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3D printed enclosures: Benefit from custom electronics enclosures

Introduction

Implementing additive manufacturing can bring more benefits to your business than you can think of. Creating electronics products involves a lot of effort but did you know that you can simplify several steps of your manufacturing process thanks to 3D printing? We will focus on one specific part: your electronics enclosures. How can this part be improved and thereby improve your whole manufacturing process and business? That is what you are about to discover.

Creating electronic devices with more scalability

Creating electronic devices comes with its challenges. How can the creation of electronic enclosures participate in the development of your electronics project and in the growth of your business?  Never forget about the advantages of better scalability and adaptability for your electronics enclosures. While creating these electronic devices, you must meet changing market demands with unbeatable lead-times thanks to an optimized and scalable manufacturing process. Making the most of Just-In-Time manufacturing and getting the parts you need when you need them might also be a huge advantage for your business. 

Additive manufacturing has a lot of advantages to offer you in the electronics sector.  Let’s take the example of the plastic electronics enclosure. Just on this part, 3D printing has a lot to offer. Implementing additive manufacturing in your process is a solution to speed up your processes and gives the possibility to be more reactive and at the same time, more competitive. But that’s not all! 3D printing is also giving you the opportunity to be more innovative and improve your enclosures designs

Advantages of 3D printed enclosures

Adaptability 

The freedom offered by additive manufacturing has almost no limits. Creating snap fits, interlocking joints, threaded fasteners, and living hinges are all possible when 3D printing enclosures. Adapt your enclosure with all the functionalities you’ve envisioned for it. 3D printing gives access to a design flexibility injection molding just can’t offer. Indeed, with a mold, you won’t be able to change its design to make modifications to your final parts. If you need to modify your project, then you will need to start from the beginning and re-do the whole process again. 

With additive manufacturing, it’s different: you only have to modify your 3D file, it won’t interrupt your manufacturing process at all. More reactivity in your process means you can adapt to your immediate needs without losing time and money. Using 3D files with 3D printing, you don’t have to worry about the lifetime of the design you made for your enclosures or for any part. You will have the opportunity to implement all the changes you will need when you need them.

Moreover, mass-customization is a great benefit of additive manufacturing. You can adapt your file to the needs of your customer. It won’t be more expensive to manufacture several iterations of your enclosure using 3D printing!

Innovation

Additive manufacturing will offer you the opportunity to innovate and develop your projects. While using 3D printing, you can think about what you want to create, and not only what you can create, considering the traditional constraints of manufacturing. Feel free to experiment and innovate using cutting-edge technology such as additive manufacturing. 

You can take into account all the functionalities of your part and integrate them directly into your device.

Speed your processes 

Speeding your processes will help your business grow. When you create your electronic device, the design and the ergonomy of the enclosure are as important as the features. To fill this important requirement, you can count on the ability of 3D printing to create complex shapes very quickly. 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 fit of the internal components or the accessories. With a variety of 3D printing materials, it is also possible to have a look at the final material aspect and to check the assembly.

Additive manufacturing also appears to be the perfect manufacturing method for the production of plastic enclosures. If you need customization or just-in-time manufacturing abilities, then there is no doubt about the benefits of this technology for your business.

Developing your own custom electronics enclosures

What 3D printing material should you choose? 

What is the best enclosure material? To develop your project and start creating your 3D design, you will have to choose your material and take into account its design guidelines.

Plastic electronic enclosures can be developed using additive manufacturing with adapted materials. To create these plastic enclosures, 3D printing materials such as Nylon PA12 or Nylon PA11 will be especially suitable for your project. These are two cost-effective material options that can be used to manufacture your prototypes, small or big series.

How to design enclosures for 3D printing

It is really helpful to design the component around what you want to enclose before modeling the enclosure. In that way, you can place the components, check that everything fits and it will be easier to determine the clearance for the connectors or the cables afterward. To be sure that your components will fit, we recommend keeping a 0.5 mm clearance between components and 3D printed features.

Fitting Enclosure

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 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
  • Screws
  • Classic and Living hinges
  • Assembly

Hinge Enclosure

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 the design guidelines of your chosen material for more information. Learn how to connect two parts with 3D printing, in our dedicated article.

Rib Lugs Enclosure

Rib Enclosure

The solidity of the 3D printed enclosure

The wall thickness of your enclosure is a major thing to consider. It determines the weight, rigidity, solidity, and possible applications 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 with a very light weight. Once again, check the design guidelines of your material to adapt this thickness.

Wall Thickness Enclosure

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.

Fillet

Fillets avoid sharp angles and reduce the stress

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 3D printing and reduces the stress concentration on corners.

Bosses

Bosses with fillets on the inside allow to reduce the stress around a hole

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.

HoleExternal

Slightly expand the diameter of screw and fastener clearance holes to obtain better results

HoleInternal

On the other hand, reduce the diameter of the holes where you want the screw or fastener to bite into the case

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.

Gussets or ribs reduce stress, strengthen thin features and reinforce the case

Gussets or ribs reduce stress, strengthen thin features and reinforce the case

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 for their enclosures!

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