My employer makes very small production runs of instruments (typically 5 in a batch). We use off the shelf diecast metal boxes for the electronics, these are drilled / milled / painted / silk screened and typically cost about £100. I was wondering if anyone here had tried metal boxes made by any of the rapid prototyping techniques (I gather laser sintering is the one used for e.g. steel powder) and if the costs have dropped enough now to be worth considering for small runs? I can see various advantages such as:
- no larger than they need to be
- steel may be more suitable than diecast aluminium for our applications
- PCB / hardware mounting features integrated
- no human error when someone drills a hole in the wrong place or forgets to countersink a hole
Of course they will still need painting (unless the finish is pleasing to the eye) and silk screening (unless we mould lettering into them). But it could be a sexy way to package our products and save time in production.
Apart from cost information I'd be interested in other views of their pros and cons. We don't need vast strength or really complex shapes. I used plastic rapid prototyping about 6 years ago, it was quite expensive then.