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Putting your electronics project in an enclosure

Probably projects that are finished and put in an enclosure always catches an eye rather than PCB prototype with multiple wires showing up. Of course project that does its job is fine enough even without nice shell. But what if you don’t want your board to be exposed. Then put your project in a box. From this point you need to be an electronics engineer and designer in one. Probably everyone have their own way of putting projects in the boxes, but there are few tips that can save time and nerves.

Sparkfun has a nice reading about things to keep in mind while looking for box and planning necessary tasks. Lets go through them – some of them are really cool that I didn’t about before:

  • If you have buttons that need to be accessed through the case, find a shallow enclosure or tall buttons.
  • If there is a display you want to read but don’t want a big hole in the lid, look for an enclosure with a clear top.
  • If environmental conditions may be a factor, find an enclosure that is rated for the conditions you expect your product to experience. Take a look at these IP Ratings. Many manufacturers follow the IP rating system for describing enclosures.
  • Maybe your project has lots of switches or external ports, try a box with tall side walls.
    • Another environmental note, if you plan on having buttons or connectors, keep in mind you’ll want those rated for the conditions you are expecting as well (rain, dust etc.).
    • There are some sealed buttons and switches available for outdoor use, try searching your favorite parts supplier, they should have some.

These tips are great to have in mind before you start a project. If project is for indoor use only then don’t have to be so strict with these environmental conditions. Focus on ergonomics, size and other things that would help to build and use and maintain. What I like to do is to think things ahead:

  • Think about enclosure even before PCB tracing.
  • Get most proper size of box.
  • Don’t buy metal boxes if you don’t have to. Metal is harder to process. Choose plastic.
  • Measure inner dimensions and hole positions for PCB stand-off’s.
  • Think and draw on a paper sheet where do you want external parts to be placed like LCD, LEDs, buttons, switches, connectors, heat sink, etc.

  • After you have these things planed then its time to draw a PCB where you can easily leave space for screws and push larger size electronics components around so they wouldn’t stand on the way of various outputs.

  • After You have PCB ready to go, look through again as things may not go as planed. There can be situations when parts are not exactly in same place where you wanted, or you had to replace some parts with different. Just see if you don’t need to shift some holes around.
  • If things are OK, then draw a guide lines on a box.
  • Best tool to work with plastic (and metallic) is a dremel. If you need to drill a square hole use a dremel drill to make small holes on the corners as guides and starting points for jig-saw or knife. Fine-tine the holes with sanding tool.

  • When everything is set don’t forget to put a labels so not only you know what particular switch or hole is for.

Hope you find something useful. Be sure to read sparkfun tutorial on boxing up.

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