Thursday, December 6, 2012

Test Driving Polycase's Customization Service

Polycase is a U.S. manufacturer of plastic enclosures for electronics. Since display mounting is a hot topic with our customers, we decided to test-drive Polycase's customization service to see what it would take to mount a 2x16 LCD or OLED in a sturdy ABS case. (We've previously reported on other mounting solutions.)

Quick Summary

In less than a month, at a total cost of less than $200, Polycase modified ten small enclosures to our specs. We now have a custom part number, and can reorder the customized box in any quantity at a sliding price scale; the sweet spot being 100 pieces at $3.09 each. Here's how it went:

Recycling the Front Panel Design

We previously tried Front Panel Express, and really liked the "flush mount" design that put the protective display window (BEZ-216) in a shallow recess in the test panel. Their Front Panel Designer software can export designs in DXF and SVG file formats, so we moved the flush-mount design into Inkscape to prepare a drawing for Polycase. The cutout, recess and screw holes were assigned to their own layers and placed over a sketch of the desired enclosure (TS-1741F) copied from the Polycase PDF specs.

In addition to the 2D outlines of the cutout, recess and screw holes, we figured Polycase engineers would need to know the depth of the recess (0.65mm to match the thickness of the BEZ-216 polycarbonate faceplate) and specs of the screw holes (82° countersunk with a generous 4.5mm surface opening to ensure that the screw heads would be flat/below the surface).

Polycase Quote Process

Simple instructions
Armed with a basic design, we hit Polycase's Quick Quote page, and found that a  detailed drawing wasn't needed in order to get a quote. The quote generator is based on a super-simple scoring system: Tell it which box you want, how many "surfaces" will be modified, and how many "features" are involved, and it spits out the pricing. Only needed to consult the help screen to find out that
  • A "surface" is one face of the box: top, bottom, sides; inside and out. 
  • A "feature" is a discrete cutting operation, like drilling a hole or cutting an outline.
Our design involves one surface.  With one recess, one cutout and four holes it scores 10 features--the extra four features being the countersinks for the screws.

We filled in the form and got an instant quote:
  • One-time Machining Charge: $100.00
  • 10 Enclosures at 9.66 each = $96.60
  • Lead Time: 3 weeks
It's possible to order a single modified enclosure, but the pricing structure argues against it. In quantity one, our box would have cost $68.50.

Placing the Order

Here's the chronology of the ordering process:
  • 7 November, end of day: Submitted purchase order and drawings (in SVG and PDF; they used PDF). 
  • 9 November: Polycase sales rep called for credit-card number. 
  • 13 November: Polycase engineering emailed a detailed PDF drawing of their design for approval. Reviewed it carefully and found no errors; emailed approval.
  • 5 December: Received completed order via UPS Ground. 


Checking the Results

Naturally, the first thing we did when the boxes arrived was mount a display (a GLO-216Y; could have used a garden-variety 2x16 LCD, but where's the fun in that?). The process was the same as for the Front Panel Express test-drive, and went perfectly.

Then a digital caliper was applied to the cuts, which turned out to be exactly to spec. All of the boxes were clean, shiny, and free of tool marks, blemishes or defects.

Final Thoughts

All enclosure manufacturers offer custom machining, but most require submitting specs to an applications engineer before you can get even a ballpark estimate. Polycase's online-quote system, low setup charge, and streamlined process remove the barriers to creating a custom enclosure for even short-run products. We were highly impressed and would not hesitate to recommend Polycase to our customers.


  1. Hmm. It's been a few years since you wrote the article. Still worth asking. Is the Panel Express custom part number still available and can third-parties use it to order additional pieces? It's a beautiful simple display. I wish more (any) companies offered something similar.

  2. Please contact me directly at I think I can fix you up.