We work with clients in a wide variety of industries whose needs for electronic enclosures vary dramatically. One client may need a rugged tag enclosure that will be placed on a miner’s helmet and bashed into rock ceilings, while another may want an aesthetically pleasing device to be carried around a museum. Our mechanical engineers are able to achieve these drastically different design parameters through the use of injection-molded plastic.
We spend quite a bit of time working with our clients to determine how a product will be used and what it should look like. A handheld device, used by a human, will look and feel very different than a box mounted to a machine. Defining how a product will be used allows our team to create a shape and select materials that will work well for the application.
A key element of defining how the product will be used is determining the environment it will be used in. Environmental factors play a huge role in product design. Devices that operate outdoors in the sun and rain have very different requirements than devices that remain indoors. Researching and selecting appropriate materials is necessary to prevent products from getting brittle when exposed to cold, or melting in excessive heat. Additionally, the electrical design can often produce heat internally requiring venting in the enclosure that will allow heat to escape or a fan to actively exchange air. Injection molding allows us to both choose appropriate materials and provide mechanical features, such as venting, that meet the needs of the environment.
“There are so many factors that go into the process. We can’t just make a design as strong, pretty, or environmentally rugged as possible. Finding a balance of all of those elements is key.”
There are many other factors that go into the design of a product enclosure. The overall aesthetics of the product come into play if it will be publicly viewed by a large number of customers. Oftentimes, keeping the internal electronic components safe influences the outer appearance. We have to ensure that the electrical components and memory cards are well-supported. If LEDs are used to communicate information, we have to ensure that the light is visible. If there are requirements for a watertight device, we face the challenge of sealing power and other connections from water damage. There are so many factors that go into the process. We can’t just make a design as strong, pretty, or environmentally rugged as possible. Finding a balance of all of those elements is key.
We take the use case and environmental elements into consideration as we brainstorm and sketch out ideas into a design concept. That concept is then rendered using CAD software where we begin to form the final shape of the product. The process requires constant communication with the electrical engineers to ensure we meet their requirements for board mounting and spacing. It also requires frequent communications with clients and users to ensure we meet requirements. The design is iterated and improved as the ability to visualize the design can expose issues that are difficult, or impossible, to conceptualize.
We often go through multiple iterations before creating a 3D printed version. Printing gives us the best look at how the parts will perform. Even after we have created the initial 3D prototype, we continue to iterate and refine the product until it meets the design requirements.
Injection-molded plastics are a cost-effective way to meet the requirements (shape and size, mounting, materials, etc) of a design. Clients can create a shape that would be very expensive to create using other technologies often building thousands of pieces for pennies. Injection molding is a valuable and efficient option with a high degree of repeatability that produces a more reliable product than 3D printing or CNC machining.