3D Print prototyping turned out to be much easier than we expected. We needed to create an enclosure for the sensor and had no idea how to approach it. The first step was to understand that it does not have to be perfect, just good enough to serve its purpose. Then, iterate from there! This led us to selection of simple CAD tools. TinkerCAD turned out to be the easiest to use. There are lots and lots of tutorials out there on 3D Print design. We needed to design a specific thing: sensor enclosure. The best tutorial for that turned out to be from SparkFun. The second step was to use TinkerCAD to design the first iteration of the enclosure. It was big and bulky, but it fit all the parts that we needed. We generated the .stl right out of TinkerCAD and then saved the model. We do not own a 3D printer. So, the third step was to figure out printing options. There are a lot of commercial printers out there that provide excellent quality, but we found them unsuitable because they are:
  1. Expensive
  2. Turnaround is slow with mailing of the print back and forth
  3. Print options (filament selection, thickness, slicing, etc.) were just too much to figure out for our simple Iteration Zero enclosure.
So, we went with the free option instead! There are several public libraries around our area that provide free 3D printing services. Turnaround is usually pretty quick, couple of days or up to a week. Print options are pretty streamlined with defaults being acceptable. All of them offer Fused deposition modeling (FDM) printing only. Some are talking about stereolithography (SLA), but are not there yet. Some have helpful advice when it comes to print supports and slicing and others just figure it out on their own. Same with color of the print. All in all, we were very happy with the results. So, the fourth step is rinse and repeat! We went back to TinkerCAD, adjusted the size of enclosure, and reprinted it. Then, we tried it again with electronic components, and repeated all the steps. In the process, we also experimented with adding our logo to the top, wall widths (some were too thin to print with structural integrity), different forms of closures, different enclosure shapes, etc. With every new iteration, use of TinkerCAD became easier, and we would use more and more features. The process is ongoing and our next step would be to experiment with SLA printing.