Industrial control panels are everywhere! From wind turbines to every light you pull your car up to, you’ll find these box shaped unsung heroes of the modern industrial world hard at work. Day or night, sun or shine they work hard to keep our industrial world working. Some are very large and some no bigger than a desktop computer, but by industry definition all “contain circuit components, control circuit components, or any combination of power and control circuit components”, typically within a metal box. Yes, but what are they for you ask.
Think of them as the heart and brain of modern industrial systems. An industrial system is just anything that needs to be controlled, usually automatically. Next time you pull up to a four-way signaled intersection look at one of the intersections corners and you’ll see one or more file cabinet sized metal boxes. Traffic signals work together in a complex orchestration. They must coordinate to avoid creating accidents and
they must do so no matter what.
To do so the control panel has to receive and distribute incoming power from the electrical grid and distribute this electricity to the various parts of the system. One of the key parts of most control panels is the ruggedized industrial PC or PLC that makes all the decisions.
The traffic intersection may have various ground sensors and other sensors to detect how heavy traffic is. These sensors feed the PLC data so it, using computer code (PLC logic) can make decisions on when and how to act. It may also take into consideration data fed to it from other areas of town or even the weather.
All of this power distribution and data passing back and forth happens through wires which emanate from the control cabinet itself. These wires pass the data back and forth to this centralized industrial control cabinet which houses the complex electronics.
Sensitive electronics and power equipment though need to be protected from the elements. Sometimes it can be extremely hot or cold and they must work outdoors. In cases such as this the boxes will be sealed and may have air conditioning and heaters. Or they may reside in an extremely wet corrosive environment like in a food processing facility. Here washdowns with high pressure water and bleach are a daily occurrence. In this case they will be rated against water intrusion and be made of non-corrosive materials such as stainless steel.
Sometimes cabinets take in huge amounts of high voltage electricity and then have to distribute that power down to smaller more sensitive electronics such as low voltage sensors and computers. In cases like this the electro-magnetic fields generated by the high voltage would interfere with the operation of the sensitive electronics so high voltage and low voltage are physically separated.
With so many wires coming in and out of the cabinet special attention is given to the cabinet entry/exit points. Watertight glands or bulkheads are used which keep the integrity of the sealed cabinet intact while still allowing wires to come and go.
Some cabinets are big and are standalone monoliths that may be very long and contain tens of thousands of parts. Others are small and may run a small piece of equipment, bolted to a wall, and move with the piece of equipment as it moves.
The main point though is that these industrial control panels are used everywhere. You can find them controlling motors in damns and running entire assembly lines that make your car. From automated production lines to giant cargo ships you will find industrial control panels housing the mission critical components that keep America running.
Companies like Panel Pros specializes in designing, building, and installing industrial control panels. It’s a specialized set of manufacturing skills that utilize a combination of electrical, mechanical and controls engineering to design well. The best panel building shops like Panel Pros are UL508a certified which means they build these unsung heroes using rigorous industry standards to make sure systems run as intended.