These Lessons Were Learned In Enclosure Design, But Go Far Beyond

[Foaly] has been hard at work making an open-source long range camera remote, and recently shared a deeply thoughtful post about how it is never too early to consider all aspects of design, lest it cost you in the end. It all started with designing an enclosure for a working prototype, and it led to redesigning the PCB from scratch. That took a lot of guts, and we recommend you make some time to click that link and read up on what he shared. You’ll either learn some valuable tips, or just enjoy nodding sagely as he confirms things you already know. It’s win-win.

Note the awkward buttons right next to the antenna connector, for example.

The project in question is Silver, and calling it a camera remote is selling it a bit short. In any case, [Foaly] had a perfectly serviceable set of prototypes and needed a small batch of enclosures. So far so normal, but in the process of designing possible solutions, [Foaly] ran into a sure-fire sign that a project is in trouble: problems cropping up everywhere, and in general everything just seeming harder than it should be. Holding the mounting-hole-free PCB securely never seemed quite right. Buttons were awkward to reach, ill-proportioned, and didn’t feel good to use. The OLED screen’s component was physically centered, but the display was off-center which looked wrong no matter how the lines of the bezel were sculpted. The PCB was a tidy rectangle, but the display ended up a bit small and enclosures always looked bulky by the time everything was accounted for. The best effort is shown here, and it just didn’t satisfy.

[Foaly] says the real problem was that he designed the electronics and did the layout while giving some thought (but not much thought) to their eventual integration into a case. This isn’t necessarily a problem for a one-off, but from a product design perspective it led to so many problems that it was better to start over, this time being mindful of how everything integrates right from the start: the layout, the components, the mechanical bits, the assembly, and the ultimate user experience. The end result is wonderful, and we’re delighted [Foaly] took the time to document his findings.

Enclosure design is a big deal and there are many different ways to go about it. For a more unique spin, be sure to check out our how-to make enclosures from the PCBs themselves. For a primer on more traditional enclosure manufacture and design, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with injection molding.

A Stylish Home For Your Next ESP Project

The ESP8266 and ESP32 are fast becoming the microcontroller of choice for, well, everything. But one particular area we’ve seen a lot of activity in recently is home automation; these boards make it so incredibly easy and cheap to get your projects online that putting together your own automation system is far more appealing now than it’s ever been. Capitalizing on that trend, [hwhardsoft] has been working on a ESP enclosure that’s perfect for mounting on the living room wall.

Of course, there’s more to this project than an admittedly very nice plastic box. The system also includes a ILI9341 2.4 inch touch screen LCD, an integrated voltage regulator, and even a section of “perfboard” that gives you a spot to easily wire up ad-hoc circuits and sensors. You don’t even need to switch over to the bare modules either, as the PCB is designed to accommodate common development boards such as the Wemos D1 Mini and NodeMCU.

Despite its outward appearance, this project is very much beginner friendly. Utilizing through hole components, screw down terminals, and a impeccably well-labeled silkscreen, you won’t need to be a hardware expert to produce a very slick gadget the whole family can appreciate.

Much like the HestiaPi project we covered a few months back, this project takes a cheap and readily available development board and turns it into something that has all the trappings of a commercial offering. These projects are reminders that the line between built and bought is only getting blurrier as time goes on.

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DIY Watertight Junction Box For Serious Outdoor Sealing

Thingiverse user [The-Mechanic] shared a design for 3D printed enclosures that are made to house wire and cable junctions, which can then be rendered weatherproof by injecting them with a suitable caulking compound and allowing it to cure. It’s a cross between an enclosure and potted electronics. It’s also a one-way trip, because the result is sealed up like a pharaoh’s tomb. On the upside, it’s cheap, accessible, and easily customized.

The way it works is this: wires go through end caps which snap onto the main body, holding the junction inside. Sealant is then pumped in via the hole on the side, then the hole is plugged. Afterwards, all there is to do is wait until the sealant cures. [The-Mechanic] has a couple of companion designs, as well. For tubes of sealant that have threaded tops, one can more effectively save the contents of the tube for later with this design for screw-on caps. There are also 3D printed nozzles in a variety of designs.

One thing to keep in mind about silicone-based sealants is that thick gobs of it can take a really, really long time to cure fully. A thick gob of the stuff will tend to firm up on the outside but leave the inside gooey. If that will be a problem, maybe take a cue from Oogoo and mix in a bit of corn starch with the silicone sealant. The resulting mixture will be thicker, but it’ll cure throughout with no problems.

Enclosure Needs Labels? Make The 3D Printer Do It

Tool changing on 3D printers is hot right now, and it’s going to be really interesting to see the ideas that reliable tool changing lets people try out. One such idea is having the 3D printer use a marker to label the enclosure and buttons it just 3D printed.

The 3D print shown is an enclosure for a Pocket Operator by Teenage Engineering. [Marc Schömann] made the enclosure on Blackbox, a tool-changing 3D printer that he designed. The video below shows a pen holder drawing the labels directly onto the printed object. Pocket Operators may look like calculators, but they are clever electronic musical devices capable of producing real music. (The best way to learn about what they are and what they can do is to watch a tutorial video or two.)

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Spot This DIY Electronic Load’s Gracefully Hidden Hacks

Sometimes it’s necessary to make do with whatever parts one has on hand, but the results of squashing a square peg into a round hole are not always as elegant as [Juan Gg]’s programmable DC load with rotary encoder. [Juan] took a design for a programmable DC load and made it his own in quite a few different ways, including a slick 3D-printed enclosure and color faceplate.

The first thing to catch one’s eye might be that leftmost seven-segment digit. There is a simple reason it doesn’t match its neighbors: [Juan] had to use what he had available, and that meant a mismatched digit. Fortunately, 3D printing one’s own enclosure meant it could be gracefully worked into the design, instead of getting a Dremel or utility knife involved. The next is a bit less obvious: the display lacked a decimal point in the second digit position, so an LED tucked in underneath does the job. Finally, the knob on the right could reasonably be thought to be a rotary encoder, but it’s actually connected to a small DC motor. By biasing the motor with a small DC voltage applied to one lead and reading the resulting voltage from the other, the knob’s speed and direction can be detected, doing a serviceable job as rotary encoder substitute.

The project’s GitHub repository contains the Arduino code for [Juan]’s project, which has its roots in a design EEVblog detailed for an electronic load. For those of you who prefer your DIY rotary encoders to send discrete clicks and pulses instead of an analog voltage, a 3D printed wheel and two microswitches will do the job.

Sanding Seashells By The Seashore

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.

The moral is to work smarter, take pictures, then drop us a line.

Lessons Learned From A 1-Day RTL-SDR Enclosure Project

[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.)