Injection moulded low volume custom enclosures

It's often a race against time to get enclosures for new products made. They are usually left until the last minute when all the electronics and internal workings are finalised. Enclosures can range from standard off the shelf designs to 3D printed customised cases. So, what are the options?

Some parameters such as strength, fire retardancy and ingress protection will be dictated by the product's application. Others, such as cosmetics, design, and branding, will depend on lead-time and budget.

Enclosure options range from standard off the shelf designs to using 3D printing to create a highly customised case. Whilst each option has advantages and disadvantages, the perceived ideal is an injection moulded custom enclosure. Many people consider that injection moulding has too many limitations, but I'm happy to dispel some of the myths.

'Injection moulding is too expensive' - Actually moulding is likely to give the cheapest unit price per enclosure of all the options. It is the associated tooling that can seem expensive, but there are ways to address this. For example, using a standardised mould frame negates the need for a bolster. Alternatively using loose inserts within the tool can save on automating the release of undercuts or threads.

'My quantities are too low' – I have moulded batch sizes as low as 50.

'I do not have time' - If the design is in place, tooling can be completed in two weeks.

There are many advantages to a custom moulded enclosure, including the fact that there are a wide range of materials and finishes available, which can be complemented with screen printing or labels. The quality/finish is similar to mainstream high volume products and the geometry can be tailored to suit the particular electronics, connectors, and displays. Sealing (Ingress Protection) can also be addressed if required.

The key to success
The key to success is in the design and ensuring that this is optimised for the process. So, whether working from concept sketches or a detailed design (destined of CNC machining or 3D printing), the manufacturing process has a very significant bearing. Ensuring that the interfaces are defined, i.e. size of PCB, fixing points, screen location, switch/button size and operation, will also help.

Given a mouldable part, the next step is to decide how and where to undertake the tooling and moulding. Options include UK or the Far East, aluminium or steel, and manual or fully automatic. Factors such as quantity required, future call off, material availability, post moulding operations (screen printing, inserts etc), size and customer preference all influence the decision.

Low volume does not mean you cannot have a unique, injection moulded enclosure, to brand and promote your product.

Tim Plunkett

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