Finished Enclosures

I've finished my PCB and need an enclosure. I found a few but how or where can I go to get holes (round and squares) professionally cut out and labeled? I've been looking around but I couldn't find any. Maybe I don't know what the service is actually called. Any advice would be appreciated.

The trick is to find the enclosure first and design the PCB for the enclosure.

I think Polycase makes nice enclosures.

Adafruit sells enclosures and MPJA also has a few enclosures.

If plastic is an option, you could design your own enclosure and use to find a 3d-printer in your neighborhood.

another option is to find someone who has a CNC machine. there are lot of people who have them and can cut holes in plastic. cutting holes in metal is two orders of magnitude harder.

or, you can do what we do, cut a hole, the use a hand saw and a file.

another option is to have a lable made, then cut a huge hole and use the label as your panel face.

Or have someone 3d print you a case. I did this for my clock. Gave them my measurements, they designed it and printed it.

Next time I might try a panel from umake.

If you want a custom "bent metal" box, that's done by a "precision sheet metal" shop. They can cut, punch, bend (and weld if necessary) per your engineering drawing. They'll also take care of painting & silkscreening (frequently subcontracting that part of the job). You'll have to supply the silkscreen master artwork.

A "precision machine shop" can make holes in a pre-made plastic or metal box. (Sheet metal shops punch holes in flat metal before bending.) Machine shops drill/machine holes so the work doesn't have to start-out flat. Holes can also be laser-cut in a pre-made box. One company I worked for was modifying microwave ovens and we had a hole cut in the back by a laser cutting company.

But, that kind of work is NOT economical for a one-off job unless it's a prototype and you have an engineering/design budget. There will be a few hundred dollars in set-up costs. Because of the set-up costs, it's usually no more expensive to buy 5 or 10 prototype boxes as it is to buy one. Then if there are no changes the extra prototype boxes can be used when you go into production.

Where I work we use a semi-custom box. We buy it without the front & rear panels which we have made from aluminum by a sheet metal shop. The rear panels are silkscreened bare/brushed aluminum. The front panels have an adhesive plastic overlay/label with a cutout for a switch and clear windows for LEDs, and of course the name of the product and the company logo etc.

We use the same box for several different products with different rear panels and different front-panel overlays. We sell maybe 20-100 of these boxes (as a variety of products) and from what I recall, the boxes are $40 - $50 each (including the front & rear panels) in the quantities we buy.

There are usually two types of set-up costs. There are one-time set-up costs such as programming the machines and making the silkscreen from the artwork, and then there's a set-up cost every time you run the job. The recurring set-up costs are usually built-into (or hidden in) the quantity pricing, so they might quote you $100 each if you buy 10 boxes and $50 each if you buy 100, etc.

Fro my hobby projects I usually buy a pre-made box and do the best I can to keep the holes lined-up and in the right place. For drilling holes, a center-punch is a must. [u]Brad Point Drill[/u] will tend to stay centered better than a regular drill bit. But Brad-points are usually made for wood, so although you can get away with using them on aluminum they don't work well on steel. A [u]Step Drill[/u] will also stay centered once you get started and they are designed for sheet metal.

For square holes you can use a [u]Nibbler[/u]. But, they don't work for small holes (you have to drill a starting-hole first) and again, you just have to do your best to do a "precision" job. I usually apply masking tape to mark the cutout. After nibbling, you can use a small file to make final adjustments and smooth the cutout.

The downside to an off-the-shelf box is you have to use the size & shape available and you can't have customized features like special bends or welded brackets, or swaged standoffs, etc.

I'll spray-paint the box if necessary.

For the lettering/artwork, I've used two different methods. Normally, I use [u]Dry Transfer Lettering[/u]. It's tedious, but it can look as good as professional silkscreening, and if you mess-up you can remove it and re-start. Then, I spray clear over it to make it "permanent".

On may latest project (a pre-made plastic box), I printed the front-panel design on photo paper (using Microsoft Word) and applied it with double-sided tape. It doesn't look quite as good as the dry-transfer method, and I left the background white because I don't trust my inkjet printer to make a smooth-consistant black or colored background. Although the printed front panel doesn't look quite as the dry-transfer method it doesn't look completely amateur/homemade either.

Here are a few more enclosure sources/ideas.

Electrodragon sells a few enclosures.

Here's an interesting EEVBlog about using a PCB as a front panel to an enclosure.

You could take it a step further and make the whole enclosure out of PCB as shown in this Hackaday article.

Besides the options mentioned, you could also use a laser cutter to make your enclosure.

There are several WW-organizations making digital equipment available for public use btw. Perhaps there’s a fablab, hackerspace, makerspace or other organization in your neighborhood that has some interesting tools to use.

An "instrument case" has flat metal front and back panels. You can screw one up and replace it with any flat piece of stock aluminum, plastic or whatever you have lying around.

Labelling is simple if you have a regular printer - laser printers are better than inkjet, of course. Labelmakers have moved on a lot since the old "Dymo" brand ones. Look for one that has a white-print-on-black tape available.

A nibbler is highly recommended. I bought one when I was 16 and I still have it and use it regularly.

The variety of cases available at Mouser and the other big electronics warehouses is absolutely staggering. I tend to find one I like and then make lots of projects fit that one case.

DVDdoug: . . . . I printed the front-panel design on photo paper (using Microsoft Word) and applied it with double-sided tape.

For high durability and glossy appearance, I apply self-adhesive book-covering film to labels before fixing with double-sided tape. The film is readily available from stationery shops. It's best to wrap about 2mm of film over the edge of the printed label before applying tape to the back of the label. Ideally have the tape slightly smaller than the label so you don't get a sticky edge that would attract dirt. There's then no need to use photo paper.

I can design the pcb to fit the screw hole positions on the enclosure but I need holes on the side of the enclosure for usb port, LED Light, ethernet hole etc. I want it to look professional.

I've looked at 3d printing but it's just not professional. I want the case to be something that looks like a finished product. 3d cases can't print big enough with high quality finish like injection molding thats why I was going to get a premade enclosure and then have someone laser cut the holes to match my design ports (usb, ethernet, power, etc).

CNC might be possible. I'll have to look at it.

This site is very interesting. They might offer what I need done. I'll take a look into this.

DVDDoug - thats some great info there.

Thanks for the input everyone.

If you have someone locally who has a CNC machine get them to engrave a panel for you.
Here is an example I did.