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A panel builder is responsible for the construction of electric control panels. The exact process involved differs according to the specific industry for which the panel builder works, but generally includes the design and construction of the panel layout. The design process sees all components included in the control panel laid out in a logical manner conducive to ease of maintenance, diagnostic testing, and part replacement. Once the design is complete, the panel is prepared and all components mounted in their designated positions. The final step of the process involves the wiring of the harness, which connects all of the components and the testing of the completed circuit.
Electrical panels are an integral part of most manufacturing, industrial, and domestic electrical installations. These may range in size and complexity from huge, process controllers to small start/stop stations that run home swimming pool motors. In essence, a panel is an enclosure into which all of the switch gear and control elements of a specific circuit or group of circuits are built. This locates all the relevant equipment in one place, protects the circuit from the ingress of contaminants, and makes maintenance and repair of the circuit simpler. The construction of these panels is generally carried out by a specialist artisan known as panel builder, although, in some cases, local electricians may build their own panels.
An accurate description of the exact process followed by a panel builder in constructing panels is difficult to define. The full extent of the involvement of the builder in the construction process differs as does the methods used. In some cases, the panel builder may be part of a large team, each member being responsible for only one portion of the work. These teams may even fabricate the enclosures and some of the components. In general, though, panels are built by one or two artisans using off-the-shelf components.
A typical panel construction job will usually start with the issue of a brief, which includes the exact purpose of the panel, a description of machinery that it will control, and a set of general specifications. These will typically include details of exact types of equipment and wiring to be used, circuit diagrams, and the type of environment in which the panel will be used. The panel builder will start the project by designing a component layout based on the specifications and the physical size of the enclosure chosen. Once the diagram is refined and approved, the physical construction of the panel begins.
During this part of the process the panel builder will mount all the components, such as circuit breakers, contactors, and volt and amp meters into the panel according to the approved layout. Once this is complete, cable trunking or trays are inserted to accommodate the wiring harness. The wiring of the circuit may be done wire for wire in the case of once-off panels, or, when standard panels are being built, using a pre-built harness. This step is completed by making all of the connections between the harness and the installed components. When the wiring is complete, the panel can be moved to a test bench where all parts of the circuit are tested and the panel signed off for delivery.