Many people think they know exactly what they want until they start writing it down. The simple act of writing something down makes you think about it differently. Your ideas seem unorganized when you first put them on paper. Rewrite them until they’re properly organized and your words clearly describe what you’re thinking.
This is part of the design process. It takes time, which is the point, it’s a process. Understand what you want, write it down using clear language, then proceed with the actual hardware design.
Step 1 • start physical
Many control panel designers start with the schematic drawings (easier) and never actually produce accurate physical layout drawings (harder). This approach causes problems and delays delivery when physical layout problems are discovered during production or testing.
Good control panel designers produce accurate physical layout drawings, then produce accurate schematic drawings. Good control panel design is as much about the physical as it is about the electrical. Good control panel designers alternate between the physical and electrical until all potential problems have been solved.
Good control panel designers also remember to include clearance around power wiring as required by the National Electric Code (NEC) and include manufacturer recommended clearance around heat producing devices as required by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
• NEC requires you provide bending radius clearance around incoming and outgoing power connections to insure the installing electrician has adequate room to make their power connections,
• UL requires you provide manufacturer recommended clearance around heat producing devices (Programmable Logic Controllers, Variable Frequency Drives, etc.) to insure for adequate room for ventilation.
Step 2 • coordinate wire sizes and component types
Good control panel designers size each wire to accommodate its load, and coordinate wire circuit protection based on wire size. The correct wire size insures the circuit can deliver the required load current. The coordinated circuit protection insures a higher than expected load current doesn’t cause the wiring to overheat and start a fire.
Good control panel designers select each component to accommodate its voltage and load requirements, and coordinate component type based on desired function. The correct component size insures it can reliably handle the required voltage and load current. The coordinated component type insures they’ll function as desired.
Step 3 • use the best control type
Many control panel designers like all control to be through a computer based Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). Sometimes this is appropriate, however, the simplest control type appropriate to the application is always less expensive and easier to maintain.
Good control panel designers start simple with simple control components (Relays, Timers, etc.) If the simple approach does’t meet the requirements, they’ll use something with more functionality like a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC).
Step 4 • use the best operator device type
Many control panel designers like all operator control to be through a computer based Human Machine Interface (HMI). Sometimes this is appropriate, however, the simplest operator device appropriate to the application is always less expensive and easier to maintain.
Good control panel designers start simple with simple operator devices (Pushbuttons, Pilot Lights, Digital Panel Meters, etc.). For a stylish appearance they’ll mount them on a Color Graphic with your Company Colors and Logo. If the simple approach does’t meet the requirements, they’ll use something with more functionality like an HMI.
Step 5 • use the best in class products by category
Some control panel designers try to use one manufacturer for all components in a panel. European companies tend to do this and some US companies do too. Sometimes there’s a reason why this makes sense, but generally it limits your ability to use best in class components by product category.
Best in class by product category is subjective based on your product awareness. Ideally you want stay aware of new products and use the ones that provide the best balance of price, form and function.
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