I’ve just completed a 3D project. No, not 3D printing. It’s a custom foam insert for a Pelican rolling case. I intend to use the case for both equipment storage and travel. Why not the Hasselblad Field Kit Pelican Case? It’s not wheeled, isn’t a newer Pelican Air case, doesn’t accommodate the XCD 21mm lens, is more expensive, and isn’t sized for the maximum airline carry-on dimensions. Plus, this looked like a fun project to take on during the hot and humid days of summer.
I used MyCaseBuilder.com to design and fabricate the foam insert. The insert fits a Pelican Air 1535 rolling case that meets the carry-on restrictions of most airlines and is convenient for automobile travel. The case is similar to the standard Pelican 1510, a case that I use for equipment storage. The new Pelican Air cases are lighter and more mobile than their standard counterparts. Having used “pick and pluck” foam inserts in Pelican cases in the past, I wanted to give custom foam inserts a try.
The primary design requirement for the foam insert was that it would be able to accommodate the Hasselblad X1D camera body, the native 21mm, 30mm, 45mm and 90mm lenses (with hoods), four batteries (plus the battery in the camera body), a small accessory case, charger and cord, and two circular polarizer filters. In other words, a “go bag” that could be thrown into my car or carried onto an airplane with everything I’d need for a landscape shoot.
The MyCaseBuilder.com online app offers basic tools for creating cutout profiles based on simple shapes – circle/oval, rectangle, and line drawing. The design process involves 1) measuring each item, 2) constructing a cutout profile (diameter, length, width, depth), and 3) placing the cutout profile on the design app grid. I selected a grid with 5mm Grid size and 1mm Nudge Spacing. Nudge Spacing is useful for precisely moving the cutout profile horizontally or vertically. I also found that selecting Auto Snap Shapes was useful in positioning cutouts that I wanted to have aligned with each other.
While many camera and lens profiles are in the MyCaseBuilder public and private libraries, they didn’t have anything that matched my Hasselblad gear. So I started from scratch. For the camera body, I used their online Photo Tracer tool and a top-down photo of the Hasselblad X1D camera body.
The Photo Tracer tool works best with a photo that has been taken using a white background. It also helps to have a dark or black object and/or to adjust the contrast in Photoshop to achieve the highest contrast possible between the object and the background.
For the lenses with hoods attached, I assembled a set of concentric circles with accurately measured diameters and depths. I designed the insert so that lenses could be inserted vertically to best utilize the available foam real estate. My most used lens, the XCD 90mm, is incorporated in the design mounted to the camera body.
The small plastic Pelican Micro 1010 case holds the Hasselblad GPS accessory and other “smalls” (SD cards, microfiber cloth, Allen wrench, WhiBal, key ring flashlight). I also put in slots for a two circular polarizer filters (65mm and 77mm), the boxes for which sit 20mm proud of the surface.
This is the design app working palette showing placement of each item on the grid (the grid spacing in this illustration is different from the spacing I used during the design process only because I wanted the grid to be more visible for this article).
The pink/salmon areas show where the cutouts are on the back side. The yellow border is a “warning stripe” to prevent the design from getting too close to the edge of the foam. My design encroached into the warning stripe somewhat. That proved to be no problem because of the density of the foam I chose. More about that later.
As cutouts are added, you can review what the finished design will look like using the 3D rendering feature of the design app. This feature is helpful to determine whether cutouts overlap or are too deep, are positioned too close to the cutouts on the back side (for the case handles and wheels), or whether complex cutouts have voids that need to be corrected in the design.
The reason for some of the cutout placement in my design has to do with the wheel and handle recesses on the back side of the foam. The recesses dictate placement of shallow items (batteries, charger and cord, small plastic Pelican case) at the ends to make the most of the surface area and usable foam depth.
MyCaseBuilder offers three foam types:
- Ester – good general purpose foam (like “pick and pluck” foam)
- Polyethylene (PE)
- MyCaseBuilder standard case foam for most applications
- Good for heavier objects which need to be secured in place
- Good for objects that can absorb a modest amount of shock without being damaged
- Pro-Cell – highest density foam with smooth finish
I chose the Polyethylene (PE) foam for this project because of the weight of the XCD lenses and my desire to minimize equipment movement during travel. The PE foam is a more rigid foam than the Ester foam and is less likely to shed or peel with heavy use.
Once the design is submitted, fabrication time is estimated to be 10-12 business days depending upon order backlog. My foam insert was shipped within the estimated window and arrived well packaged and [almost] as designed.
OK, the above photos show my second attempt. Fortunately, I purchased Failsafe Design Protection and took advantage of the one “do-over” offered by this option. Failsafe Design Protection is cheap (~$12) and provides one “revision and refabrication of your original foam design”. The first completed foam insert had several problems resulting from poor design choices and an inadequate understanding of the limitations of the fabrication process. After I submitted my initial design, MyCaseBuilder customer service called to point out some design elements that would be difficult to fabricate and suggested changes. Even with that help, the first iteration had a few problems. It was usable, but [for a perfectionist] wasn’t good enough. The do-over was perfect.
This was a fun project. The custom foam insert is exactly what I envisioned and the quality is excellent. I highly recommend MyCaseBuilder if you’re interested in a fitted foam insert for any case (they sell cases too). Their online design app is easy to use once you get the hang of it. I tried it with both the Safari and Firefox browsers and had no difficulty with either. Customer support was responsive and helpful and fabrication time was reasonable. The total cost was reasonable too:
- Pelican 1535 Rolling Case (without foam) – $187
- Custom foam insert – $150
- Total – $337
After going through the process, I have a few tips for anyone who’d like to try it:
- Don’t get too cute with the cutout designs; the fabrication process cuts the foam to the maximum depth of each cutout and glues pieces back into the insert necessary to match the design
- Measure twice, cut once; add 1-2% “slack” to each cutout to allow for easy removal of items, particularly with the PE foam
- Include large finger notches
- Observe the back side cutouts for wheels and handle (if applicable to the case you choose); MyCaseBuilder’s 3D rendering tool is great for finding trouble spots as are the “warning stripes” in the online app
- Buy Failsafe Design Protection