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. This blog post walks you through ICC’s proven control panel design process.

We’ll review the information provided, ask the questions and provide the highest quality product available in the industry.  Our initial review is so thorough, we often state we will provide what our customers need as opposed to what they ask for.

Control panel manufacturing has become very complex. Increasingly demanding applications, rapidly advancing automation technology and more stringent rules and regulations have made it difficult to design cost-effective, yet robust control solutions.  Designing the best products requires a well-versed team who are constantly increasing their knowledge base.  With a quarter of our employees and managers holding degrees in engineering, we understand control panels and control systems as a specialized discipline.

There are four main phases when it comes to control panel construction:

  1. A thorough review of all technical documentation and a question and answer session to fill in all gaps.
  2. Design of the control system and production planning to maximize efficiency.
  3. Actual assembly and wiring of the control system hardware.
  4. Updating all final documentation and a performing very thorough quality control procedure.

Phase 1: Technical Q&A Session

While each phase is important, at The Industrial Controls Company, we pride ourselves on our rigorous initial Q&A session where the goal is to verify that every question has been asked and answered.  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:

  1. Is a UL Label, or other accepted testing agency required?
  2. Are there any local electrical codes that must be followed?
  3. What is the desired NEMA environmental rating of the control panel?
  4. What is the available short circuit current that the control panel will be designed for?
  5. Does the control panel need to be designed to meet any arc flash category?
  6. Where will the control panel be installed: e.g. indoors, outdoors, in the shade, or in direct sunlight?
  7. What will the minimum and maximum ambient temperature that the control panel will see? In lieu of this information, the city and state where the enclosure will be installed will do. Our design engineers will check National Weather Service historical data.

Phase 2: Control Panel Design and Production Planning

These first steps set the pace for the entire project and determine how efficiently the remainder of the process will flow. Mistakes here 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:

  1. Review the customer’s sequence of operation/functional specification and/or design requirements.
  2. Select all components or verify components selected are correct for the application.
  3. Insure that the selected components carry the necessary agency approvals; e.g. UL, CSA, ATEX, etc.
  4. Perform a watt-loss heat study of the electrical enclosure and internal components verifying proper cooling is a part of the design.
  5. Generate schematic drawings of the control panel(s) to verify all components will be wired correctly and to demonstrate the proper wiring practices.
  6. Create a full scale physical layout to verify components are accessible for construction and maintenance while still minimizing the required panel space.
  7. Select the enclosure and related components to meet the specified requirements.
  8. 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.
  9. Once all parts have been delivered, production of the control panels can begin.

To make this phase more efficient, we at The Industrial Controls Company provide 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 to understand the level of detail necessary to design and build a control panel and it helps our engineers understand exactly what they are looking for as an 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 than anticipated.

Despite this, problems may still arise during the production stage and that is when it is important to turn to experienced employees as well as standard operating procedures. Having a standard procedure in place can allow for an easier time solving issues that suddenly come up. When problems do arise, it is important that engineers and employees do the following:

  1. Use the physical layout and schematic drawings to make notes and determine the origin of the problem.
  2. Review the problems with the designer and formulate a solution.
  3. Once solutions have been determined, review the marked-up layouts and drawings 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 how producing quality items the first time, every time, can truly streamline processes and build a loyal clientele. One way to maintain quality is to integrate quality control at every step. This way, when problems are found, they can be addressed early on by designers and production employees alike.

Our QA team follows strict guidelines when testing every control panel.  The guidelines include but are not limited to:

  1. Verifying every component against the bill of materials and verifying it is the correct voltage.
  2. Grading the appearance of the panel and verifying all data on every label is correct.
  3. Verifying every component is mounted securely, pulling test every wire and checking for stray wire strands.
  4. Perform a full continuity check on every wire in the panel.
  5. Power up the control panel and verify all voltages and ground planes are within tolerance.
  6. Every device is exercised to ensure they’re functioning correctly and to verify the wiring schematic was designed correctly.
  7. After power-up testing is complete, all documentation is updated, all discrepancies are logged, any final assembly procedures are completed, and the proper certifications are applied, the control panel is now ready for packaging and shipping.

The last step for every panel is to log every discrepancy both for the technician’s records and for the components/vendors records.  Should we find certain types of errors are becoming more prevalent, we will perform a root cause analysis to determine what steps are necessary to reverse the trend.

Our ultimate goal is to provide flawless control panels to every customer, every time.  To do that, we surround ourselves with a highly skilled and highly trained staff and log data throughout the process.  We review the data continuously 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.