Need to make an enclosure - plastic forming recommendations?

I’m currently exploring product creation. We have modelled and 3D printed an enclosure for some hardware, but it’s time to get some quotes for mass production.

Does anyone have experience with pursuing commercial enclosure production, or recommendations for companies or approaches? Is creating models for 3D printing very different from a process like injection or vacuum forming?

I’ve used toolless in the past and they do a great job. They make enclosures by cutting, bending and heat welding from flat sheets of material, all CNC controlled. As this doesn’t involve making molds it tends to be cheaper for smaller quantities than other methods.

I did a sketchup drawing of what I wanted, but it didn’t prove that useful (nor was it very good :frowning:) . They are going to produce a CAD version of what you want in their own tool so they can use it to program the CNC machines. Toolless provides an engineer to work with you and she/he will produce CAD drawings for you to review. I provided specifications in a spreadsheet along with a rough drawing of the enclosure and each side, PCB mount locations etc. You do a lot of back and forth email and phone conversations with the engineer to get it right.

They have lots of different material and color options. I even had a clear plastic window inserted in one of my creations.

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I met the folks from ProtoLabs at Solid Con. They can do low production runs (min 1 part) with injection molding thanks to aluminium molds. It starts at $1,495 instead of tens of thousands of $ for steel molds.

I don’t have experience doing business with them, but you can check them out.

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The key question is how massive is your “mass production”?

I have had custom injection molded plastic enclosures made for high-volume stuff in the distant past. Unless you are doing 10,000 or more units a month, I would stay away from traditional injection molding since the molds are very expensive to make. The per part costs are low and you have tremendous flexibility but you have to pay a lot up front and the inevitable mistakes are very costly.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have used off-the-shelf enclosures many, many times and had them custom machined (punched or milled) to produce the design I wanted. Pac-Tec is one brand I have used, for instance. You can also get these nickel sprayed on the interior to help pass emissions testing and hot-stamped or silk-screened on the outside with labels or a logo. These are great if you are only doing a couple hundred to a couple thousand. The manufacturer will work with you on higher volumes (thousands to 10,000’s) to mold in special bosses for your PCB mount or other features.

I have heard good things about both of the above suggestions: Tool Less for vacuum formed enclosures, and ProtoLabs for short-run injection molding.

Let us know what you pick!

This community is so awesome - thank you so much guys for the responses!!

We’re aiming for a first run of 1000 units, but crowd-funding could boost those numbers. ProtoLabs looks pretty promising so far as they make it pretty easy to upload models and get quotes. I’ll keep updating here as we move!

3D printing is good for prototyping stage, you get to see how your device fits in the enclosure and can make changes cheaply and fast.

But the print quality of standard 3d printers isnt really good enough for actual use in consumer products, at least not without some post processing, IMO its good enough for a closed beta test though.

@MORA totally agreed! Prototyping with a 3D printer has been awesome and very fast, but after doing some reading about fabrication requirements for injection molding is is becoming very clear that we will need to totally redesign our enclosure.

Here’s another idea: a parametric box maker. Enter your dimensions and it’s ready to print!

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