Enclosure Design: Integrating Aesthetics and Functionality
By Dan Farrar, Polycase
Enclosure manufacturers strive to anticipate the demands of the electronics marketplace with state-of-the-art enclosure designs. The challenge is for designers to develop products with unique features that meet customers’ needs, yet still appeal to the broadest market possible. With this in mind, manufacturers endeavor to engineer enclosures with features, options and accessories that provide a breadth of solutions specific to customers’ applications. The market is now demanding more solutions from their off-the-shelf enclosures and today’s manufacturer is adept at developing new products to meet its needs. Specifically, engineers require:
* Improved styling – contemporary design elements
* Improved functionality – allows for enhanced performance
* Increased longevity – longer lasting materials suited to a variety of environments
Engineers want enclosures to look and feel custom designed for their product, but without the high price tag and long lead-time of a completely custom molded case. A contemporary and stylish look is preferred to the traditional off-the-shelf, cookie cutter design. This allows engineers to improve the appearance of their final product while distinguishing it from the competition. A unique visual appearance may be achieved with ergonomically inspired curves, rounded edges and corners, and a generally fresher look. Cases are also available in custom colors specific to the customers’ requests, which further differentiate their products. Lastly, the manufacturer offers customized solutions, such as CNC machining and printing, to ensure a totally one-of-a-kind enclosure that meets their exact needs.
In answer to customers’ needs, manufacturers now offer enclosure accessories that allow for enhanced performance. For example, the demand for a variety of battery compartments in enclosures is increasing. Engineers require various battery sizes, including coin cell, 9-volt or AA, to provide more options for their applications. A standard electronic enclosure can now be offered with a compartment to house each of these battery configurations. Rubber gaskets are also available as an accessory to a standard enclosure to provide various levels of protection from water, dust and other elements.
Another popular type of enclosure is desktop instrument cases. End users often stack desktop enclosures on top of one another. To prevent the inevitable slipping and sliding, manufacturers have improved the design by adding nesting grooves into the bottom of the enclosure to lock them in place thus making them stackable and secure.
A major component of enclosure design and functionality is based on the material used. When selecting an enclosure, an engineer considers the enclosure environment because that drives the material properties required of the enclosure. Some properties the engineer will consider when selecting material are: temperature rating, UV stability, flame rating, and UL approval. If it is a UL Approved product, selecting a UL Certified Molder saves time and money in the UL approval process.
Historically, the traditional material used in electronic enclosures is ABS resin. However, manufacturers now provide more than basic ABS; they offer flame retardant resin as a basic material. Also offered is polycarbonate and nylon; compounds that afford more rigidity, withstand higher temperatures, and may be more suitable for particular applications. Finally, UV stabilizer is found in certain enclosures designed for outdoor applications. A UV stabilizer aids in better managing the outdoor elements, particularly in sunny applications where discoloration may be minimized.
Thoughtful enclosure design can now provide: improved contemporary styling with a one-of-a-kind look, improved functionality for better performance that meets specific design needs, and increased longevity through a variety of materials. Therefore, the end-user is more satisfied with their final product.
Dan Farrar, Sales Manager at Polycase, has a BS in Business from Miami University and a MBA from Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.