I get several requests a month for info on what it would cost to make a case for a number of different projects. So rather than repeat the same line over and over again, I’ve decided to set a few guide lines and post them here. By referring to these key points, you’ll be able to get a good idea of what the project will run you and why.
The question I get most often is “How much would you charge to make me a casing?” This you may not realize is a very open ended question.
So to make it easy, I have a set standard $50 minimum labor charge for every case project I take on, plus return shipping and any material I need to buy to produce the job. That covers the first hour, set-up costs and basic project preparation.
After that first hour, a set labor charge of $25/hr is applied. Don’t let that scare you because most of the time, all labor charges will be covered under the first hour. But it all depends on the complexity of the project and how many cases you need.
So what do you need to tell me if I am to produce your casing?
Info that is absolutely essential is:
Is This Going to CNC Cutting of Pre-Made Enclosure, Vacuum Formed or 3D Printed?
If CNC Cutting of A Pre-Made Enclosure:
- Do you already have a Case Style & CAD file ready: Polycase.com is an amazing solution for modders who want to put their projects in a sturdy and reliable enclosure. What’s better is they provide 3D CAD models with for all there parts, making face cut design a breeze. However, what makes this easier is if you already have a .dxf or .sld (Solidworks) file all ready to go. But, I understand that is also no easy task if you don’t have any design background. In such a situation, a hand drawn layout with dimensions will do, but keep in mind this is where that $50 can get eaten up pretty quick as design from scratch can take a great deal of time.
- Are you going to need “Edge Cuts”: Edge cuts are just like they say, they are cuts along the edges of the casing. Now Polycase is good with their edge pieces being separate pieces all together, which then can be milled on a flat surface like any other face cut. However, some cases can’t and my CNC machine only has a 2.5″ vertical travel which isn’t high enough for even a 4″ wide casing. (The SL-68 is a good example of one that I couldn’t do with the CNC). However, I also have a vertical mill which can make these cuts, however it is not CNC, it is manual. So though the precision factor won’t be as 100% as the CNC is, it still avoids the drill, file and sand routine that I used to have to do. But expect edge cuts of any kind will take more time.
- Will you be shipping the case directly to me: My suggestion is that you do. Polycase’s shipping is steep (the one thing I don’t like about them) and if you’re going to send them to me anyway, there’s no real point in reshipping it to me from your location.
- What’s your quantity: One thing that I do recommend to buyers is not to be afraid to buy in batches. Getting these cut isn’t cheap because I can’t afford to do it for just the fun of it anymore. I need to make a little bit of money but I also don’t like charging a premium for something that’s little more than a hobby for most. Consider that most of these cuts are going to run you $50 minimum for one. But, if you get three cut at once, the most that will most likely run is $75. (This is for pre-made enclosures only, vacuum forming requires far more work) You’ve then effectively cut the price in half as it’s much quicker to cut the cases once the set-up and CAD files are complete. On top of that, Polycase’s shipping will be the same for 1 or 3 cases (usually), so you save on that as well. More is less in this case (no pun intended) and you’ll have an enclosure or two around for the next project.
Is This Case Going To Be Vacuum Formed?
If Vacuum Forming:
- Overall Dimensions of The Case: Preferable a drawing with dimensions. This will determine if the project is even within my range of forming (which more than likely is). This also tells me if I’ll be needing one or two sheets of plastic which is a significant cost in the process, normally around $8.50 a sheet measuring 16″ x 19″.
- Do You Need a Mold Produced: Or do you have one already made and just need it to be formed? Time is the critical issue here as making the wooden molds is quite often the most time consuming part of the process. Requiring me to make the mold will result in usually two or more hours of work and thus another big expense towards the casing. Complexity of the mold can also make a big difference in the time it takes as well, especially if it has multiple parts or tight spaces. I have no problem with complex, but understand the fancier the design the longer it takes and costs go up.
- Do You Need A Final Cut and Fit: Forming is one thing but cutting to size and matching the edges takes time and adds additional costs.
- Do You Need A CNC Final Cut: If so, please apply the upper questions to this line. Keep in mind this will add a great deal of time depending on how much work the first one takes and because each case has to be formed by hand, the price break per unit is not going to be a great as if using a pre-made enclosure.
- Shipping: Where is it going and don’t forget that the average USPS priority shipment costs about $10-$15 dollars to ship in the US. Other countries could be more. Consider this in your pricing calculations.
Is This Case Going to be 3D Printed?
This is a newer service that I can do since I acquired a fairly standard FDM 3D Printer with a build plate of 5.75″ x 8.75″ x 5.5″ Build Height
3D Printing has it’s advantages but it’s imperfections need to be considered if you want a quality, smooth looking casing. It is also the most time consuming of all the options to create from scratch. The main benefit though as far as case making is concerned is the ability to put in screw standoffs and mounting brackets among other things. The downside is the prints need post finishing and can take hours to print and there is a higher fail rate per print. Often times to get the best results, 3D Printing and CNC need to be combined to get the “Pro-Quality” result. All this needs to be considered if you wish to go the 3D Printed route. Now, here is a list of questions that need to be asked.
If 3D Printing
- Do You Need A 3D Model Produced: Building the case model from scratch is the most time consuming part and if you wish to have standoffs and mounting brackets applied to the print, the case has to be designed around the components that are going in there. This can take weeks and not recommended as a custom option outside of a full-fledged portable console job because there are too many variables. So, if you do not have a 3D Model ready, you probably don’t want to go the 3D Printed route.
- Is Your 3D Model Exported Properly: OK, you’ve got a 3D model and you need it printer. Though I use Solidworks which can import just about any 3D drawing/model file, the printer relies on .STL files to generate the G-Code the machine needs to run. Having your files ready as .STLs will speed up the process.
- What Material Will You Like to Print With: ABS or PLA are my two options. ABS is stronger and easier to machine/sand but requires heat and has a high fail rate. PLA is more brittle and weaker, but is an easier print.
- Do You Want To Have Your Model CNC’d: You will get the best result if you go this route. It does require more set-up and design work to make it conducive to mill, but the clean edges this makes vs the imperfect 3D printing on it’s own is a nice benefit.
Having these options considered ahead of time will greatly speed up the process and help to ensure you’ll be happy with the end product. Don’t be afraid to be overly specific or detailed with your drawings, every little detail can make a large impact on the overall structure and if you’re paying for this I want you to be as satisfied as you can be! But with this said, take in consideration the costs with the service level when you plan your project and see if this is a route you’d like to go.
Below I’ve broken down some of the costs I incur and pass on to you when I do a project. This will give you an idea as to why I charge what I do.
- $50 Per Job Minimum and $25/hr after that. As I work 50 hours a week at my primary job, my free time is extremely valuable to me. And though I love doing this kind of stuff, it competes with my free time for other things as well. And in all honesty, $25 an hour for this kind of custom work is not outrageous.
- Plastic for Vacuum Forming. Right now I can only take one size of plastic, 16″ x 19″ for any sized job. Right now one sheet that sizes costs me $8.50 each. X2 for most projects, that’s $17.
- Wood Molds For Vacuum Forming. Cheap but usually about $2 or $3 per project mold.
- Electric and misc expenses. These units make my electric meter spin and little things like cut discs, sand paper and even spray paint costs money and that is something that can’t be overlooked. Still, this only adds a few bucks to the project.
- Plastic Filament. This is around $30/kg. Most projects can be done for a few $ per case and will be added to the total.
- Machine Time. 3D Printing takes a long time and the machine hours add up. A $.50/hr surcharge will be added per hour the printer is running your project. This will go to cover small replacement/repairs to the machine like replacing Kapton Tape or Extruder heads that ware out after awhile.