PRODUCT DESIGN: An Introduction to Enclosure Design
An enclosure is one of the most important aspects of any product: it must ensure the brand is recognisable in terms of quality and aesthetics; capture ergonomic requirements in design for assembly, ease of maintenance and user-friendliness; and provide functional requirements as well as safely housing the product technology. Here, in the first part of our introduction to enclosure design, our Lead Engineer discusses the initial considerations.

Product requirements
Like all engineering designs, the enclosure is built upon the product requirements to ensure all functional elements are within the scope, but avoiding adding complexity and cost where it isn’t needed.

Packaging and technology integration
The overall size and weight of the enclosure will largely be determined by its internal components, so this is the best place to start determining the layout. Requirements should dictate a maximum footprint, height or other dimension which helps drive the design direction.

The next step is to prepare a complete Bill of Materials and modelling of these internal components is the second key objective. The models can be simplified package models or detailed models – the customer may want to use renders of the 3D model for marketing, in which case detailed models are essential for generating life-like images.

The layout of all components, position of external connections and user interaction points governs the user experience. For working areas on laboratory equipment, for example, bench testing with cardboard mock-ups can be a valuable exercise and the best way to establish whether an area with user interaction has sufficient clearance for movable parts, removing connections or tooling.

Other important considerations for layout and ergonomics include:

  • Manual lifting weight;
  • Working height might need to be considered for placement of lifting handles, screens or regular points of interaction; and
  • Position and style of lids, hatches, covers and closures, e.g., use of magnets, catches, latches and finger holes. Different types of user/technician access can be determined via special fasteners (e.g. torques fasteners).

This is a good time to review the requirements to see if any additional features not previously considered can be included, for example, storage of power cables, accessories, tools or spares.

Style over function; often a challenge in engineering but an extremely important trade-off. Considerations include the following:

  • Styling cues can come from the company’s branding, logo and from what currently exists in the target industry (i.e., competitor products);
  • Colour – a powerful tool in communicating the purpose of a product to the user and is often taken from the company logo or their branding palette; and
  • Buttons, displays and status indicators in clearly accessible locations matching overall branding/styling in terms of colour and font.

The external touch and feel (tangible aesthetics) of an enclosure can be just as important as it’s visual appearance. It’s not just an afterthought – the enclosure’s stiffness is essential for a firm, quality feel as well as avoiding sharp edges and using texture: e.g., matt vs gloss paint or the use of alternative materials such as rubber or textiles.

In future instalments we will discuss manufacturing methods and materials, followed by detailed design considerations

About us 
The 3D Consultancy is an engineering led design and manufacturing consultancy providing technical solutions utilising advanced 3D printing/additive manufacturing, 3D scanning and CAD digital processes using the latest materials and processes, with industry leading expertise in composite materials technologies.

If you have a technical challenge with very tight deadlines that require exacting specifications and an agile working approach to achieve results, then please contact us.