Enclosure design is an important part of many real-life projects. However, up until very recently, it is considered an after-thought in most senior projects. This is the first time that our senior project courses will not only consider enclosure design from the very beginning, but you actually get to have your enclosure designs manufactured here on campus, for free! Thanks to a new service called RapidTech, located on the 4th floor of Engineering Tower here at UCI, you will be able to submit your 3D designs, with the Professor’s approval, and RapidTech will assign a work-study student (from Saddleback College, working on UCI campus) to handle the design review and manufacturing.
What you need is a 3D Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tool. CAD tools used to be very expensive, but nowadays they are very affordable or even free.
- RapidTech by default uses SolidWorks, which is also used in mechanical engineering and other disciplines. The student license for SolidWorks costs about $100. RapidTech accepts files in STL format.
- Google Sketchup is a free, easy to use 3D modeling tool that can also be used for enclosure design. Originally designed for modeling buildings for GoogleEarth, Google Sketchup is also powerful enough to handle sophisticated geometries. The Pro version costs around $500, but the free version is plenty powerful and has been used successfully by many to make enclosures. Another very useful feature is that there are many free, public-domain models contributed by many of its users, allowing you to put together very powerful 3D illustrations using existing components.
To have your 3D model manufactured for free, you will need to get a letter from the Professor to state that you are a student in the senior design course. You should allow time to get early feedback on the design. They may choose to make the 3D model in a variety of materials. Sand+glue type is usually done first to make an early shape for visualization purpose, and the turnaround time can be 1-2 hours, but it is more brittle and requires more curing to be stronger or water-tight. Once the shape is confirmed, then a plastic model can be made, but it can take anywhere from 10-18 hours per shape, depending on how sophisticated it is. They may also batch a few print jobs to save time and cost. Expect a 2-3 day turnaround time in that case, depending on how busy they are.