Control panels are common in many manufacturing environments. They vary in form and function in many different ways, and in many cases are custom-made for the application.
Electric control panels usually include a host of buttons, knobs and digital meters, although some older ones may contain analog meters. More advanced control panels could contain touchscreens to create a human-machine interface (HMI).
Control panels may also be built for hydraulic or pneumatic control and include various knobs for controlling valves and pressure. These may also include digital or analog displays depending on the application.
A standard control panel for fire alarms or security systems may come pre-built for its system. When using a standard designed control panel, they may still have various options such as number of alarm points or built-in annunciator or zones.
Important control panel specs include pressure and voltage ratings, which are important to adhere to. More advanced control panels with graphic displays often have further requirements for interface with digital protocols.
There are many kinds of control panels with a wide assortment of options. Control panels for HVAC may simply have temperature controls, while those for a security system need to both control the system and be secure from tampering.
Further considerations for control panels may include the intended environment. If a panel is outdoors, for example, it will be required to have an IP rating that protects it from harsh elements. If it's an environment where flammable gasses may be present, it should be designed to be explosion proof. In situations where the function of the control panel may change over time, it may be necessary for it to be programmable. The inclusion of a PLC can add a lot of functionality to a control panel when necessary. Adding computer hardware to a control panel may also require programming support.
Ensuring that whatever control panel you use is built to the correct specification is an important aspect. Having a control panel that doesn’t correctly control the system it is intended for can be frustrating for users. For this reason many companies specialize in building custom panels designed to exact sizes and ratings. Having a custom-built panel adds cost but it may pay for itself in reduced downtime and frustration.
While a control panel can be a simple device, it is a critical one that requires careful attention and consideration in its selection or design.