At the Industrial Controls Company, our specialty is designing and building electrical control panels for a multitude of industries and environments. We can start with anything from an idea to a complete set of drawings/functional specifications, or anything in between. We’ll review the information provided, ask all questions necessary to fill in the gaps, and provide the highest quality product available in the industry. Our initial review is so thorough that we often say we will provide what our customers need, beyond or despite what they ask for.
Control panel manufacturing has become very complex. Rapidly advancing automation technology along with increasingly stringent rules and regulations have made it difficult to design the most cost-effective, yet robust control solutions. Designing the best products requires a well-versed team who is constantly increasing their knowledge base and adapting what they know of electrical control panel design guidelines. With a team of engineers who specializes in control panel design, programming, and integration, it is our job to stay up to day on the latest standards, certifications, and technologies.
Our staff works closely with customers to ensure that control panel design requirements have been precisely defined, ensuring an in-depth understanding on all sides, during the design process. Errors and omissions made in the first steps of the design can cause significant problems during panel production, or worse, during implementation/startup. Success often comes when you work with a team of engineers that understand the entire process and execute each step efficiently.
Control Panel Design Basics
There are four main electrical control panel design basics, or phases, when it comes to control panel construction:
- A thorough review of all technical documentation and a question and answer session to fill in all gaps.
- Design of the control system and production planning to maximize efficiency.
- Actual assembly and wiring of the control system hardware.
- Updating all final documentation and a performing very thorough quality control procedure.
Phase 1: Technical Q&A Session
While each phase is important, we pride ourselves on our rigorous initial Q&A session, the purpose of which is to verify that every facet of the project has been addressed in detail, and establish the electrical control panel design guidelines for the project. While control panels designed for a particular industry have unique questions that must be answered, at a minimum, each list must contain the following questions:
- Is a UL Label or other accepted testing agency required?
- Are there any local electrical codes that must be followed?
- What is the desired NEMA environmental rating of the control panel?
- What is the available short circuit current that the control panel will be designed for?
- Does the control panel need to be designed to meet any arc flash category?
Phase 2: Control Panel Design & Production Planning
These first steps set the pace for the entire project and determine how efficiently the remainder of the process will flow. Mistakes at this stage will hinder other steps and may cause projects to fall behind, or to be scrapped completely. To avoid control panel design problems, the following steps must be followed and performed correctly:
- Review the customers sequence of operation / functional specification and/or design requirements.
- Select all components or verify components selected are correct for the application.
- Produce schematic drawings of the control panel(s) to verify that all components will be wired correctly and to demonstrate how wiring will be implemented.
- Create a full-scale physical layout to be sure components are accessible for construction and maintenance while still minimizing the required panel space.
- Select the precise enclosure and related components to meet the specified requirements requested by the end-user.
- Once the physical layout and schematic drawings are complete, components and enclosures can be ordered and, based on lead times, we can determine when panel production can begin.
To make this phase more efficient, The Industrial Controls Company provides a control panel design questionnaire to all customers as a first step in the overall control panel manufacturing process. Completion of the ICC questionnaire helps customers understand the level of detail necessary to design and build a control panel. Additionally, it helps our engineers understand exactly what is needed for the end product.
Phase 3: Control Panel Production
The accuracy and speed at which the design and planning phase is completed will have a huge impact on the production phase of the control panel building process. Panel building can become extremely difficult if there are inaccuracies in the overall design, or if parts and components are ordered or delivered later anticipated.
Despite this, problems may still arise during the production stage and that is when it is important to turn to experienced employees and standard operating procedures. Having a standard procedure in place can allow for an easier time solving any control panel design problems that suddenly arise. If problems do arise, it is important that the control panel team do the following:
- Use the physical layout and schematic drawings to make notes and mark where problems are coming from.
- Review the problems with the designer and formulate a solution.
- Review the marked-up layouts and drawings once solutions have been determined with an expert in quality control to explain why the design has changed.
Phase 4: Control Panel Quality Assurance
It is important that the factory floor technicians understand that producing quality items the first time, every time, can streamline processes and build a loyal clientele. One way to maintain quality is to integrate quality control at every step. This ensures that if problems are found, they are addressed early on by designers and production employees alike.
Our QA team follows strict guidelines when testing each control panel. The guidelines include but are not limited to:
- Verifying every component against the bill of materials and verifying it is the correct voltage.
- Grading the appearance of the panel and verifying all data on every label is correct.
- Ensuring every component is mounted securely, pull-testing every wire, and checking for stray wire strands.
- Conducting a full continuity check on every wire in the panel.
- Powering up the control panel and verifying all voltages and ground planes are within tolerance.
- Exercising every device to ensure correct functionality and to verify the wiring schematic was designed correctly.
- After power-up testing is complete, updating all documentation, logging all discrepancies, completing any final assembly procedures, and applying the proper certifications.
- The control panel is now ready for packaging and shipping!
The last step for every panel is logging every discrepancy both for the technician’s records and for the component/vendor’s records. Should we find some types of errors are becoming more prevalent, we will perform a root cause analysis to determine what steps are necessary to reverse the trend.
The Bottom Line
With 35 years of experience, the Industrial Controls Company maintains the ability to produce control panels that meet the needs of any market. Our ultimate goal is to provide flawless control panels to every customer, every time; and to do that, we surround ourselves with a highly skilled and highly trained staff and log data throughout the process. We review the data constantly and act on it accordingly. That is our differentiator. We are not a panel shop; we are a lean manufacturing facility who builds custom control panels.