When to encase an Arduino

Asked why one student would want to buy an Arduino acrylic casing for his fan-speed controller box , he quickly said “ginmatang da met amin, agalaak meten ah” [Everyone bought one, so I might as well get mine]. Sounds familiar? Well, that band wagon effect may have happened to you but let us be look closer at these popular enclosure.

At first glace, a casing for your bare Arduino board would seem logical as it would provide a form of protection from the elements, ESD damage and other catastrophic possibilities like spilling coffee over your board. Again, this would sound reasonable…almost! In this article, we will breakdown some of the reasons why you need and why you might not really need an acrylic case for your Arduino board.

Microcontrollers in Embedded Systems Applications – a lot of Arduino projects require embedding the board into the application and many times, we literally need to embed the board itself on a larger PCB or perhaps a larger box. Obviously, you do not need an enclosure for the Arduino since you are most likely to enclose the whole system in a bigger box. In such a case, what you need a proper enclosure or panel box.

Arduino as a Development Board – If you are not permanently embedding your board and simply want it for experiments, then this is where you might need an enclosure. Afterall, the Arduino was meant as a development board. But here is one reason you may be better off not encasing your board – as an experiment board, you might want full access to everything on the board, from its components to the microcontroller pins. Before the rise of the Arduino, most of microcontroller development boards are bare without enclosures just like this Atmel AVR development board – the STK500 which, although first released more than a decade ago, is still being used and still without a casing even today.

The benefit is obvious, as a developer, you will at some point require access of certain components within the board. For example, when an external circuit connected to an output pin is not behaving as expected, you may want to probe the voltage level directly at the microcontroller’s pin. Simple power tests, checking the regulator’s temperature, and probing signals are reasons why a casing may not be convenient for a development board

Aesthetics – An Arduino enclosed by a transparent casing may be an eye-candy. But imagine a project where you use most of the pins. That would mean a lot of wire sticking out of the enclosure and then into other modules or PCB’s. If you have a few wires or perhaps with some slick wire management techniques, you might be able to get away with a good looking setup.

So what for is this casing? – here are some reasons we’ve though an acrylic casing would really shine:

  • If you are using the board for frequent but light experiments that do not require extensive signal probe and the like.
  • Small projects with components that can be placed inside the casing or with only a few components outside the casing (e.g. a shield)
  • When it is used as a training board for different users with varying electronics knowledge. The case would be a good protection for clumsy fingers touching the sensitive electronics.

So the next time you think about purchasing a casing, think about your application and judge for your self if it is really needed.

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