WORKSHOP VIDEO #31: Sick of Beige standard PCB templates and cases

in Videos by Ian | 26 comments

Are you sick of beige project boxes that hide your cool board and hard work? Wouldn’t it be cool if your project was case ready from the first revision?

Sick of Beige cases are simple protectors and enclosures for hobby electronics project. Design your project with our standard PCB templates and it’s ready for an enclosure.

Getting the Bus Pirate into a case we like has been a years-long journey. Sample after sample has been nothing but a boring beige box. Sick standard beige cases that hide your project under an ugly veneer. From Tokyo to Seoul to Shenzhen, the same dull containers where projects go to die.

No more! We’re sick of beige. Forum member dsm helped us create a set of standard PCB templates to use with our projects, and a couple simple case designs that match. These square and golden-rectangle shaped templates are designed to fit in the free version of Eagle, and the inexpensive PCB services offered by Seeed Studio and others.

The templates serve many purposes. First, they make life a lot easier on case designers – dsm would appreciate consistency between revisions. Second, user-created cases, and our own cases, can be more interchangeable. Maybe a case designed for Bus Pirate v3 will still fit v4 with no changes. Maybe an investment in an injection mold can be spread over many projects. Maybe that cool case on Shapeways will fit your project perfectly the first time.

Standards are great, but we actually have to use them. To make it effortless we made a Cadsoft Eagle part library with the standard PCB templates. Just toss the template on a schematic and you have a board with the correct dimensions and placement, ready for routing.

Our most common size so far is a 60mm x 37mm board (DP6037) used on the Bus Pirate v3.6, upcoming Bus Pirate v4, LCD adapter, and others. The ATX Breakout Board v1.1 uses the maximum Eagle 100mmx80mm template that isn’t really a golden-ratio rectangle.

To demonstrate the templates we knocked up two dead-simple, open source Sick of Beige compatible cases kits. Both sandwich a PCB between two sheets of clear laser cut acrylic. Everything is held together with aluminum standoffs and bolts. They are easy to assemble and cheap, cheap, cheap – only $3 at Seeed.

There’s no way to make a completely interchangeable case, but open source to the rescue. Customize our open source files and have your own custom laser cut cases made. Seeed will cut 5 copies of a design for as little as $7.50. We’ll show you how to cut customized cases next week.

Taking it further, we plan to try a batch of cases using a 3D printed standoff designed by dsm called called ‘Scheme G’. Magnets connect the case halves instead of screws, so it breaks apart fast for easy hacking.

Seeed has the DP6037 Bus Pirate v3.6 case on sale, as well as the DP6037 blank case for only $3. We hope to have Sick of Beige cases for all our projects soon.

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Comments

  1. Taniwha says:

    This is excellent …. but the word is “veneer”

  2. Mats says:

    While you’re at it, could you please make two more sizes?

    I think that 50x50mm and 100x100mm would be a great addition to the nice golden ratio ones so it would be possible to utilize the full area of the two most common Seeed/Itead board sizes.

  3. Raja Balu says:

    Thanks Ian. And many thanks to dsm. This case idea and its design is cool. I really like it.

    I like the magnetic snap option as it is so much more easier to open and flash something new or press a button. But, I was wondering whether you could just keep the standoffs in the board (change to steel that will stick to magnets instead of aluminium) and then just glue the magnets on the acrylic (inside a recess). If this were possible then there is no need for 3D printing. I like the 3D printed red buttons, but, just thought about running this past you, as you said, there is some additional costs involved. I am sure you guys thought about all this and there should be some downside to my idea.

    I have a Logic Sniffer, do you guys plan on any case design for it (without the wing). Since we have to keep the probe length really short, I always feel that some stray wire might short some thing on the Sniffer board.

    Also I really like the Bus Pirate. I am waiting for 4.0 to stabilize (I am not a big fan of swapping firmware in V3). How long do you think it would take V4 to move from experimental to ‘Well proven, trustworthy’ ? :) Don’t laugh, these are your terminologies.

    I wish you have a safe and pleasant trip. Have fun in Singapore. And, keep up the good work.

    • Ian says:

      Hi Raja,

      Your idea is interesting. I hope by standardizing on a well thought-out board it makes it easier to make all kinds of cases.

      I think by firmware v7 Bus Pirate v4 will be ready. When it goes seven it has my blessing :)

  4. Brent says:

    To be honest I would rather see a form factor that fits nicely into a simple Hammond box. They are cheap, come in lots of sizes and colours and would be a lot sturdier. Maybe a good cross usage would be to design plastic carrier boards to fit the pcb’s into the boxes.

    • Ian says:

      Some of the stomp boxes look ok, but I wasn’t thrilled with them. I’d be happy to add a couple common sizes to our library if you know of any useful ones.

  5. victor says:

    Magnets could easily break apart when accidentally dropped. Wing nuts could allow easy openning without tools.

  6. dsm says:

    Although SchemeG uses 3D printed standoffs and neodymium magnets to create an enclosure that is stronger than you might think, this approach is really intended for ordinary lab usage or hanging out in your pocket. If you want a more rugged case, you might want to combine the metal hardware from the Seeed Studio kit with thumbscrews – there is already some information on that in the SoB forum thread.

    One of the big advantages of the SoB approach is that it provides long term stability for board sizes and the case dimensions. People can now feel more confident about designing boards and cases that will work together.

    • Ian says:

      One of the big advantages of the SoB approach is that it provides long term stability for board sizes and the case dimensions. People can now feel more confident about designing boards and cases that will work together.

      That sums it up perfectly.

      I don’t really want to go into the case business, I want to make it easier for opensource case designers to work with our projects and build cases people can get on Shapeways, etc.

  7. Brian says:

    The question this video prompts for me is where to get lots of 3D printing done cheap or an injection mold company that would be okay to use.

    • Ian says:

      Protomold is a US based company with online quotes. I find them very expensive compared to any random company in china. Scheme G both pieces can be done for $3000 in China, and I think protomold wanted $4000+ per piece (edited for accurate price).

  8. Phill says:

    By the time your done with all this amazing designing and effort involved im sure you would of spent the same effort in making a clear “actual” case. These top+Bottom plate things can allow to many problems for real world use. Any metal object inside your project = nightmare. Drop it on the floor = dust and other craps.

    These big manufacturers have the quality but no clue what we want. I’m all for your drive in getting beige out. It’s cheap and nasty.

    All i’m saying is use the common formats for sizes, take hammond’s. Then add some usb dongle sizes and some instrument panel cut out cases. Do it in clear. Your laughing, were laughing, everyone’s happy! Ditch this top+ bottom stuff.

    • Ian says:

      All great recommendations. Our main goal is to make it easier for DIY and open source kit makers to work with our stuff. I’m not a physical designer, and have no intention of entering the case business. Our simple cases are just a cheapie demo we could put together fast.

    • dsm says:

      Most of the transparent Hammond cases are made of polycarbonate or ABS. These materials are not allowed on most laser-cutters (vaporized polycarbonate or ABS plastic fumes damage the laser optics) meaning that case openings would have to be drilled or milled. I suspect that you vastly underestimate the time, expense, and effort of getting even one new two-part injection-molded custom case fabricated, let alone an entire series of custom cases fabricated, by any of the large case manufacturers.

      The SoB case scheme is intended to be a relatively low cost, simple to prototype, highly flexible enclosure design scheme intended for light-duty applications – ordinary lab usage or hanging out in your pocket. If you want a case that is more rugged or more tightly sealed, there are already some suggestions about how to accomplish that in the SoB forum thread.

  9. voidptr says:

    I really like the idea , it’s nice to have future affordable clear case :-)
    a lot better than clear shrink :oP

    here another idea, instead of screw spacers why not make also a border plastic layer (a center empty rectangle), who will have the same outside size but only touch the board on your already defined zone.
    by stacking those layers with top and bottom we can have a nice case with closed sides.
    by stacking 1 or many of those layer we can make custom case deep has we want…

    what do you thing of this ? :o)

  10. voidptr says:

    lol i should had read all other blog post, arhi and other people already gave the same suggestions … :o)

  11. ken says:

    Anyone have a clever solution to seal (or at least mostly seal) the sides of the enclosure?
    The magnetic SchemeG posts are pretty cool too :-)

    And can EagleCAD route into the “keepout” zone? i.e., what’s the reason for the recommended keepout zone?

    • Ian says:

      The general reason for the keep out is so nothing interferes with the clearance needed for the standoffs. Also so no traces get mangled by being under a tight hex screw or other standoff. Eagle autorouter (which we never use) will avoid the keepout, and it will through a design rule check error if you manually route that area or put a component there.

  12. John says:

    Love the SOB design will be USI g them for almost all of my new designs. Great job.

    I do have one suggestion. Currently the “Reference point for each board is located in the lower left corner. That makes it harder to match all of the sides to the grid if yor not using a metric grid. It allow makes it harder to change or test different sizes.

    What I did was to take all of the SOB templates and set the reverence point to the center of the board. This makes it much easier to switch boards plus it keeps all of the edges aligned to the grid even when not using a metric grid. I suggest you do the same on the next update to the library.

    • vimark says:

      Hi John, we’ve implement and updated our eagle lib. Thank you for the nice suggestion as it should indeed need to move those anchor points to its center just like any other part footprint.

      • I’m not sure that I fully understand what you’ll change. But for me it seems logical to have the origin/anchor point of the SOB board templates in the lower left corner. This makes it easy to just drag it to (0 0) in the layout which is the point I always originate my boards from.

        Having the origin of the board template in the center would mean that I have to calculate width/2 and height/2 of the board and offset it there.

        Doesn’t everybody use a metric grid for smd boards nowdays? :-) But I must admit that I prefer route my boards on a imperial 8 mil grid rather than a 0.2 or 0.25 mm grid. But placement is always in metric.

  13. dsm says:

    I strongly agree with MATS about leaving the origin of the board in the bottom left corner (or actually off the board in line with the bottom edge and left edge of the board because of the corner radius). This is more or less standard industry practice because it allows component coordinates to all be positive. If you really want to shift your individual board design to have a center origin, most PCB layout programs allow you to shift the layout origin and layout units as needed during the layout process.

    In the past, when components had through-hole footprints on a 0.1″ grid, using an imperial “inch” grid made sense. Now, when most components have surface-mount footprints on a metric grid, using a “metric” grid makes sense.

    Before I start any layout, I always create a spreadsheet for each component (connectors, LEDs, switches, displays, board outline, etc.) that might interact with the packaging or the user. I use this spreadsheet to accurately place these components, not necessarily the board grid.

    dsm

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