Industrial control panel design is critical because these hardware pieces contain power, control, and monitoring circuits for factory equipment or machinery.
The design process ensures the panels meet their performance & reliability requirements while adhering to industry standards.
But you must have deep knowledge about component selection, electrical systems, and design considerations to undertake this process, and here’s a guide to help you create the panel’s design and electrical schematics.
Table of Contents
- What Is an Industrial Control Panel (ICP)?
- Industrial Control Panel Design Process
- Industrial Control Panel Design Considerations
- Best Industrial Control Panel Practices
- Wrap Up
What Is an Industrial Control Panel (ICP)?
An ICP is a standard and systematic arrangement of two or more control or power circuit components, and it can be a combination of the two. These components include motor controllers, fused disconnect switches, circuit breakers, timers, selector switches, etc.
Components in an industrial control panel
The purpose of the panel box is to house pneumatics, distribute power, and safeguard electronics inside from outside conditions, such as:
- Extreme temperatures
So they are not just regular electrical boxes. You must design them carefully to meet the above functional requirements and relevant standards while remaining serviceable for years.
Industrial Control Panel Design Process
This design process begins with defining the system requirements.
System Requirement Definition
This step involves identifying the electrical load, the required functionality for the industrial system, and the components to help you control and distribute the power.
So the definition gives an accurate picture of the system to reduce risks associated with incorrect planning and low-quality components.
An electric control panel in a modern building
After identifying the electrical components to install in the control panel system, the next step is to pick these parts while considering these three factors.
- Electrical ratings
- Control panel compatibility
The purpose is to eliminate expensive inefficiencies and ensure smooth running. And if you are a technical person, this step should be a walk in the park.
Create Electrical Schematics
Once you’ve spotted and located the control panel components, create the electrical schematics to have an organized plan for part connection. This organization ensures proper and efficient system functionality.
An electrical schematic diagram
But for the schematic to be effective, you must consider all the details, from material selection to electrical pathways and component & wire resistance. So be careful when handling this step to ensure precision on all circuits and efficient running when complete. Otherwise, you’ll have to deal with expensive repairs later.
Building and Testing
The electrical schematic is the blueprint for building the industrial control panel. So use it for this construction/assembly stage, which involves these three steps.
- Fitting in the power distribution and control circuit components
- Connecting the components to the power distribution and industrial control systems
- Ensuring the control panel project meets the required operating parameters
An industrial control panel
And when building the industrial control panel, test and evaluate if all the assembly process aspects meet their intended purpose and safety requirements.
Documentation and Record Keeping
Once the control panel is up and running, document the entire design process, including the following.
- Electrical schematics
- Instructions for component installation
- Assembly wiring
- Tests conducted and their results
- Maintenance procedures
Documenting these details creates a manual that simplifies future repairs and helps meet compliance requirements and professional oversight (if any).
Industrial Control Panel Design Considerations
Weigh these design considerations to ensure the control panel meets your application-specific needs, functional requirements, and regulatory control panel standards.
Compliance (Electrical Safety)
Industrial control panels contain components and wires that handle high-load currents. So follow the relevant electrical codes and standards to the letter. The typical codes and standards in North America are the National Electrical Code (NEC) and Canadian Electrical Code (CEC).
A factory worker working on an electrical panel
Space Requirements and Size Constraints
Industrial control panels are not tiny, so you’ll need sufficient space to install and wire the electrical components.
And while considering its size, factor in receptacles to eliminate the need for extension cords when testing appliances or equipment.
Also, the control panel components must operate within the ideal temperature range to avoid failure.
So if installed in an area with high ambient temperatures, consider mounting a fan or AC unit with vents nearby for temperature control. But moving it to a cool zone is a better option.
And space the components inside for efficient heat dissipation.
An engineer in a control panel room
Panel placement matters, as well. The panel door must swing open to access the components and wires inside. So leave some swing room for easy accessibility.
Power Supply and Distribution Requirements
A control panel’s power supply and distribution system ensures it meets the load current requirements of any application.
So it should be consistent and reliable to keep the electrical components operating at the correct voltage.
But also design and engineer the system correctly by incorporating safety features like overcurrent protection and installing components with the required capacity.
An electrical engineer monitoring a power distribution cabinet in a control room
Undersized components will introduce unnecessary resistance in the electrical pathways, resulting in thermal issues, overloading, and sudden shutdowns.
And remember to include a proper grounding technique to safeguard the system from power surges and other electrical faults.
Component Types and Wire Sizes
Always pick the wire sizing or gauge that matches the system’s load current.
These wires should transmit the electrical current with minimal resistance to prevent overheating and the risk of fires.
So the wire sizing selection should match the circuit protection requirements.
On the other hand, the components should match the functional requirements by meeting the load current and voltage requirements.
An electronic control panel in a milk factory
Overall, the components and wires should allow the maximum possible load that can occur.
And the only way to know this electrical current value is to add the ratings of all the connected devices (motors and resistive loads).
Labeling is tedious but helps minimize errors during routine maintenance, testing, and repairs. So label all terminals, wires, and components in these panels.
And these labels should be sturdy enough to withstand the environmental conditions in the installation area to keep the writing legible.
Future Upgrades (Expandability)
Technology evolves quickly, and the same applies to the components in the industrial control panel.
So its design should allow for the addition of electrical, control, power distribution, and human-machine interface components as upgrades.
A control cabinet for modern automated industrial equipment
Best Industrial Control Panel Practices
- Use the correct wire duct and tray size to match the wires running inside
- Include auxiliary fuses or circuit breakers if there is available space to break down and split the branch circuits
- Use shielded cables
- When labeling, include warnings for all risks and as per the required standards
- Use CAD tools for wiring diagrams and route optimization to cut material costs and installation time.
- Never run the wires diagonally. Only horizontally and vertically to keep them neatly tucked away from the front of the control panel components.
- Leave enough extra wire for future repairs or connections. Hide this wire beneath the primary wire path to keep the installation neat.
- Use stranded instead of solid cables because they are more flexible and give better heat dissipation.
Designing industrial control panels is challenging, especially when creating blueprints (schematic drawings).
But you’ll most likely develop the proper schematic if you follow the design considerations and best practices above.
And contact us if you encounter challenges along the way. We’ll be happy to help. Have a good one!