This blog post is essentially a recount of my experiences trying out 3d printing to make enclosures and may be useful to read if you’ve never made an enclosure before and are thinking about whether to take the 3d printed (printing a box) or ready made route (machining an existing metal box).
When I first started out working with enclosures I typically purchased a handheld enclosure and drilled or cut out each section for the buttons, cable gland, lcd or whaever else warrented the enclosure being cut into.
Due to having few tools and almost always having to make do, the end result always looked terrible with major flaws that really stuck out. Shortly after my first few initial attempts, 3d printers started coming into the mainstream and becoming affordable. I thought this was fantastic, I’d just have to do some CAD designs and the printer would magically produce the thing (I ended up going for the wanhao I3).
It ended up not being quite like that. The CAD software took a couple of weeks to get my head around (Freecad) which is fair. However, while I made some suitable enclosures, they took hours, sometimes days for the printer to produce and if there were any mistakes the whole thing needed to be redone.
The same problem found with enclosures arose again – the quality was not great and after messing up screw inlays multiple times I finally decided it was not suitable. The whole thing seemed too fragile and the amount the filament and electricity cost would come to the same price as a solid aluminum enclosure by Hammond which would be rock solid. That’s not even taking into account the time it takes to built the thing.
So, what next … do a 180 and go back to enclosures.
I knew the issue was precision so after browsing youtube it looked like the way to go was to either have it machined at a manufacturer (expensive and only worth it if you do 100+ enclosures) or draw a stencil, print it out and overlay it on the enclosure. I chose the latter
The next step is cutting out the sections now that the stencil is on. 90% of the sections to be cut were circles. I went all out and bought a pillar drill along with a step drill bit. The pillar drill combined with the stencil and a vice would give the most precision. The only thing better would be a cnc machine (low end models which drill into metal are a few thousand pounds from what I can gather) or sending it off to a fabrication company.
The only time I’d reccomend using a 3d printer is for for smaller components such as mounts. That is if you have a low to mid range printer.
Here’s the latest result which is a clay pigeon remote. As you can see, the sections drilled out are mostly circles (where the pillar drill and step drill bit come into play). Wheras a dremel with a ‘speedclic metal saw’ was used to drill out the square for the lcd.