Custom Enclosure Manufacturing

Hi All,

Maybe I haven't looked in the right places, but I've had a hard time coming across projects that use custom metal enclosures. I basically would like to get an aluminum case - no more than 12" length x 6" width x 2" height - made for prototyping. I currently have a prototype that uses a rectangular box with around those dimensions, but I want to be able to customize it to my exact specs now. Does anyone have any knowledge or experience with this kind of thing? Could I go to a local shop? or should I stick to something online? I may possibly bring my project into production, I'm not sure if that would give me different options. Any advice is appreciated, thanks!

Pat

When you say custom, do you mean it's a special shape or has to be an exact size, or has to have special cut outs.

There are literally thousands of different enclosures on the market in all different shapes and sizes, so I'm surprised you can't find one that your project would not fit into.

If you mean special cut outs, then for prototyping I normally cut, drill and file my own cut outs, by hand, or using power tools, but this is a time consuming and less than totally accurate solution

More recently however, I use plastic enclosures, which I design in CAD and print in ABS. Plastic. On a 3D printer.
There are limitations to home 3d printing, but it generally gives a better result than hand modified boxes.

However as you want metal this is not an option.

You could however look at commercial 3D printing companies like Shapeways in the USA as they can print in many materials, including metal, however I think that their metal printing is in precious metals for jewellery but its worth a look

rogerClark:
There are literally thousands of different enclosures on the market in all different shapes and sizes, so I'm surprised you can't find one that your project would not fit into.

Sigh, I guess I have to learn to be more specific. Like I said, I already have an enclosure that my project does fit into, and is 80% of what I need it to be, but I now need something thats 100% customized, down to every component thats going to be visible externally... This includes knobs and connectors, so imagine recessed knobs or something. I'm comfortable with drilling my own holes, which I've done on my current enclosure (which is a hammond enclosure, fyi), but having it done elsewhere would probably yield more accurate results, as long as its not too pricey.

I guess to better specify, while I understand the Arduino forums mostly comprise of hobbyists and rarely of finished products, I'm wondering if anyone has a suggestion on how one would go from an idea of a product's enclosure to holding it, testing it's durability, and showing it off before making a production run. 3D printing is obviously a growing industry, especially with prototyping, so thats a great option, but I'd preferably want something in metal. Rather than aluminum, what I originally said, perhaps sheet metal could get my job done? Maybe metal's really the wrong approach for prototyping? Not sure, I guess.

Thanks for the help, any other guidance is greatly appreciated!

Pat

Check out digikey, metal boxes with covers in all kinds of shapes & sizes.
I use eagle to layout the holes I want (you can go larger than the free 80x100mm limit if you just placing holes), tape it on place, center punch the holes, then use a unibit & drill them out (less metal tearing that way).
Some filing to clean up, lightly sand to give it a surface that hides fingerprints.
For example, here’s a 9x6x6" control box I made. Big opening is for some cards with edge connectors, little opening is to access USB connector on a control card. Big opening had holes drilled and then sawed out, hand filed. Small hole was just drilled.Front was sanded with 320 grit sandpaper and then wiped down with alcholol so the labels stick nice.

Whenever I want to make a bezel for a project I do it up using Setchup.
Print off a 1:1 image of the layout on a full sheet on 8 1/2 by 11 inch Avery self stick label, stick it on the cover, drill, cut the hoes you need to.

For thin steel or aluminum plasma cutting would be a good option. Any city of even modest population will have shops or hobbyists that will do this work. Generally they will prefer to cut the entire faceplate from sheet rather than perform cuts on an existing piece.

For a nice matte finish (even if you're painting it) ask to have the piece sandblasted. That step only takes a minute and any shop will have a sandblasting cabinet.

There are of course companies like protocase.com. If you get a quote let us know how that goes.

Hi Pat,

I work for a company that does this, but one off production is generally prohibitive price wise. Most businesses have setup charges for each operation in the manufacturing process, and these end up being the problem for low volume runs.

Assuming you had a front panel that was milled or punched and then laser engraved, you would have a setup charge for the milling/punching and another for the laser engraving. Depending on the design files that are received, there may also be charges for drawing the part in CAD or fine tuning the design to work with the available tooling etc. you could quite easily end up with over £100 in charges before you get charged for the panel itself. The panel may only cost £5, but with all the other charges, that single panel may cost you £105, which as an awful lot for one. If you split these charges over a run of 1000 panels, the charges become very small per individual part. All the prices above are just examples, but you get the idea.

Ian.

Thanks all for your help, I’m going to get some quotes from places in NYC (I’m very close to there) and I’ll post my experience on here, although the prices will probably be right along what Ian had said. Also thanks Chagrin for the sandblasting heads up, I definitely would like to do that and am aware of how simple such a process is - I just never would have thought of it ahead of time :cold_sweat: . Thanks again everyone!

Pat