3D Printed Enclosures : Learn the Basic Design Guidelines
Creating electronic products involves a lot of effort but did you know that you can simplify one step thanks to 3D printing? Which one? The creation of enclosures for your product! In this article, we give you all the information you need to know to create your enclosures with 3D printing.
Advantages of 3D printed enclosures
When you create your electronic device, the design and the ergonomy of the enclosure is as much important as the features. To fill this important requirement, you can count on the ability of 3D printing to create complex shapes in a very short amount of time.
3D printing is the fastest prototyping technology because it allows to create unique prototypes without any mold which means that the price of the part is low.
With 3D printing, the price is not driven by the quantity but by the amount of material used. With several iterations of the same enclosure, 3D printing is a much more reliable and sustainable manufacturing method than traditional ones.
Thanks to a 3D printed prototype, it is possible to check the ergonomy, the aspect but also the fitting of the internal components or the accessories. With the variety of 3D printing materials, it is also possible to have a look at the final material aspect and to check the assembly.
How to design enclosures for 3D printing
It is really helpful to design the component you want to enclose before modeling the enclosure. In that way, you can place the components, check that everything fits and it will be more easier to determine the clearance for the connectors or the cables afterwards. To be sure that your components will fit, we recommend keeping a 0.5 mm clearance between components and 3D printed features.
Access to the component
The first thing to think of when designing an enclosure is what you will put in it and how you will access to it. If you do not need to have access to your components, you can design specific fastening components or use adhesives to seal your enclosure permanently.
In the case where you want to have access to your components, there are many closing systems you can use:
- Semi rigid lugs
- Sliding faces
- Classic and Living hinges
Lugs, cut outs and lips help with the assembly and parts alignment. Moreover, these features are great to strengthen your enclosure if you respect the minimum dimensions of such features. Check our design guidelines on the material you choose for more information.
To learn more about how to firmly close your enclosures with screws and threads features, you can take a look at this article.
Solidity of the 3D printed enclosure
The wall thickness of your enclosure is a major thing to consider. It determines the weight, the rigidity, the solidity and the application of your enclosure. Even if our machines can print smaller details and walls, we recommend you to respect a minimum wall thickness of 2 mm. This value ensures a structural solidity for a very light weight.
Be careful however depending on the length of your enclosure, a 2 mm wall thickness can give a certain flexibility to the walls and can cause some shrinkage.
A fillet is a key feature in 3D printing because hard angles may not be properly 3D printed. Fillets in enclosures are really important both in the inside and the outside.
Outside of your enclosure, soften your corners with very small fillets (1 or 2 mm).
Inside your enclosure, the corners can be strengthened with bosses and fillets. A very small radius facilitates the 3D printing, and reduces the stress concentration on corners.
3D printing enclosures: quality and accuracy
If your design contains screw holes or fastener clearance holes, be sure that your material is accurate enough. With our 3D printed plastic, the accuracy is very high but to obtain more precise holes, it is recommended to drill or tap them afterward with machining tools.
To learn more about threading in 3D printing, you can check this article.
In enclosures, small walls and thin features are often added to keep components in place. These features have to respect the minimum thickness of your material but in addition, we suggest adding structure features like gussets or ribs that will give strength to your element and help it to be 3D printed correctly.
If you choose our plastic material 3D printed in SLS, it is possible to have a control on the orientation of your model to avoid the printing layers to appear and to strengthen the whole model by choosing the adequate orientation. To learn more about this feature, check our article on customized orientation.
If you enclosure is 3D printed thanks to CLIP technology, remember that supports are required for overhangs and bridges. These features are added by our qualified operators but it is possible to annotate your model to give specific informations for the printing process or the post-processes.
Finally, remember that you can iterate really fast but it is also possible to go into production with 3D printing for your enclosures. Many of our customers have already tried our online 3D printing service to go into production. Learn more about these successes on the application pages.