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Developing an electronic product for which I'll need an enclosure. It's about 50x30x20mm and should survive higher temperatures (50-60 degrees). Because of the low volume (under 500 required per year), I'd like to go for an enclosure option that doesn't require a huge upfront cost. So ended up at 3d printing. As the product will retail for around 500$, the surface finish needs to be up to a higher quality than the standard pla prints that I've seen. From my own research (3d printing noob), the best material for this would be ABS. Maybe with some manual polishing at the end. Then I'd either buy a 3d printer and do it myself or find a company to do it.

What am I missing? :)

Anything I'm missing? Thanks a lot.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to 3dPrinting.SE! When you say "enclosure", I take it you mean you're asking about the case for which you'll be installing the electronic parts into? $\endgroup$ – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jul 3 '19 at 21:54
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I know it's used a lot to mean the enclosure around the 3d printer itself as well $\endgroup$ – Alex Jul 4 '19 at 5:03
  • $\begingroup$ the enclosure means "Printer enclosure" or "printer chamber". It does not apply to an item that you might want to print to enclose electronics (aka: housing). $\endgroup$ – Trish Jul 4 '19 at 16:00
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I recently started using ABS - while easily printable, you'll really want to use a filter or make sure to use the printer in a well ventilated area because of the fumes.

With your required temperature range of only 60°C, PETG would also be a viable as an easier and safer to print alternative. However, it is not smoothable with acetone like ABS is, though you can get very high-quality surface finish from the raw print if you build a decent printer.

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ABS should be able to handle the the temperatures you describe. ABS will have a similar finish to PLA when it first comes off the printer, but you can refine and smooth your results via an acetone vapor treatment. This only takes a few minutes per piece, and can cost as little as a $1 bottle of fingernail polish remover, a used coffee can, a bit of wire, and some paper towels.

What you're missing is the hobby-level 3D printers ($1000 and below) can be extremely finicky. You're not gonna get the kind of quality you need the first print out of the gate. Or the second. Probably not the third or fourth, either. And then you'll find every now and then something isn't quite right any more, and you'll need to troubleshoot why.

You certainly can make this work... just be prepared for what you're getting into.

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  • $\begingroup$ So I could potentially avoid the hobby level printer downsides by having manufacturing done by a company that specialises in 3d printing? Did I understand it correctly? $\endgroup$ – Alex Jul 4 '19 at 5:05
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    $\begingroup$ Or injection molding or similar. $\endgroup$ – Joel Coehoorn Jul 4 '19 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ note that acetone smoothing also increases inter layer bonding, making the parts more sturdy. $\endgroup$ – Trish Jul 4 '19 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JoelCoehoorn well Prusa produces parts for their prints routinely. A good printer can work very well for long time, but indeed every 1000-2000 hours of operation (three times a year?) some minor maintenance is required. $\endgroup$ – FarO Dec 19 '19 at 16:49
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Hire someone on fiver or upwork to design it for you, and then hire a company to make them for you out of ABS. Then you can do the smoothing yourself. If you're getting into 3d printing so that you can be cost effective on just one design, the outsource it. If you are planning to do different designs over that year, then pick it up yourself. If you want quality now, however, then outsource.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I'll probably need to do different designs and iterate until I get the desired combination between shape and function. $\endgroup$ – Alex Jul 4 '19 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Alex, well good luck then. $\endgroup$ – user77232 Jul 4 '19 at 14:13
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ABS would be ok for these temperatures. But 3d-printing, cleaning up the print and smoothing the surface to get a marketable device takes time and effort. So I guess that for a few hundred enclosures you'd be far better/cheaper off having them manufactured (in China?) than trying to print them yourself. Unless the design changes often of course.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm a bit concerned with the quality if I go straight to China. I know that finding a reliable supplier there is very tricky. I'll probably try and do it in Europe first . $\endgroup$ – Alex Jul 4 '19 at 5:07
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What you could also try is ASA. It is similar to ABS and is really strong.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, could you expand upon your answer somewhat, as it is a little terse. It has been flagged as NAA and should be converted to a comment. I thought I'd give you a chance to expand it first, otherwise it probably will be converted to a comment to the question. $\endgroup$ – Greenonline Jul 7 '19 at 1:01

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