From design, to CAD, to production
The engineering process involved two weeks of back and forth between me and the engineer at Protocase, figuring out all the little details that were needed to manufacture my design. Most of the design just transferred over minimal changes, needed to account for the limitations of their equipment, but there were plenty of minor corrections for things I had forgot/overlooked in the original SketchUp model.
By the end of November, after two weeks, 24 emails, and 7 revisions, the final CAD model was complete, and it was off to the production department.
The first stop was cutting out all the flats from large sheets of metal. Most of the smaller pieces were cut with a laser, but the main frame piece, the side panel, and the top panel were done with a water jet cutter due to all the small vent holes. A laser takes a bit of time to punch through the steel, so the vent patterns on those parts would have taken far too long to cut that way. A water jet cutter uses a highly pressurized stream of water (containing an abrasive material) that cuts the material like a river erodes a canyon, albeit much faster.
Next is the magical step that turns a bunch of flat pieces of metal into something three-dimensional: bending! This photo isn't of a part from Project Nova, but it demonstrates the process. The large machine is a press brake, and it works by pressing the sheet metal part between the punch on top and the die on the bottom, to create the desired bend. Here, the operator is positioning the part so the bend ends up in the correct place.
After some prep work, the parts are ready to be powder coated. Powder coating works by spraying a fine mist of a electrically charged powderized coating (hence the name) on the part. The powder sticks to the grounded part, and once it is evenly coated, it is moved to an oven where it is cured.
Here's some of the parts out of the oven. On the bottom of the side panel bracket you can see the plugs used to keep the powder out of the threads on the self-clinching nuts.
After everything's coated, the case is assembled, inspected, packaged, and shipped out. I received the case December 30th, just barely meeting my earlier estimate of getting the case before the year was out.
My thanks to Protocase for the photos!
Here's a gallery of the handle being machined from a solid billet of aluminum.