Introduction

Fed up of leaving my Pi’s exposed, I was on the lookout for a Pi enclosure that would have space for additional circuitry. I frequently need a decent enclosure that doesn’t look out of place in a factory, not only suitable for deployments in industrial control panels, but also for home use and general experimentation too.

 

I recently purchased a new Pi 3 Model B+, and it was a good opportunity to look for a suitable enclosure. The Phoenix Contact RPI-BCPhoenix Contact RPI-BC seemed attractive, because it was large enough to add custom circuitry inside it too! Also, it was surprisingly low-cost which always helps. There were some reviews of the RPI-BC a couple of years ago but I was not sure if the newer Pi 3B+ would fit it or not, and happily it is a perfect fit. The RPI-BC enclosure could be of great interest to engineers, since there is high demand for industrial edge computing. This short blog post shows some ideas on how to work with the case and Pi 3B+.

 

The case is intended for DIN rail fitting in industrial control panels. However, it could be used as-is too. It looks attractive enough to use elsewhere too, and the front panel could have a sticker with graphics attached, or it could be drilled out for custom controls.

 

For a three-minute video tour, see here:

 

What is it?

The RPI-BCRPI-BC is a plastic enclosure by Phoenix Contact, known for industrial automation components and solutions. The enclosure will allow you to design Pi software and add-ons that can clip together onto a DIN rail.

 

The case is not ruggedized (nor is it intended for dusty environments since connections are exposed) so those are some constraints that define where the enclosure could be deployed, i.e. it’s intended use is inside control panels or a cabinet/closet.

 

Phoenix Contact has built an ecosystem of individual components that make up the enclosure, front panels, and prototyping circuit boards, but the main parts are all available with a single order code, and that’s what is discussed here.

 

The shell has three main parts – two main halves, and a removable cover that could be drilled to accommodate LEDs or displays for instance, or even a camera. Inside, there is room for a couple of circuit boards, and an 18-way expansion connector if desired, to allow sideways linking with other enclosure modules on the same DIN rail. It’s a neat, attractive solution.

(Image source: adapted from several photos from the Phoenix Contact website)

 

Is there a need for the Pi in industry?

I believe the answer is yes! The amount of compute power allows for many interesting things to be done in edge computing scenarios in an office or factory. I’ll touch on this more in a later article. However, it is plain to see there is growing interest in using low-cost hardware to do more intensive processing locally. There are many variants and custom builds of the Pi from sources such as Avnet and Hilscher. I’ve had first-hand experience in seeing a healthcare-related custom build of the BeagleBone Black (an ARM based computer similar to the Pi) as another example. The Linux operating system is highly attractive for creating a lot of functionality quickly into products, and manufacturers have taken steps at hardening the platforms and adding security to suit industrial use-cases.

 

Installing the Pi

The RPI-BC uses a nice way of positioning and securing the Pi. There are a couple of black plastic rails that clip on to the Pi to act a carrier. There are lips that fit the shell of the case, and then the Pi is secured when the other half of the shell is attached. 

 

Once installed, the power supply micro USB connector and HDMI and audio connectors are accessible inside the enclosure which is great – they are unlikely to all need exposing outside, but cables can be routed in the empty space if needed.

 

The carrier rails ensure that the Pi is very accurately positioned inside the case. That’s needed, so that the micro SD slot and LED holes are also positioned accurately. Incidentally since the Pi’s micro SD card is not ‘push to eject’ but is ‘pull to eject’, if the end user will need to remove the card with the enclosure closed, some tape on it helps.

 

Designing your own Circuits

Some Phoenix Contact prototyping boards for the RPI-BC are available; one prototyping board plugs onto the Piprototyping board plugs onto the Pi, and another prototyping board fits the space to the sideprototyping board fits the space to the side. To make custom PCBs easier, so I took the dimensions, and made up an EAGLE CAD part (attached to the bottom of this blog post).

 

The parts required to assemble such a custom PCB are a 40-way connector strip40-way connector strip and optionally up to four 4-way connectors4-way connectors.

 

Un-clipping the case

The two main halves of the enclosure clip together. They are easy to disassemble using thin plastic such as a guitar pick.

 

Using a Ribbon Cable

If you’re unsure what circuitry to attach, that decision can be left until later : ) by using a ribbon cable plugged onto the Pi instead of the previously-mentioned PCB. I used a 40-way insulation displacement connector40-way insulation displacement connector (IDC) and a 26 way connector26 way connector and 40 way ribbon cable40 way ribbon cable and the cable assembly can be left inside the case, or it can be brought out through the holes on either side of the enclosure. There’s enough space to make a small PCB in future that the 26-way connector can plug onto. To make the cable assembly, a 40-way cable was used and it was slit and cut. A vice can be used to close the IDC connectors.

 

Using the Front Panel

The front panel can have holes drilled for buttons and LEDs and so on, and it permanently clips onto the front of the enclosure, however it could be turned into a hinged flap if desired, by cutting out plastic in three areas before attaching it on (there is an optional front panel order code that doesn't need this manual modification).

 

Summary

The RPI-BC enclosureRPI-BC enclosure is a perfect fit for the Pi 3B+ (and it also works with other Pi variants, such as the A+ models with an optional A+ adaptoroptional A+ adaptor). I really liked that it was easy to attach additional circuitry if required, and I’m looking forward to using it in multiple projects, using custom PCBs.

 

It’s low-cost, and very functional. Surprisingly, it is also excellent for brainstorming - having such a case and the ease to build things with it, opens up many possibilities for exciting new solutions with the Pi. if you develop any, or have ideas, it would be great to hear about them.

Thanks for reading!