Front Panel Fabrication - low cost shops

Thread Starter

AnalogKid

Joined Aug 1, 2013
11,022
Back when I was actually paid to sit on my butt in front of a computer for much of the day, I had a 40,000 sqft metal shop underneath my office. They were magicians, and I am permanently spoiled. I can do good enough panel work, but it is tedious. Round holes are not a problem, but I've got something coming up that will have at least two rectangular cutouts for small digital panel meters.

There have been several threads about low cost pcb fab shops. This question is about sheet metal shops. I have a variety of small and medium sized enclosures, and want to know if there is a pcb-equivalent for sheet metal. I'm after a semi-pro look for hobby projects. Very small lots, don't care about delivery delays, prefer low cost. There are places in town that can do this, but the costs are way high.

One option I have considered is having a pcb shop make the panels out of FR-4, but I'd like to stick with aluminum. I'm hoping there is a sheet-metal equivalent to Next PCB.

Thanks.

ak
 
Last edited:

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
5,037
With US shop labor prices/hr. over 80$/hr. (and that is for book rate jobs, not actual hrs.) plus materials and etc. it's not going to be cheap. Go to your local HVAC supply house and ask for a good sheet metal man recommendation. They build with galvanized but sheet aluminum is actually easier to work. Most guys have a metal brake and shears at home or in their truck and can quote you a per piece price much less than a shop. You might even get a better price providing the aluminum sheeting. Good Luck!
 

MisterBill2

Joined Jan 23, 2018
18,397
I have dealt with one PCB shop that would also create etched aluminum anodized panels. Drilling the holes was extra, of course. I have used AUTOCAD to produce panel designs and it worked well. The one caution is to reduce the accuracy requirements to avoid paying for a lot more accuracy than you need.
 

LowQCab

Joined Nov 6, 2012
4,052
If You want "Professional-Looks", You will pay "Professional-Prices".

Have You looked at "E-Machine-Shop" ?,
they will provide the free Software for You to design your part with,
and the Software will give You a price-estimate based on your specifications.
They have tons of options, with many different types of Metals,
including Polishing and Aluminum-Anodizing,
and even a wide-variety of Plastics.

Warning ........
There's a steep "Learning-Curve" if you've never used a "CAD"-Program before.
.
.
.
 

Ian0

Joined Aug 7, 2020
9,765
Draw your panel on Kicad (or similar) then send it to a pcb company as an aluminium substrate board.
You are limited to a single background colour, and a single colour for text, but that takes care of most front panels.
(They might query why it has no tracks, but most of the pcb companies are so automated that you get exactly what is on the gerber files)
 

ErnieM

Joined Apr 24, 2011
8,377
One good resource I have used it Send Cut Send, a company that does what their name says:

You SEND them a file.
They CUT material per your e drawing
Finally the SEND you the complete item.

I've used them for aluminum or Delrin though they have many other choices.

They do not do any printing, you need to add that yourself. I've used 8 1/2 x 11" label paper and a good printer to make panels, less so now as I cannot get clear contact "paper" that is permanent.

Worth a peek if you have the need.
 
Top