How to get a plastic case made for a prototype product.
January 18, 2013 3:24 PM   Subscribe

I am making a prototype of a consumer electronic device, the final product will be housed in plastic. I want to get a case made for the prototype that will resemble the final product. The case design is nothing complicated, essentially a rectangular box with some rounded corners and some holes for buttons, etc. I have designed the look of the outside of the case in adobe illustrator (top, bottom, front, rear and side views). The case will have a top shell and a bottom shell that fit together. What is the best way to go about getting maybe 2 cases made for prototypes? I am thinking either cnc or 3d printing, but I don't know what the best route to making a 3d model is from adobe illustrator or anything...
posted by Charlie Lesoine to Technology (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You didn't specify a size, but go to Radio Shack and get a project box maybe?
posted by PSB at 3:30 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you go to a nearby community college or university that has AutoCAD or industrial engineering or mechanical engineering or anything like that? I bet their students could help you out.

Or do you have a "maker space" anywhere near you?
posted by Madamina at 3:36 PM on January 18, 2013

One way to do it is with a process called SLA. There are a lot of prototype shops that offer that and other processes. You can get an instant online reference quote from Quickparts and Xpress3D.
posted by Dansaman at 3:55 PM on January 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: It's about 8"x5"x3".
posted by Charlie Lesoine at 3:57 PM on January 18, 2013

I just read this article yesterday about Leonar3do, which supposedly makes it possible for Joe Computer User to make a 3D model. But I have no idea if you could output to a format from which a prototype can easily be made.
posted by Dansaman at 3:58 PM on January 18, 2013

There are a lot of companies that make standard (off-the-shelf) enclosures. Here's a list I happen to have:
Pactec Enclosures:
Buckeye Enclosures:
EAI Enclosures:
Hoffman Enclosures:
Industrial Enclosures:
New Age Enclosures:
PEI Enclosures:
APP (Advantage):
posted by Dansaman at 3:59 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I searched for stacking boxes:
and plastic storage containers
and checked the Container Store|0&Ntt=shoebox&submit=GO
and by plastic boxes

You might be able to make a nice-looking box from corrugated plastic.
posted by theora55 at 4:06 PM on January 18, 2013

Shapeways has treated me very well in making one-offs of jewelry designs in silver - they investment-cast the silver after creating a plastic model. Solid Concepts is my go-to supplier of SLAs for work. (Satisfied customer of both, no other interest.)
posted by jet_silver at 4:27 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Woah that is a lot of links. I am not looking to use something that is pre-made. I have a specific design with specific measurements, etc. I think I either want to get it 3d-printed or machined using a cnc machine unless there is some other way besides making a wood model.
posted by Charlie Lesoine at 5:03 PM on January 18, 2013

Hi Charlie --

I can probably help you out as I do prototyping and fabricaiton work -- I'll send you a link by memail.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 5:07 PM on January 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can transfer Illustrator paths into Solidworks. From Solidworks you can make the 3d models in a format most of these SLA houses can use to run their systems.
posted by jet_silver at 5:11 PM on January 18, 2013

Stop thinking of it as a "case." You need some plastic parts. That they comprise a case for something is irrelevant; they're just parts, of particular material and shapes. Your illustrations are unlikely to contain enough information to establish the shapes of the parts in detail, e.g. wall thicknesses, mechanical means for fastening the pieces together, interior bosses for anchoring the contents in place, etc. You need more than just a maker of cases; you need the help of an engineer or a prototyping service.
posted by jon1270 at 6:30 PM on January 18, 2013

Response by poster: I know Right? Case is just a word closest to what I want I guess. My illustrations definitely do contain enough information to establish the look of the outside, but no, not wall thickness or mechanical considerations. However I am trying to just get a working mockup right now as I am still breadboarding and programming.
posted by Charlie Lesoine at 8:55 PM on January 18, 2013

I am trying to just get a working mockup right now as I am still breadboarding and programming.

In a former life I did product prototyping for a couple of years, but I was on the hand-built side of things, making models (typically rigid foam, plastic, rubber and paint; not wood) that helped establish and refine exterior shapes. The models could look very real (some marketing images were actually pics of my models and not the mass-produced product), but the hand-built models were almost never fully functional. If you need working buttons, displays and PCBs inside this thing from the start then there's not a lot to be saved by doing a hand-built model, and you may as well go the SLA / 3-D printing route.

On the other hand, I think it's usually a good idea to make some non-functioning mockups before you start thinking that you know exactly what the product will look like, how big it will be, etc. Especially for objects meant to be hand-held and carried around, shapes are often much less pleasing in physical 3-D than they looked on a 2-D screen. A quick, cheap non-working mockup can show you where dimensions are too fat, buttons are too small or in the wrong places, edges too sharp, etc. Cheap foam mockups can let you try out a bunch of variations very quickly.

If professional prototyping help is not in your budget, check out Alibre Design. They have a "hobby" version that's much cheaper than full-fledged solid modeling software, and decent online tutorials to get you going. I find it easier to use than SolidWorks or (God help me) Pro-E.

Assuming you're talking about injection-molded plastic parts, remember to keep wall thicknesses consistent throughout; you don't want one section that's .06" thick and an adjacent area at .200". I'd also discourage you from trying to make the parts snap together; go with glue and/or screws.
posted by jon1270 at 3:15 AM on January 19, 2013

Where are you? If you are in or near a city I'd check out one of your local hackerspaces. A lot of them have open times for nonmembers to come by and learn how to do the kind of thing you're talking about.

The group I'm in, HackManhattan, has 3D Thursdays, which was created for exactly this purpose. Most other groups around the world have similar setups.
posted by overhauser at 7:08 AM on January 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do the design yourself, and have Ponoko 3D-print it for you. Make sure you read through the design rules and pick a material that has an allowable size that meets your requirements.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:00 AM on January 19, 2013

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