We all maintain this balancing act between the cool things we want, the money we can spend, and our free time. When the pièce de résistance is a couple of orders of magnitude out of our budget, the only question is, “Do I want to spend the time to build my own?” [Nick Charlton] clearly answered “Yes,” and documented the process for his Nautilus speakers. The speaker design was inspired by Bowers & Wilkins and revised from a previous Thingiverse model which is credited.
The sound or acoustic modeling is not what we want to focus on since the original looks like something out of a sci-fi parody. We want to talk about the smart finishing touches that transform a couple of 3D printed shells into enviable centerpieces. The first, and most apparent is the surface. 3D prints from consumer FDM printers are prone to layer lines, and that aesthetic has ceased to be trendy. Textured paint will cover them nicely and requires minimal elbow grease. Besides sand and shells go together naturally. At first glance, the tripod legs holding these speakers seemed like a classy purchase from an upscale furniture store, but they are, in fact, stained wood and ground-down bolts. Nicely done.
[ByTechLab] needed an enclosure for his R820T2 based RTL-SDR, which sports an SMA connector. Resolving to design and 3D print one in less than a day, he learned a few things about practical design for 3D printing and shared them online along with his CAD files.
The RTL-SDR is a family of economical software defined radio receivers, and [ByTechLab]’s’ enclosure (CAD files available on GrabCAD and STL on Thingiverse) is specific to his model. However, the lessons he learned are applicable to enclosure design in general, and a few of them specifically apply to 3D printing.
He started by making a basic model of the PCB and being sure to include all large components. With that, he could model the right voids inside the enclosure to ensure a minimum of wasted space. The PCB lacks any sort of mounting holes, so the model was also useful to choose where to place some tabs to hold the PCB in place. That took care of the enclosure design, but it also pays to be mindful of the manufacturing method so as to play to its strengths. For FDM 3D printing, that means most curved shapes and rounded edges are trivial. It also means that the biggest favor you can do yourself is to design parts so that they can be printed in a stable orientation without any supports.
This may be nothing that an experienced 3D printer and modeler doesn’t already know, but everyone is a novice at some point and learning from others’ experiences can be a real timesaver. For the more experienced, we covered a somewhat more in-depth guide to practical 3D printed enclosure design.
[ByTechLab]’s desire for a custom enclosure was partly because RTL-SDR devices come in many shapes and sizes, as you can see in this review of 19 different units (of which only 14 actually worked.)
As [Glen] describes it, the only real goal in his decision to design his single-key USB keyboard was to see how small he could build a functional keyboard using a Cherry MX key switch, and every fraction of a millimeter counted. Making a one-key USB keyboard is one thing, but making it from scratch complete with form-fitting enclosure that’s easy to assemble required careful design, and luckily for all of us, [Glen] has documented it wonderfully. (Incidentally, Cherry MX switches come in a variety of qualities and features, the different models being identified by their color. [Glen] is using a Cherry MX Blue, common in keyboards due to its tactile bump and audible click.)
[Glen] steps though the design challenges of making a device where seemingly every detail counts, and explains problems and solutions from beginning to end. A PIC16F1459, a USB micro-B connector, and three capacitors are all that’s needed to implement USB 2.0, but a few other components including LED were added to help things along. The enclosure took some extra care, because not only is it necessary to fit the board and the mounted components, but other design considerations needed to be addressed such as the depth and angle of the countersink for the screws, seating depth and clearance around the USB connector, and taking into account the height of the overmold on the USB cable itself so that the small device actually rests on the enclosure, and not on any part of the cable’s molding. To top it off, it was also necessary to adhere to the some design rules for minimum feature size and wall thicknesses for the enclosure itself, which was SLS 3D printed in nylon.
PCB, enclosure, software, and bill of materials (for single and triple-key versions of the keyboard) are all documented and available in the project’s GitHub repository. [Glen] also highlights the possibility of using a light pipe to redirect the embedded LED to somewhere else on the enclosure; which recalls his earlier work in using 3D printing to make custom LED bar graphs.
Self-described “Inventor Dad” [pepelepoisson]’s project is called Stecchino (English translation link here) and it’s an Arduino-based physical balancing game that aims to be intuitive to use and play for all ages. Using the Stecchino (‘toothpick’ in Italian) consists of balancing the device on your hand and trying to keep it upright for as long as possible. The LED strip fills up as time passes, and it keeps records of high scores. It was specifically designed to be instantly understood and simple to use by people of all ages, and we think it has succeeded in this brilliantly.
To sense orientation and movement, Stecchino uses an MPU-6050 gyro and accelerometer board. An RGB LED strip gives feedback, and it includes a small li-po cell and charger board for easy recharging via USB. The enclosure is made from a few layers of laser-cut and laser-engraved material that also holds the components in place. The WS2828B WS2812B LED strip used is technically a 5 V unit, but [pepelepoisson] found that feeding them direct from the 3.7 V cell works just fine; it’s not until the cell drops to about three volts that things start to glitch out. All source code and design files are on GitHub.
While it might not pack the computational punch you’d usually be looking for in a server platform, you can’t beat how cheap the Raspberry Pi is. As such, it’s at the heart of many a home LAN, serving up files as a network attached storage (NAS) device. But the biggest problem with using the Pi in a NAS is that it doesn’t have any onboard hard drive interface, forcing you to use USB. Not only is this much slower, but doesn’t leave you a lot of options for cleanly hooking up your drives.
This 3D printable NAS enclosure designed by [Paul-Louis Ageneau] helps address the issue by integrating two drive bays which can accommodate 2.25 inch laptop hard disk drives and their associated IB-AC6033-U3 USB adapters. The drives simply slide into the “rails” designed into the case without the need for additional hardware. There’s even space in the bottom of the case for a USB hub to connect the drives, and a fan on the top of the case to help keep the whole stack cool. It still isn’t perfect, but it’s compact and doesn’t look half bad.
The design is especially impressive as it doesn’t require any supports, an admirable goal to shoot for whenever designing for 3D printing. As an added bonus, the entire case is designed in OpenSCAD and licensed under the GPL v3; making modification easy if you want to tweak it for your specific purposes.
You’ve written your firmware code, etched your own PCB, and now it’s time to put that awesome new project of yours into an enclosure. Unfortunately, all you have is a generic Radio Shack project box that you picked up when they were clearing out their inventory. If you put your project in that, it’ll have all the style and grace of a kid wearing hand-me-down clothes. Your project deserves a tailor-made enclosure, but the prices and lead time on custom plastic enclosures are prohibitive for one-off projects.
In Ye Olde Olden Days, the next step might have been to start bending some sheet metal. But it’s the 21st century, and we’ve got mechanization on our side. The “Ultimate Box Maker” by [Heartman] is a fully parametric OpenSCAD design which allows you to generate professional looking enclosures by simply providing your desired dimensions and selecting from a few optional features. In a couple of hours, you’ll have a custom one-of-a-kind enclosure for your project for a few cents worth of filament.
That’s the idea, at least. For this edition of “Printed It”, I’ll be taking a look at the “Ultimate Box Maker” by generating and printing a basic enclosure. As somebody whose Radio Shack was out of enclosures by the time I got there and who doesn’t want to slice his hand open folding sheet metal, I’m very interested in seeing how well this design works.
Look around your bench and chances are pretty good that there’s a PCB or scrap of perfboard or even a breadboard sitting there, wires and LEDs sprouting off it, doing something useful and interesting. Taking it to the next level with a snazzy enclosure just seems too hard sometimes, especially if you don’t have access to a 3D printer or laser cutter. But whipping up plastic enclosures can be quick and easy with this simple acrylic bending outfit.
At its heart [Derek]’s bending rig is not much different from any of the many hot-wire foam cutters we’ve featured. A nichrome wire with a tensioning spring is stretched across a slot in a flat work surface. The slot contains an aluminum channel to reflect the heat from the wire upward and to protect the MDF bed; we wonder if perhaps an angle section set in a V-groove might not be more effective, and whether more vertical adjustment range would provide the wider heating area needed for wider radius bends. It works great as is, though, and [Derek] took the time to build a simple timer to control the heating element, for which of course he promptly built a nice looking enclosure.
We can imagine the possibilities here are endless, especially if you use colored acrylic or Lexan and add in some solvent welding. We’ve covered acrylic enclosure techniques before; here’s a post that covers the basics.