Electrical Control Panels Provide Many Advantages
As industrial facilities embrace more automation, electrical controls serve to operate these machines and processes; however, to truly benefit from automation, precise and reliable control is a must. Fortunately, electrical control panels, which house the electronic components, controls and interfaces used to run modern automated facilities, simplify the method of controlling and adjusting the equipment and process to ensure that it runs in the most efficient and effective way. But the benefits of installing electrical control panels don’t stop there. This blog will explore the ways electrical control panels support safety, reliability, improved product quality and other advantages.
The Basics of Electrical Control Panels
Electrical control panels contain and protect the electrical devices and other equipment needed to operate industrial equipment within an enclosed structure. Panels help provide order and organization of necessary devices and centralize the location from which industrial machinery or processes can be controlled and adjusted.
The panel structure itself can be an explosion-proof, contamination-proof and/or waterproof enclosure that is rated for either indoor or outdoor use. The devices and their arrangement within the panel will depend upon the application.
Usually, there is a main circuit breaker, surge protectors, transformers and terminal blocks for distribution and control of the electricity coming into the machine. Electrical control panels can be customized to include anything from a simple relay system to more complex industrial controls, depending upon the exact needs of the application, which provides flexibility and permits control of a variety of industrial equipment. If the electrical panel is to be used to control automated equipment or processes, there are likely programmable logic controllers (PLCs), contactors, network switches and interfaces, relays, human-machine interfaces, push buttons/pilot lights and other devices.
The Advantages of Using Electrical Control Panels
While the main goal of electrical control panels is to protect, centralize and organize the various components needed to power and control electrical and automated machinery, they provide a host of additional benefits that can help optimize the operation of equipment and processes.
- Simplifying Control of the Process: Having a centralized area from which operators can control power and operation of equipment makes it simpler and more affordable to control a system’s functionality. The ability to include monitoring and control devices provides awareness of what is happening during operations and allows operators to more easily control the equipment or to safely and quickly stop machinery in an emergency.
- Increased Efficiency and Optimization of Equipment: Because electrical control panels can be customized to provide a centralized location from which operators can monitor and adjust the full range of process variables, they help ensure that the machines and processes will run in the most efficient and optimal manner. When users include PLCs and other control hardware into the panel, data from the equipment can be used to determine in real-time whether the equipment is running as it should be based on pre-programmed setpoints, allowing operators to take corrective actions and quickly return equipment and processes to the ideal process variables, ensuring optimized conditions.
- Enhanced Safety: Industrial machinery and humans can be a hazardous combination, especially when manual handling, cleaning or maintenance is involved. However, processes that are run and controlled via electrical control panels that are located safely away from pinch points and moving parts can significantly reduce the risks to operators. Safety devices such as two-handed controls can also be included to further reduce the risk of injuries as they force operators to run equipment using both hands, keeping them safely out of harm’s way. Safety is also enhanced because electrical control panels include easy access to power controls that can quickly cut the electricity to the equipment in case of an emergency. And, UL-listed control panels ensure that they are certified by both the National Electric Code (NEC) and the Canadian Electric Code (CEC). These factors come together to help facilities remain in compliance with relevant safety regulations and reduce workplace injuries.
- Protecting Equipment from Damaging Environments: Industrial facilities can be dirty, dusty, wet places and outdoor environments are exposed to elements such as rain, sleet and snow, all of which can wreak havoc on sensitive electrical components. Fortunately, electrical control panels are designed to keep contaminants out, withstand equipment and facility washdown procedures and are available for outdoor use to provide protection from weather-related elements, ensuring the longevity of the components within. To ensure that your control panel meets the specific needs of the environment in which it will be installed, refer to NFPA 70 National Electrical Control guidelines.
- Reduced Downtime: If an electrical control panel is equipped with the right controls, they can be used to identify or predict any performance issues caused by faulty components. When this type of information is easy to access via control panel indicators, it can be used to alert operators and maintenance technicians that maintenance is needed before equipment suffers a breakdown. When maintenance can be scheduled in advance, it drastically reduces costly unscheduled downtime and increases equipment and facility reliability and productivity.
- Increased Product Quality: Automated systems with electrical controls in a centralized location can be controlled with a greater degree of precision and attention and less human interaction, reducing the chances of human error and increasing consistency, repeatability and reliability of the process, leading to more consistent and improved product quality.
- Increased Energy Efficiency: Electrical control panels can provide real-time data that informs users of every change within the power system of the equipment and simplifies the process of making adjustments or pinpointing issues so the process can be returned to the correct running conditions, ensuring electrical reliability and efficiency.
Electrical control panels provide a centralized and organized means to corral the electrical and control components for machinery and equipment, but in doing so, they also help optimize the entire process, enhance safety, increase uptime and ensure product quality. Who would have thought so many value-added benefits could be found in one metal box? For more information on using electrical control panels in your facility, please contact an expert at JHFOSTER.