Table of Contents

Introduction

Whether working in the electronics industry or automotive, sometimes an enclosure is needed to protect fragile components.  Enclosures printed by industrial 3D printers can have several necessary characteristics ranging from heat resistance to static dissipative materials.  With on-demand digital manufacturing capabilities, the ease of moving from prototyping to low-volume production runs comes down to a click of a button.  Once you’ve validated your design, we can use the same CAD file to print serial runs, and if the design changes with the new model, you won’t have the expensive cost of retooling.

All enclosures need a way to close; with additive manufacturing, there are several ways to achieve this, depending on your enclosure’s requirements.  A few of these include living hinges, snap-fits, and threaded fasteners.  We offer many materials and technologies that you can use to print your prototypes or end-use parts.  To optimize the design of your enclosure, this article will present a few considerations you’ll need to make.

High Voltage Inverter Housing line drawing enclosure

Applications for Enclosures

Enclosures are commonly found protecting electrical components. They can also be found in automotive and consumer products, from deli one-time-use clamshells to storage cases for earbuds.  Enclosures make moving the products easier. They can contain multiple components in one space so your customers won’t lose anything.

Designing For Industrial 3D Printed Enclosures

When designing industrial 3D printed enclosures, consider the components and placements within the enclosure and then follow these guidelines to create the structure.

Bosses

When threaded fasteners are needed, include bosses around the holes to reduce bulging and distortion.  For best design practices, make sure the diameter hole is also the thickness of the wall surrounding it.  For example, for an M3 screw, you would need a 3 mm width wall around the threaded hole.

Bosses

Component Clearance

After making considerations for the component locations, make sure there is a .5 mm clearance around the internal component.  These clearances will compensate for distortion, technology tolerances, and shrinkage.

Enclosures components clearance-01

Connectors

Living Hinges

From one-use food containers found at a deli to consumer electronic cases that are opened and closed daily, living hinges are a cost-effective way to consolidate two parts with a thin piece of the same material bridging them together.  Learn more about designing living hinges for additive manufacturing here.

Line Drawing of Living Hinges in an enclosures
Snap-Fits

One can find snap-fit interlocking features in enclosures, carabiners, clips, and other parts that may need to be connected. Things to consider when designing snap-fits are the arm’s thickness, tapering from root to hook and filleting the root to prevent snapping. The build direction of snap-fits is essential. The best practice is to build the snap-fit in the same direction as the image to the right.

Example snap-fit joint for enclosures
Threaded Fasteners

Screws and other fasteners can be an efficient and effective way to combine two or more pieces.  Learn more about designing taps and threads for additive manufacturing here.

Threads and Tapping for Additive Manufacturing

Holes

For clearance holes, the most accurate holes are drilled after printing.  However, if printing the holes, be sure to include an additional .25 mm to the diameter of the hole.

For self-taping holes, subtract .25 mm from the diameter.

High Voltage Inverter Housing line drawing enclosure

Port Clearance

 Allow for a 2mm clearance around the ports; an input port can be super-glued into place when the build is finished.

Input port for enclosures

Radii and Fillets

At the corners and edges, radii and fillets can help reduce the stresses on the enclosure.

Enclousures Wall Uniformity and Radii and Gussets

Walls

For industrial 3D printing, a minimum wall thickness of 2mm is required.  Wall uniformity is a good design practice but not necessary for industrial 3D printing.  If the end goal is injection molding, the part will require wall uniformity.  

CNC Machined Enclosures

Like industrial 3D printing, CNC machining can produce parts directly from a CAD file. CNC machining is a form of subtractive manufacturing that can take a metal or plastic block and remove material to create the part. Repeatability is a huge plus to using CNC machining; once your enclosure is made, we can make the part thousands of times. Another advantage of using CNC machining for your enclosure is asymmetrical structures, complex features, and smooth curves. This process is slower and costlier than sheet metal forming and 3D printing.

To get a quote on a CNC machined project, check out Prototek.

Sheet Metal Enclosures

Creating enclosures with sheet metal forming is a widespread application. These enclosures can be rudimentary but affordable, simple to produce, and durable. Enclosures can be made with aluminum, stainless steel, and steel.

To get a quote on sheet metal forming, check out Prototek.

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