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Which Plastic Enclosure For My Handheld Electronics?

How to specifiy handheld enclosures

Your Design Challenges

Handheld enclosures must meet significantly higher expectation levels than their desktop or wall mounted counterparts. If a user is going to be holding an enclosure then it must feel absolutely right. It must look and feel as if it has been designed specifically for that task – and no other.

The perfect handheld enclosure is one that doesn’t look or feel standard in any way. The user should have no idea that the housing is standard – it must seem bespoke, custom-molded for that device. Hence the huge (and sometimes bewildering) array of shapes and sizes of handheld enclosures on offer. And often their capabilities overlap; there is likely to be more than one housing capable of meeting your requirements, no matter how specialist they may be.

Here’s how to specify the best handheld enclosure(s) for your electronics…

Get The Basics Right

You may have been tempted to start with a certain size of PCB – and now you’re trying to find an enclosure that is big enough to house it but small enough to be comfortable to hold. That ‘PCB first’ approach might sound logical but it’s actually a mistake: if possible you should specify the enclosure first.

Going down the ‘enclosure first’ route is always best because it prompts you to configure your circuit board layout in the most efficient way. You will save space. That’s important for any electronic device – but never more so than for handheld or wearable electronics. They’re almost always small.

Read our essential guide to specifying plastic enclosures for electronics >> 

How Will You Power Your Device?

Batteries or cable? Unlike wall mounted and desktop electronics, handheld devices are much more likely to be powered by a battery. And which cells you specify could dictate whether or not you will get to have your desired standard enclosure.

What if the enclosure you want doesn’t have the ‘right’ standard battery cradle for the cells you’re considering? You may need to consider custom machining and/or custom molding work. In the worst case scenario you may have to go with your second choice case simply because it has the ‘right’ battery compartment and cradle. And that’s not ideal.

Does the enclosure you want offer an optional desk dock for charging and data transfer? And does it offer it in the size you need? Will you be using inductive charging? Or will you need to specify custom machining to accommodate contacts? One smart option is to specify an enclosure such as DATEC-COMPACT (IP 41/65) which you can specify with contacts.

Touchscreen, Keypad Or Buttons?

Your ideal handheld enclosure should have a generously recessed top section to accommodate a membrane keypad and – ideally – other flat surfaces that offer space for buttons or connectors. And that’s more of a challenge than it sounds because flat surfaces and hard edges will never be as comfortable and as ergonomic as soft contours. Remember that your device’s natural habitat is a complex piece of bio-engineering called the human hand – and that Mother Nature abhors straight lines; curves are much more her thing.

Look at any OKW handheld enclosure and you’ll see that they all feature a recess for display, membrane keypad or product label. And that they have gently rounded edges for comfort (especially the newer models). But you’ll also see flat surfaces for connectors. Take a housing such as HAND-TERMINAL (IP 65). This tough case is designed to survive challenging industrial environments and the great outdoors (it’s molded from an ABS/polycarbonate blend for added strength).

Look at the photos in detail and you’ll see that HAND-TERMINAL has a comfortable curved back that makes it pleasant to hold for extended periods, a huge recessed top…along with flat sides if you need to fit a big emergency stop button for machine control. And harking back to the previous section, HAND-TERMINAL also offers a choice of power options: cable or battery compartment (4 x AA, 1 x 9V or 2 x 9V).

Indoor Or Outdoor Use?

It’s hard to believe how much damage the Sun’s rays can do to plastic – until you see it for yourself (or feel a piece of UV-faded plastic split or break as you pick it up); this is the flipside to those tales you hear of plastics lasting thousands of years.

Many handheld devices are destined for life outdoors; that’s the whole point of making them small and portable. And that rules out ABS for some applications. ABS is a good all-round plastic – hence its enduring popularity over the years – but it struggles to cope with prolonged exposure to UV rays. So specify an enclosure molded from UV-stable ASA or a blend such as ASA+PC-FR which offers the added strength of polycarbonate and a superior flammability rating.

And don’t assume that UV stability is purely an ‘outdoor’ issue. Plenty of enclosures destined to spend their entire lives indoors need the added protection. Increasingly we are specifying ASA as the plastic of choice for newer models such as wearable BODY-CASE  or ultra-ergonomic STYLE-CASE. That is particularly important for the healthcare sector because high-gloss ASA is easy to keep clean and looks great (an important consideration – nobody wants to be treated with medical equipment that looks old and tired).

Read our guide to plastics used for electronics enclosures >>

Remote Control – Wired Or Wireless?

This is one of the key applications for small handheld devices. Most will be wireless but some are wired. For wireless remotes, you will need enclosures that offer infrared PMMA as a standard material. You could specify it as a custom option but going standard is quicker and easier.

Handheld enclosures that offer PMMA as standard include: STYLE-CASE (2 x 1.5V AAA for sizes S, M or 2 x 1.5V AA for size L) , SMART-CASE (AAA, AA, 9V or 12V round cell), SOFT-CASE (2 x AAA, 2 x AA, 4 x AA or 1 x 9V), DATEC-POCKET-BOX (AA, AAA and 9V) and award-winning MINITEC.

Wired enclosures for remote control are less common so the choice is not as wide. But it pays to go for a dedicated wired enclosure because they will include important technical features. Look for benefits such as:

  • pre-fitted cable glands – saving you specification and assembly time
  • cable glands with kink protection and integrated strain relief
  • ergonomic curves for comfort, a recessed top for a keypad and a flat area for the cable gland.

CONNECT is our leading wired enclosure because its snap-together construction offers you a choice of two ‘fronts’ (one convex, the other flat/recessed) – and the capacity to accommodate cable glands at both ends. Store it in a wall-mount holder (accessory) or simply let it hang from its wire (the cable strain relief is strong). Accessories also include a holding clamp for rails – perfect for hospitals.

Scanning For Sensors, Opto-electronics, Logging

There can be few more specialized standard handheld enclosures than SENSO-CASE: it is designed specifically for scanning applications. Don’t let its larger size fool you: SENSO-CASE is well balanced and feels comfortable whether you’re left- or right-handed. The large front face offers plenty of space for mounting sensors – and it even comes with a trigger as a standard option.

SENSO-CASE may be highly specialized in its design but it’s no one-trick pony: you’ll find it in action across a wide variety of sectors: as a battery filler in aviation, a Geiger counter, a one-handed ground microphone and a partial discharge scanner.

View the full SENSO-CASE specifications here >>

Handheld Or Wearable Enclosures

Some of the smallest handheld enclosures for personal electronics are so tiny that it’s more comfortable and convenient to wear them – leaving the user’s hands free for work. Again, ergonomics is a crucial consideration because a wearable enclosure may be in contact with a user’s body for hours at a time.

Wearable housings such as BODY-CASE, award-winning MINITEC and the smallest version of ERGO-CASE are useful for applications such as personal alarms/emergency call systems and geolocation/GPS tracking of lone workers and other vulnerable individuals.

Find out here about wearable plastic enclosure >>

Accessible And Inclusive Handheld Enclosures

OKW’s BLOB handheld enclosures are designed to be more intuitive to use. The unusual shape of each housing guides the user’s hands to the controls: they teach by touch. This helps users with grip or learning disabilities.

You don’t need us to tell you that all three BLOB shapes are very unusual – one glance will confirm that they’re not your typical standard plastic enclosures. They’re far more distinctive than any other handheld enclosures in the OKW range. But it’s important to note that they remain discreet in their design (that key factor we highlighted at the top of this post). It only takes a little customisation to make the BLOB enclosure that you specify very much your own. Look at the Application Examples tab on the BLOB page and you’ll see what we mean.

View HANDHELD ENCLOSURES range >>

Get Expert Advice On Enclosures

Contact OKW – the electronic enclosures specialist – for expert technical advice on the best housings for your PCBs and electronic components.

Contact our team and discover how easy it is to specify the perfect enclosures for your electronics.