3D Printed Electronics Enclosures

18 May 2022

In one of our previous articles, we discussed in detail how 3D printing is revolutionizing various industries. One of such branches, worthy of its own entry, is the electronics industry.

Producers of electronic devices are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of using 3D printing in their everyday work. The most popular and highly effective application of this technology is connected to all kinds of device enclosures and covers.

Where did the idea come from to make electronics packaging with additive manufacturing?

Let’s find out.

A new approach to prototyping

A company that implements a new product (or leaves room for improvement of existing devices) must consider that all potential modifications concern not only the electronics itself but also all the elements that it comes in direct contact with.
That is why, at the prototyping stage, the housing issue is often overlooked, focusing on the product itself. Of course, this doesn’t come out of laziness but pure pragmatism. The use of injection technology is, in this case, a lottery. But more on that soon.

Some engineers try to circumvent this problem by using cases made of modeling clay or use universal ones that require additional processing (e.g., cutting holes for buttons and connectors, fixing the insides with hot glue). Both of these solutions are not very professional and do not allow you to check the compatibility and functionality of the product thoroughly.

Dark Side of Injection Technology

Companies that decide to use injection technology should be aware of the consequences that go hand in hand with it. Although it is unmatched in performance (mass production), it is better that your housing does not need to be modified. Modifications of injection molds cost from several to even several hundred thousand dollars. The price range is huge because it is difficult to predict the need for changes and their direction. Therefore, if you are not sure about the functionality of your product, this solution is extremely risky

he main advantage of 3D printing and its most significant advantage over the injection technology is its flexibility (and we are not talking about material properties here). Any changes are just a matter of editing the virtual model and sending a new, refreshed version to the printer.

What’s more, the MJF technology that we use ensures low unit costs (price does not depend on the order volume) and express lead times – we are able to provide our customers with a series of enclosures (even in several versions) in just three working days!

For comparison, starting production from scratch with the injection technique takes at least a few months (the topic is discussed in more detail in our case study on parking sensor housings).

This is what we mean by the concept of flexibility in the context of 3D printing – it is the possibility of instant editing, at every stage of the project, with minimal costs. This simply translates to much more space for creativity (innovative design solutions) and reactivity (after-sales and service activities) for your engineers. As a result, your product will grow faster and become even more competitive.

What other possibilities, apart from adaptive ones, does 3D printing give us?

Unlimited design and design solutions

First of all, Multi Jet Fusion gives you access to a full range of design solutions (another point for MJF in terms of injection). Enclosures usually consist of two elements, and thanks to 3D printing, you can use snap, lap, threaded, and even movable hinges to fit them together.

However, the functionality of the housing is not everything. A complete product is one that meets all consumer’s expectations, including the aesthetic ones. If your housing is a visible element, it is worth considering coloring it (in any RAL color). Such a procedure will add a designer look and increase the product’s attractiveness.

The complete list of “beauty” treatments that can be used on your enclosure also includes surface smoothing operations. This includes vibro-abrasive machining, mechanical smoothing (Polyshot Surfacing), and chemical smoothing (Vaporfuse). They have a highly notable effect on the product’s looks and its usage comfort, which is particularly important in the case of devices that we use intensively daily, such as a heart rate monitor, sleep quality sensor, or power bank).

A material that passes the exam in the electronics industry

Another critical aspect of MJF technology is its material properties. We have often encountered customers who, discouraged by the quality of elements made with the FDM technique, doubted the printed pieces. In their experience, such parts broke, cracked, and strained during their work (e.g., a heating sleeve for a welding handle).

The polyamide PA11 or PA12 we use is an entirely different story. The material is characterized by high resistance to the transferred forces and, more importantly for this industry, very high electrical insulation.

Summary – why is 3D printing so good for electronics housings?

  • Low price – the cost of the housing depends to the greatest extent on the amount of material used. That is why low and medium-volume orders in 3D printing are so profitable.
  • Easy editing – change, combine, experiment! The ease and speed with which you can update your design will give you a competitive advantage.
  • Design freedom – Multi Jet Fusion is currently a leader among 3D printers for industrial applications. Proprietary technology from HP allows you to obtain virtually any geometry and all possible types of connections of components.
  • Precision of craft – the dimensional accuracy we will print your housing is unrivaled. Tolerances are in the order of tenths of a millimeter!
  • High repeatability – high precision only makes sense when it is repeatable. MJF offers exactly this guarantee. The appropriate material – polyamide, which we use, perfectly disperses the electricity, making the housing an ideal insulator. In addition, it will be durable and resistant to physical loads.

    We will help you create your housing!

    At Cubic Inch, we offer a complete set of care for your project. We do not limit ourselves to ready-made printing solutions, but we also invent and optimize them. Our designers can choose and design the best housing for your specific product.

    For more demanding projects that emphasize the aspect of housing design, we use the services of befriended specialists in the field of industrial design.

    We are well prepared for any eventuality and open to all kinds of ideas! Write to us, and let’s talk about your project.