ESD. These materials can be used to create strong parts and enclosures. These materials are often used in drone components that require high strength. Here’s a 3D printing ROI Calculator that you can use to see if this fibre technology will work for your applications and projects.