By Ken Tumblison, President, Buckeye Shapeform
Changes and innovation are happening at a breakneck pace in industries that produce highly sensitive telecommunications equipment or electronic equipment that handles demanding high-speed data collection or advanced data analysis. As these products become more sophisticated and customized, the manufacturers that supply parts to these industries need to be just as innovative and sophisticated.
For example, nearly every aspect of providing the latest and highest-quality piece of electronics equipment — whether it’s a device that captures radio signals from space or a computer information network that relays information from one location to another on Earth — requires an enclosure that is custom designed to protect that technology. As demand for sophisticated and customized technology continues to rise, enclosure manufacturers should be just as responsive in producing and delivering custom enclosures.
Many enclosure manufacturers have complete lines of off-the-shelf enclosures. But the very best can modify a standard enclosure — including producing it with customized housing in metal or plastic — and deliver a production-ready, per-spec enclosure on time. Using engineering support and tools like AutoCAD and 3-D modeling further enhance the ability of enclosure manufacturers to deliver customized enclosures that are made to order — and made to fit. A good design engineer can use these state-of-the-art design software tools and integrate them with highly sophisticated fabrication equipment to produce the piece according to design specs.
Depending on the technology that an enclosure is housing, it may need to be in a certain shape or size. It may require a variety of hole punches. For mounting electronics, enclosures often require specific self-cinching inserts such as studs, spring latches, rivets or standoffs. To create any shape of enclosure, and to ensure a uniform finish, the manufacturer should use dedicated CNC milling equipment. And if the enclosure needs to have a durable yet attractive finish, the manufacturer must be able to treat the enclosure with an undercoat and a top coat of powder paint and, perhaps, even a screen print. Throughout the process, the customer controls everything, from specifying customized front and real panels to outlining where every hole and punch should go and what size they should be. But such a customized enclosure must start with a properly engineered design.
Recently, for example, a company that manufactures complete turnkey monitoring and motions systems used in a wide variety of assembly and test applications around the world was searching for a custom-designed enclosure that would also be cost-effective to produce. When approached, many sheet-metal houses won’t do custom work and they don’t have the capacity to do in-house design; they purely accept a customer’s design and manufacture the product.
However, when this company contacted Buckeye Shapeform, the engineers at the enclosure manufacturer knew they could help design a more cost-effective custom enclosure than the design the customer submitted.
The client needed a prototype of an enclosure that required a heat sink and would be designed to custom fit to protect a new monitoring product they had developed. Because the enclosure would house a monitoring device for electro-mechanical press assemblies, the heat sink was a critical component to dissipate heat.When the client approached the manufacturer, it already had engineered a design for the enclosure, but the design was an expensive one that would have required a lot of machining for the heat sink.
The engineers at the enclosure manufacturer re-engineered the enclosure, maintaining the basic concept but simplifying the design and reducing the time it would take to manufacture the enclosure. Ultimately, these changes reduced the overall cost of the enclosure by 80 percent.
One of the major cost savings came in a portion of the enclosure that was originally designed to have an injection-molded bezel. Injection is very expensive option when it comes to mold costs. By opting for a thermoformed molding, the new design decreased the molding cost from about $40,000 for the mold to about $5,000.
The design engineers also found a way to design around the heat-sink components. The client’s existing design required machining it from aluminum. The engineer saw the opportunity to take an off-the-shelf heat sink and modify it, adding sides to it and creating a three-piece solution. That idea proved less expensive than machining it from aluminum and was less expensive, especially for a high-volume order, than buying a custom heat sink from an extruder. The end result for the client is a heat sink that is about 12 inches wide by 14 inches in length and is made up of three separate extrusions — the main body and a left and right “end cap” — that allow the heat sink to sit flush with the rest of the unit, while adding durability to the design. The left and right end caps could also be powder coated. The overall enclosure is 14”x12”x10”.
The work that the engineer did to redesign this enclosure resulted in an end-product that is custom fit for the client’s new product. The redesign also resulted in less waste of aluminum because the manufacturer isn’t machining the heat sink, and — once the design was finalized — reduced the order cycle time to about four to five weeks for future orders for the custom-designed piece.
In the telecommunications industry, getting the design for enclosures right is crucial because the enclosures usually protect critical information systems. Two more real-world examples from Buckeye Shapeform illustrate how custom design can benefit any telecommunications enclosure:
• An instrumentation client had a basic concept for an enclosure that would protect a communications system device. The project — designing a customized 1.75”x19”x10”-chassis — had several pressure points: a powder-coat finish, material requirements and project delivery schedules.
An engineer at Buckeye Shapeform suggested ways to redesign a standard 1U rack-mount enclosure to meet the requirements of the customer’s print. The engineer suggested ways to make the process repeatable, from a manufacturing perspective, working with the enclosure to compensate for sheet-metal forming misalignments using floating hardware. At the same time, the ultimate design kept fit, form and function consistent with what the end user wanted. Custom designed enclosures are critical for many telecommunications components, which may require a certain shape. Or, they may have specific needs related to EMI shielding.
• Another client needed additional quantities of an enclosure and the original vendor — who designed an enclosure that already has UL and FCC certification — was no longer in operation. In that case, it was less expensive to reverse engineer the design that was already certified than to design a new enclosure that would need to go through a pricey recertification process.
Engineers at the manufacturer also evaluated the enclosure, determined what tooling was required and estimated what it would cost to replicate the enclosure. Such reverse engineering services include measuring the product, creating drawings, scanning the enclosure using a 3D scanning to create an extremely accurate 3-D CAD model of the enclosure.
This 3-D CAD functionality can be applied and utilized across any industry using enclosures. In some industries, shielding is necessary to protect a product by limiting interference (EMI) into our out of an enclosure. This is particularly important for products that include highly sensitive components inside the enclosure or for enclosures that will be placed near other sensitive equipment.
Today’s dynamic telecommunications and electronics market demand speed, sophistication, specialization and excellent customer service. By stopping to think about the process of designing and producing enclosures and simplifying the process, engineers at enclosure manufacturers can have a significant impact on developing enclosures that are more cost-effective while still protecting the component it is housing.
Ken Tumblison is president of Buckeye Shapeform. Founded in 1902, Buckeye Shapeform includes Buckeye Enclosures, Buckeye Novelty Cans, Buckeye Knobs and Buckeye Deep Draw Technology. Buckeye Enclosures offers a complete line of off-the-shelf instrumentation enclosures as well as services for modifying standard enclosures and creating completely customized solutions in either metal or plastic material that’s widely used in the military, medical, audio/visual, and telecommunications industries. For more information, please visit www.buckeyeshapeform.com.