After you've designed your circuit and have the PCB layout completed, how do people in the EE industry go about designing the enclosure? What kind of considerations need to be made to accommodate the PCB in an enclosure?

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    \$\begingroup\$ The enclosure is done ahead of/in parallel with PCB design, not as an afterthought. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Young
    Apr 5, 2016 at 15:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean CAD software wise? \$\endgroup\$
    – Wesley Lee
    Apr 5, 2016 at 15:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, do people use solid works, autocad/autodesk? Is it expected that an EE major have that skill set? \$\endgroup\$
    – inbinder
    Apr 5, 2016 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ At the multinational I used to work at (as circuit designer) there was a "sister" department where the PCB was designed (with input from the circuit designer of course) and "mechanical designers" who designed the housing/case. These were usually mechanical engineers or industrial designers. So not EEs. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 5, 2016 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Often size is so important you sketch the enclosure before the final design stage of the PCB. If it has to fit in a specific environment (behind a street sign, in a drilled hole with certain maximum diameter, or if the dimensions are standardised like a desktop PSU), you can't wait till the last moment and your enclosure will partly determine your board layout. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mast
    Apr 6, 2016 at 6:30

4 Answers 4


First things first. You do not, repeat not, wait until the board is laid out to design the enclosure. Not if you want to be a professional.

The circuit designer must work closely with the mechanical designer. For equipment incorporating pcbs, the following need to be considered: power supply location and dimensions, thermal limits (both from the board AND the power supply), cable routing, exterior connector choice and placement, EMI shielding (considering EMI in both directions), external access and mounting, and potentially other effects as well. All of these things can bite you on the butt if you ignore them, and any of them may well impact the board dimensions and layout.

Typically this is an iterative, back-and-forth process. The mechanical designer (or designers) will say "This is what you've got to work with." The electrical says, "Nope. Won't work. I need more room for cables/waste heat/board area/etc". Mechanical says, "Well, how about if we do such-and such", and the conversation keeps up until either an accommodation is reached, or it becomes clear that something has to give in the system requirements, at which time the problem gets bounced to the managers.

Only once the two sides are in agreement can the board layout begin, and details of board geometry are dealt with via CAD, as the board physical design is integrated with the enclosure.

EDIT - It occurs to me that my above discussion may be a bit idealistic. It is certainly possible that, in some organizations, the layout requirements are presented as a fait accompli. For instance, marketing has decreed that the latest version of the circuit (which requires much more functionality) must fit into the existing boxes. And, of course, the new circuit must cost less than the old version. In this sort of situation, a good designer may well rise to the occasion - or maybe not. In either case, it's probably a good idea to update your resume. If you fail, you may well get canned. If you succeed, you know that management is going to do it again and again until you do fail. Either way, it's time to look elsewhere.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @WhatRoughBeast--This is exactly the kind of insight I was hoping for. Makes total sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – inbinder
    Apr 5, 2016 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ We even design both together for one-off projects in our hackerspace, because it's significantly less work that way, and we can all work on the project at the same time. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2017 at 16:30

In general, the placement of input and output connections on a PCB is dictated at least in part by the enclosure design. This means that the enclosure design needs to be completed BEFORE you do the physical layout of the PCB.

The physical design will generally be done in a drafting package such as AutoCAD or SolidWorks, and one of the outputs from this process will be the "outline drawing" for the PCB. This will specify all of the points where the PCB interacts in some way with its mechanical environment: the placement of controls and indicators, I/O connectors, mounting holes and the dimensions/shape of the board itself. This drawing, plus the schematic and bill of materials, becomes the input to the PCB layout process.

  • \$\begingroup\$ For the big companies, what @whatroughbeast said is true, but unfortuntely, the mechanical designers are not present in every PCB design company. For most cases, it's the selection of the housing before the layout is done as mentioned by Dave Tweed above. You should design the PCB for a particular housing and not the other way round. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sachin
    Jun 22, 2017 at 8:30

Above Posts answer clearly the procedure ,but in Big companies or for mass production.For small/medium companies or special projects that does not produced in large quantities ,usually designers estimate products needed space,then buy a appropriate Box equipped with necessary In/Out ports and based on it designed a PCB ,this saved a lot of money in production for small/medium quantities.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, because this answer covers the segment of small-scale manufacturing. Cost of mechanical engineering and production (molding/extruding/machining) vastly exceeds the cost of PCB design/manufacturing. And PCB is much more flexible in adopting any shape or form. There exists an industry of pre-fabricated enclosures, and some boxes are pretty nice-looking. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2016 at 18:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Dizgah: Put no space before punctuation ('.', ',', etc.) and one space after. You are hurting my eyes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Transistor
    Oct 3, 2017 at 16:57

Mechanical engineering with Solidworks et al is a different skillset and profession. As others have said, the design has to proceed in parallel with communication between the two designers (or design groups, if the project is large and complex enough).

Some PCB design packages will let you specify 3D models for components and then output the board as a CAD object. This is useful if the design needs to be really precise about clearances: the case designer can import it and automatically or manually check that it fits properly.

Sometimes if it's not a consumer mass-market product you can skip the design and use a ready made case of some sort. Various plastic "project boxes" are available, or for larger equipment there's standard rackmount metal cases.


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