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How Do Control Panel Design Programs Work?

By Mike Barone

Electronic devices are designed and manufactured for performance, and sometimes the feature that will deliver the best performance does not improve usability. Fortunately, front panels are manufactured to make machines and other electronic devices easier to use. Front panels were first used on computers to display data and allow the operator to alter device memory. Today, the front panel contains a control panel that makes it possible for the operator to access push buttons, toggle switches, and indicator lights. When an organization needs to design custom control panels for their product and cannot do so internally, they outsource this task to a manufacturer of front panels and device enclosures.

Modern manufacturers of custom control panels have adopted newer computing technology to speed up the panel design process. These companies promise to deliver more precisely cut front panels, faster and more cost effectively, with the help of panel design programs. In fact, most companies have their own brand of design software that can be downloaded directly from the company's website. These programs are computer-aided design (CAD) programs that assist in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a panel design. Generally, a CAD program will output a completed design in the form of electronic or print files, using either vector based graphics or raster graphics.

A CAD-produced diagram is more than a drawing of shapes. This diagram needs to convey information to the front panel production company, so it will include materials, processes, and exact dimensions. In addition to being used to design control panels, CAD-based programs are also used for applications like shipbuilding and the aerospace industry, and are even used to produce computer animation for advertising and motion picture special effects. Engineers could not have even conceived of this technology back in the 1960s, but today manufacturers can design custom panels using these programs.

Manufacturers begin by utilizing CAD-based programs to design the control panel, adding measurements and features like rectangular cut-outs, color engravings, and drilled holes. The program allows customers to input precise measurements so they get the confidence that comes with knowing their panel will be customized exactly to the company's specifications. Since the panel design program works on exact specifications, customers also receive help with lighting controls, motor controls, automated systems, and tips for designing the basic electrical assembly.

One other major benefit of a CAD-based control panel design program is it helps customers save money. Each program will contain a feature that calculates costs as each element is added to the design. Thanks to this resource, customers can ensure a designed part will fit in the budget by receiving cost updates the second the customer adds a new design. This also makes it easier for the customer to determine which parts to remove if the project goes over budget.

Companies looking for custom control panels need to make sure these parts are designed accurately and inexpensively. By working with a manufacturer that allows customers to download a free panel design program, create a diagram of the part, and submit the design to the manufacturer, customers will effortlessly and cost-effectively create necessary panels.

A CAD-based control panel design program allows customers to create custom control panels.
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