Vacuum Formed Project Enclosure

Vacuum formed plastic over a circuit board

Vacuum form styrene over a stepper motor circuit board, for a quick custom project enclosure.

 

For this project you will be using a stepper motor, JST cables and connectors, proto-board, and styrene (0.04″ thick).

Stepper motor, wires, connectors, and circuit board

 

Vacuum forming can create plastic “shells” over solid parts.  This dental vacuum former can create small shells.  Cut the styrene into 6″ x 6″ squares and load one square into the former.

Small vacuum former

Cut the styrene into 6″ x 6″ squares and load one square into the former.  The video below shows the machine in action.

 

Use a Perma-Proto Quarter-sized Breadboard PCB to solder up the H-Bridge circuit.  The trick is to keep your wiring very tight and close to the proto-board, no daylight between wires and board.  Also, use connectors and 90 degree header pins and keep them close to the edge.  Make sure your circuit is functioning and well made before going any further.

Motor controller circuit board and connectors

 

Tape off any exposed connectors.  Tape around cables.  Use painter tape.

Circuit board with connectors covered in painters tape

 

Place your circuit in the vacuum former with connectors plugged in.  You may have to tape components in place with painters tape.  Heat the styrene and vacuum form over the circuit board.

Circuit board with vacuum formed plastic

Plastic vacuum formed over a circuit board

While the plastic is still warm, gently remove the circuit board from the styrene.  Take care not to break any components or wires.

 

Trim off excess styrene with the band saw and rough sand to shape on the power sander.

Roughly cut out plastic vacuum formed over a circuit board

 

Using sandpaper and small files clean up the edges and expose the connector holes.

Circuit board with cleaned up vacuum formed plastic

 

Place the styrene over the circuit, it should fit snugly.  Make sure all connectors fit.

Circuit board covered with vacuum formed plastic with cables and connectors

Circuit board covered with vacuum formed plastic with cables connected

 

Using a laser cut bottom piece and two 4-40 screws and nuts, assemble it all together.

You can use a permanent marker to label your enclosure (Arduino pins, 5 volts, 12 volts, etc.).

 

Tips

How long you heat up the plastic before forming determines how tight or loose the enclosure will be.  The image below shows an enclosure on the left heated for twice as long as the one on the right.

The less you heat up the styrene, the easier it will be to remove from the circuit board.

Vacuum formed plastic heated at different temperatures