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I need to produce a small batch (less than 100) of custom enclosures, each made up of 5-6 pieces of plastic. I need surfaces to look smooth and hard (think the quality of a computer keyboard) and one of the pieces needs to be see-through, while another needs to contain several labels.

What are the places you guys are using for this? Also, what is the price range I'm looking at?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you mean that the enclosures are made up of 5-6 pieces of plastic, or that they hold pieces of plastic? Also, can part of the enclosures be powder-coated sheet-metal? (If so, I recommend frontpanelexpress.com.) \$\endgroup\$ – pingswept Apr 25 '10 at 23:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @pingswept: thanks for the comment: I've re-worded the question for clarity. \$\endgroup\$ – Rom Apr 25 '10 at 23:52
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I gave the following answer to this earlier question

I would say that to keep costs to a minimum you need to try to fit your product to one of the standard enclosure boxes made by (for example) OKW. The problem with a bespoke mould for your product you are looking at a large NRE charge for the design and some thousands of pounds for the tooling costs.

For a two part moulding the tooling cost was around £6-8k. The design time was a couple of weeks - you do your own sums on the cost of that. You are talking of what sounds like quite a complicated design if it is made up of 6 parts, so expect the costs to rise accordingly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the answer! Yes, I've seen your comment before asking my question, but unfortunately I need a very specific enclosure and I'm pretty sure none of the existing ones would do. Thanks for providing the ballpark costs for tooling, that helps a lot! \$\endgroup\$ – Rom Apr 26 '10 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ £6-8k seems to be a fair price for simple design (2 parts) small runs, where you would use an aluminium mould. For larger series you'll need hardened steel moulds, which may cost 3 to 4 times as much, more for a more complicated design. \$\endgroup\$ – stevenvh Jul 16 '11 at 8:52
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I have made specifically sized enclosures using resins. I made a silicone cast using Smooth-Sil 950 from Smooth On Smooth On. With the silicone compound you can make negatives of the parts you want and then assemble them to form your enclosure. Smooth on has a bunch of different resins probably with similar properties to what you are looking for, and their technical support is great if you are still not sure if the material will act the way you expect. This way you just build one set of negatives allowing you to make as many enclosures as you want!

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I've used a place in Colorado called Protogenic for SLA'd parts before. They'll paint and sand models so they look really good, and I believe they can do transparent parts as well. Unfortunately, I suspect that the cost would be quite high-- maybe $150-200 per enclosure?

http://www.protogenic.com/

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The price for SLA you quoted seems about right. Also, SLA is fragile - if you drop it it'll probably fracture. \$\endgroup\$ – mtrw Apr 26 '10 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the comment! I will check them out. Fragility is a factor for me, unfortunately. \$\endgroup\$ – Rom Apr 26 '10 at 18:56
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Depending on your design constraints, you can accomplish nice things with laser cut acrylic - for example:

http://www.positron.org/projects/juicebox/

Laser etching would then be natural for labels/artwork, or printed artwork inside the clear panels.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I can do it for some, but not all of the parts. I think that's a good option for keeping the costs down. Thank you for suggestion! \$\endgroup\$ – Rom Apr 26 '10 at 18:53
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A bit of an answer from left-field, but the things you can do at Ponoko might be suitable, if you can design something that snaps together or can be assembled... http://www.ponoko.com/

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Getting custom made plastic anything has a very high startup cost. It's usually not worth it if you need less than a thousand or more.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I realize that and this is why I'm asking here, hoping that somebody can suggest something cheaper than creating injection molds. @mtrw suggested using Selective Laser Sintering in this question: chiphacker.com/questions/2145/…, but I'm not sure it can produce smooth enough surface \$\endgroup\$ – Rom Apr 26 '10 at 0:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I guess it depends on your budget, but for something thats a couple of inches big, various rapid prototyping 3d printing methods will run you in the range of $20 per piece, versus maybe $2 each if you had thousands of them manufacturered \$\endgroup\$ – davr Apr 26 '10 at 2:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rom - you're right about SLS. It's no good for polished surfaces. \$\endgroup\$ – mtrw Apr 26 '10 at 6:43

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