Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Mounting options

In Hardware on Sep 27, 2009 at 00:01

I’ve been getting some questions about mounting options for the JeeNode lately. And once some plugs are out, that same issue is going to come up for these too, no doubt.

There are no mounting holes in the JeeNode. The reason for this is that it would increase the size by quite a bit (one hole isn’t enough, even two is debatable), which in turn could actually reduce the options for using a JeeNode since it would be larger than the current design.

The basic solution for this for me, is to treat the JeeNode as a module that plugs onto something else – be it a generic board such as the Jeeboard idea I described a while back, or a custom board created for a specific application.

Here is an example of a JeeNode with an LCD display:

Picture 2.png

Note that the JeeNode is mounted upside down, with the components facing downwards.

But where do you go from there? One approach would be to place a transparent acrylic plastic panel over this entire thing, with some stand-off’s to create a sandwich consisting of base panel, JeeNode and other components, and the acrylic panel on top. That’s the geeky way to do it: make the electronics visible!

I’m not sure I’d always want that. I also like things which are “closed”, with only control/display functions visible, and the whole thing having a nice and calm front plate.

This would be an intermediate solution – a clean front panel hiding all the techy stuff underneath it:

Picture 3.png

Still open on the side, where the connectors, power jacks, and even simple controls switches could be located.

The reason why all this awkward compromising is needed of course, is that with only single units (or say a few dozen kits), there is simply no way to get custom enclosures made that are affordable and also really look sweet – a JeeNode is not an iPhone!

Here are a few other options I’ve been pondering about:

  • Cardboard – design a fold-up box and print it out as template for a DIY cardboard enclosure. Would be very low-cost, but not very sturdy. And it looks a bit cheap…
  • Wood – this is the classical enclosure: a lot of work, but you can make it look any way you like, if you’re willing to go through all that. Takes a lot of craftsmanship.
  • Sandwiched foam – of the kind used as poster board for photographs. Again, a DIY design which you’d have to cut out and assemble yourself. Probably not easy to get real clean edges, cutouts, and holes. Not truly sturdy.
  • Acrylic front – as described above: a base pcb with everything mounted on it and the acrylic as cover on top. The you-can-see-what’s-inside option. Not easy to do yourself without a laser cutter or CNC router.
  • Aluminum front – this is a variation of the acrylic front. End result is no longer transparent, but creating a clean panel with labels is not trivial.
  • Prefab box – this is what many hobbyists do: get a plastic box, and drill holes and cut-outs in it, possibly also with an aluminum faceplate. Again, hard to get a nice clean result without a CNC router. But to be honest, I don’t think these (mostly black) boxes look that spiffy…

I really would love to find a nice generic solution for this. Right now, since pcbs are already being made completely to specification, and because they end up looking quite nice, I’m inclined to look for solutions with either the front, the back, or perhaps even both made of pcb material. With SMT components, most if not all through-holes can be avoided, leaving the back side available for all sorts of visible cutouts and labeling.

So what’s the solution? Just let everyone figure this out for themselves? Start saving for a laser cutter or a CNC router to be able to provide simple but accurately machined parts? To be honest, I wouldn’t mind doing the CNC thing – but until it becomes clear what a desirable result should look like, there’s little point picking any tool!

And then there’s plugs and daisy-chained plugs…

If you’ve got further suggestions or ideas on how to come up with kits that not only work well but also make the end result look really nice, please let me know!

  1. You don’t need to buy the laser cutter (>US$5,000) or the CNC (~US$1,000), there are third parties that can provide the services. One of them is (laser cutting). I am waiting for a batch of plexiglass panels I had laser-cut by them. I hope they come out good.

    • Yes, Pololu looks like a nice option. There is also for other materials (I don’t know what these names mean or why they are so similar).

      But knowing myself, I’m not sure I can get designs out which are right the first time – as the pcb’s I’ve made so far keep reminding me… :(

      A local production facility, even if crude and limited, might help fail often and early without the huge costs and delays associated with remote production houses. But you’re absolutely right, these machines carry hefty price tags!

  2. I have a CNC milling machine and will be experimenting with producing some cases for the JeeNodes that I have on order. My family and I are clumsy enough to need full, durable enclosures if we are to live with them.

    Most likely I will cut them out of billet 6061 aluminum so they will be very strong compared to your average sheet-metal hobbyist box. My current thinking is to leave room for 3 AAA batteries and an SMA pigtail since the box will shield the RF module. I’ll probably make a couple of different configurations: LCD + a few buttons + JeeNode, Room plug + JeeNode, etc.

    If there’s some interest I’ll post my CAD files and perhaps offer some kits for people without access to a mill. I’m still at the very early stages of thinking about this project but I’ll post more to the forum when I get further along.

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