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Eight time and money saving tips for designing a case insert

08 June 2015

Steve Chandler, design and technical manager at Peli Group company, MSA, offers a list of eight things to look out for when designing a foam case insert.

Money and time, for most of us mortals, are two precious commodities we’d all like to save a little more of. Over the years I’ve worked with countless designers and engineers who have, in an attempt to try and save money and time, designed their own case insert for us to manufacture.

Even though they have done so with the best of intentions, many overlooked some vital considerations, which ultimately results in the exact opposite of their intentions. It’s not their fault, though. These vital factors only become obvious with experience.

Like moving house, or packing for a holiday, there will always be things you don’t consider, especially if it’s your first time.

It’s easy, when sat behind a computer designing an insert trying to save as much space as possible, to forget about simple things like how easy it will be to get an item out of a case insert.

It might sound basic, but my advice would be have the item(s) on your desk next to you as you design as a constant reminder of their shape, size and weight. Soon enough you’ll start to understand the limitations. Luckily for you, we’ve done it enough times to perfect the workarounds.

So, if you are considering designing a new insert, I want to give you a helping hand; here's a check list of some of the most commonly overlooked factors in designing a case insert:

1. What goes in must come out
After considering the orientation, many come to realise that their item is actually too heavy to be prised out of a snug pocket in a case insert. Placing one or two finger holes at the edge of a pocket will provide an easy fix for this problem.

2. Make it easy on the case user
Many engineers will send us designs for case inserts complete with finger holes, but they’ll be for a piece of kit weighing 20kg, that would put even the most muscular of index fingers to work. In this case, simply increase the finger holes to a size big enough to get a whole hand in and under to lift out the item.

Finally, consider the weight distribution of your items and how they sit in the insert. Whoever will be manually moving or lifting the case will thank you for it! If the case will be carried, spread out the weight as evenly as you can, and if the case is on wheels, put your heaviest parts as close to the wheels as possible. Consider these things, and your case insert will be so much easier to move around.

3. When possible, keep it simple
The overwhelming majority of inserts are routed with a circular tool. This means that a shape with completely 90° corners would require a more complex cutting process, and will most likely end up with the square edge of your item tearing at the corner anyway. I find the best way to work around this is to design in a circle, as shown in the photo, on each corner to keep production costs down and increase the insert’s longevity.

4. Beware the dangers of cramming
In trying to save space in their design, many try to skim on the width between pockets in an insert. This will invariably result in two things: 1, a reduction in the protection provided by the foam; 2, a more complex manufacture. I’d strongly recommend a wall width of 10mm at the very least (dependant on pocket depth and item weight), 

5. Know thy case
This is probably the cruellest of them all. Many customers have designed an insert inches away from perfection that has fallen down on this one last hurdle. Moulded cases seldom have a completely vertical drop on their internal walls. This is what’s known as ‘draft angles’, and not knowing about these can completely undo all your hard work.

We’ve had numerous customers who have designed inserts with pockets that go right to the bottom corners of their case, unaware of the slight draft angle, and it has meant their entire design has to be reconfigured, sometimes even in a case one size up, which will have implications on costings, especially if it’s a bulk job.

In the same regard, make sure you have considered if your desired case has any internal extrusions, specific to that one case’s design. A good example would be many customers forgetting about the wheel contours on the interior of a Peli 1510.

6. Make the most of that third dimension
One way to potentially save on case costs, is to consider designing a two-tiered case insert. Often customers come to us with an insert design that is long, wide and very shallow. Just by simply going with a case that is twice the depth but half the length and width could reduce costs significantly. A base and tray system will also allow for additional components like wiring be neatly stored out of view, giving your items great protection and presentation at the same time.

7. Don’t forget the lid
Over the years, we’ve come to always ask, do the case contents come with any documents, like brochures or instructions? Many do, but most don’t factor them into the design, often assuming the documents could just rest on the top of the insert.

Designing in a simple piece of foam with a ‘letter box’ pocket to place and store documents is a really simple addition to a case insert, which will make the insert much more presentable, preserve the documents and reduce the chance of the documents getting left behind or misplaced.

8. Your case deserves a name
Any case insert service worth its salt should do this, but many do not. Either by laser engraving into the foam, applying specialised laminated labels on top of the foam, or even screen printing onto the exterior of the case will allow you to put easily identifiable markings on or in your case.

Whether it’s to avoid cases getting mixed up, labelling insert pockets, or simply to apply your brand logo to your design, identification is a simple way to get your message across, whatever it may be. Also, with the amount of work you’ve put into it, surely the case insert deserves a name! If you’re feeling extra fancy, you could even think about using a second colour of foam for the base of your pockets, to help you quickly spot any missing parts and give the insert a striking finish.

Follow these eight steps and you won’t go far wrong. Having said that, if you’re struggling, worry not. With the MSA designers and our UK-wide team of foam experts, you’ll get the help you need at every step of the way.

Discover more about MSA here.


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