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A Guide to Industrial Control Panels

OEM control panel manufacturing with Enercon

Enercon designs and manufactures industrial control panels to virtually any specification for clients across various industries. We have a 50,000-square-foot shop dedicated to industrial control panel engineering and have built a team of experts who are among the best in the world.

Whether it’s modernizing your plant’s capacities by retrofitting HMI interfaces or improving efficiency and automation through PLC controls, Enercon delivers ICPs that give you the control and functionality you need at cost-effective prices. Our products are built to the highest standards (UL508A/UL698A) and can be made to any relevant standard for the application. To learn more about building your control panels with Enercon and working with a supplier you can rely on, you can talk to our team here.

What are industrial control panels?

An industrial control panel (ICP) is an assembly of two or more components, either a power circuit or control circuit or a combination of the two. The assembly is contained within an enclosure or mounted on a subpanel. Several regulations define industrial control panel construction and use specifications, such as NEC Article 409 and UL508A in the US and EN 60204-1 and EN 61439-1 in the EU.

Industrial control panel manufacturers will build either standard panels or custom panels, depending on application requirements. The National Electrical Code, NFPA 70, mentions that industrial control panel power circuit components include motor controllers, overload relays, fused disconnect switches, and circuit breakers; control circuit components include pushbuttons, pilot lights, selector switches, timers, switches, and control relays.

Industrial control panels monitor, control, and ensure the safety of industrial equipment. Some common functions of industrial control panels are turning equipment on or off, regulating speed or direction, or opening and closing valves. ICPs are found wherever electrical machinery or heavy-duty equipment is, which means they are key installations for manufacturing, light and heavy industry, chemical processing, and civil and defense projects. Their wide range of applications includes industrial machinery controls, access control systems, pumping systems, and heating and cooling controls.

Types of industrial control panels

Several different types of industrial control panels can be deployed depending on application requirements. Potential applications include providing a mechanism for controlling equipment, which is done via logic controllers or simpler relay controls. The industrial control panel may also allow the operator to perform their tasks, including monitoring and control operations, with interface components such as touch screens, which improve the ease of use and safety of actions.

Standard-built control panels can fit general-purpose uses, while custom-built panels allow for a broader variety of different component combinations and can see the types of industrial control panels overlap together. Some of the most common types of industrial control panels include:

  • PLC Control Panels

  • HMI Control Panels

  • Relay Control Panels

  • Pump Control Panels

PLC Control Panels

Programmable logic controllers (PLC) are industrial computers that allow operators to input commands and functions performed by the equipment being controlled. A PLC control panel is a common type of ICP associated with industrial equipment; the control circuit components allow the operator to easily set commands for operations, known as PLC programming, including:

  • Adjusting process variables such as speed or direction through PLC programming

  • Monitoring process performance or variables such as temperature or pressure

  • Warning operators of conditions outside set parameters or machine malfunction

  • Protecting equipment from electrical faults such as current overload or short circuits

  • Logging and transmitting equipment and process performance data

  • Enabling communication with other devices, equipment or control systems

HMI Control Panels

A Human-Machine Interface (HMI) visualizes what’s happening inside a panel or throughout a process. These might previously have been as simple as color-coding to tell an operator when a process was ongoing or finished; however, modern HMI systems are usually a touchscreen dashboard that provides important information such as ambient or component temperature, process completion percentage, or rotations per minute.

HMI control panels provide a range of functionality, such as:

  • Providing operators with real-time system status reports and data

  • Informing operators of abnormal or dangerous conditions

  • Helping operators to diagnose and troubleshoot problems

  • Enabling operators to control or adjust processes

  • Collecting and transmitting data

  • Communicating within a broader monitoring and control system

HMI control panels are common elements of industrial, civil, and defense modernization projects. Enercon specializes in manufacturing standard and custom-designed HMI control panels built to OEM specifications and UL508A certified. In addition, we cater to all volumes and have on-site testing to guarantee quality at delivery.

Pump Control Panels

Pump control panels are designed and engineered to monitor and control pump operations. A typical pump control panel assembly can come in a simplex, duplex, or triplex setup, depending on the number of controlled pumps. The pump control panel will use control circuit equipment such as relays, timers, and switches to control the functions of the pump. Pump control panels will typically be used at wastewater treatment plants and systems, industrial processes, irrigation systems, and HVAC systems.

The main functions of a pump control panel include:

  • Using contactors or motor starters to start or stop the pump, either manually or automatically, based on preset conditions

  • Protecting the pump from malfunctions such as thermal or motor overload, or dry running

  • Monitoring pump status, water level, pressure, temperature, and flow rate

  • Informing operators of faults or abnormal operating conditions

  • Adjusting and optimizing speed and flow for system and equipment efficiency

Relay Control Panels

Relay control panels use relays for controlling equipment. The assembly of a relay control panel will include relays, control circuits for signal inputs, wiring and terminals, and a power source for the relays, all of which are typically housed within a metal enclosure. Relay control panels allow operators to improve production efficiency and save on costs by automating and optimizing processes, while downtime and repair costs can be reduced through better equipment protection from electrical or other faults.

Relay control panels are capable of carrying out a wide range of functions, including:

  • Opening and closing valves

  • Stopping and starting motors for assembly lines, presses or hydraulics

  • Controlling gas or fluid flows

  • Allowing PLCs to execute functions according to preset variables

  • Allowing the monitoring and control of process variables such as temperature or pressure

  • Keeping equipment safe from electrical overloads or short circuits through automatic transfer switch controllers

  • Increasing durability and reliability of equipment

Regulatory standards for industrial control panels

Industrial control panels perform a control function in industrial, civil, and defense environments, helping operators monitor and control processes and protecting operators and equipment from electrical faults and malfunction. Due to the importance of industrial control panels for human and equipment safety, several regulations and standards govern their design, production, and installation.

In North America, standards for control panels are outlined in the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70) and several Underwriter Laboratories (UL) standards. In addition, industrial control panels for military use will have to align with the specific MIL-SPEC code provided in the military procurement documents. For industrial, commercial, and residential projects, any inspecting authority having jurisdiction will require industrial control panels to meet relevant standards, with strict potential punishments where these requirements aren’t met.

The main standards for industrial control panels include UL 508A, UL 698A, and NFPA 70e.

UL 508A

UL 508A is the primary standard governing the design and construction of all industrial control panels for use in “ordinary” (i.e., non-hazardous) locations and operating from a supply voltage of less than 1,000 volts. The standard specifically focuses on component selection and the design and spacing of the ICP.

A UL 508A-certified industrial control panel will have identification depending on whether it is certified as an enclosed, open-type, or empty enclosure with a control number specific to the ICP shop where it was built. Being certified as open-type means only the mounting subpanel and the manufacturer-fitted components are certified, while an empty enclosure certification means only the enclosure itself is covered.

UL 508A control panels are found serving a very wide variety of functions, including:

  • Control valves

  • Electric motors

  • Refrigeration

  • Elevator controls

  • Industrial presses

  • Crane controls

  • Pick and place machines

  • Assembly machinery

UL 698A

UL 698A is a standard for industrial control panels designed for hazardous locations. It is an extension of the UL 508A standard, so all UL 698A industrial control panels must also be UL 508A compliant. The hazardous spaces determined under the standard are those in NFPA Articles 500 – 503, specifically:

  • Locations with flammable gas, vapor, or liquid

  • Locations with combustible dust

  • Locations with easily ignitable fibers or flyings

UL 698A certification is achieved through design features such as spacing to create intrinsically safe circuits, specific partition dimensions, and maximum surface temperature guidelines. Within UL 698A, there is a further distinction between NRBX certification, for ICPs controlling hazardous environments but are not in a hazardous environment themselves, and NNNY certification, where the ICP must have NEMA Type 7 certification for containing explosions and being incapable of starting or catching fire.

NFPA 70e

NFPA 70E is a safety standard that protects the health and safety of equipment operators involved in designing and installing electrical systems, including energy control systems. NFPA 70E is the electrical safety standard used by OSHA to fulfill its performance-based requirements. The standard aims to protect workers by minimizing electrical safety hazards such as:

  • Electric shock and electrocution

  • Arc flash

  • Arc blast

The standard outlines mitigation strategies, including how equipment such as energy management control systems or genset controllers are designed and maintained. This includes elimination and reduction processes, engineering controls, Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures, and boundary controls.

Other standards

Other notable standards covering the design, construction, and installation of industrial control panels in specific situations include:

UL 845: This rating covers the construction and performance of industrial motor control centers (MCC) used in non-hazardous locations. It outlines specific requirements for the design of MCC control panels, such as wiring spacing, specific component requirements, and how MCC panels must be tested prior to installation.

UL 1773: This rating covers the safety of power-operated dispensing devices for flammable and combustible liquids, such as fuel dispensers. This standard specifies requirements for designing, constructing, and testing these devices to ensure that they meet certain safety criteria.

UL 1008 Annex J: This supplementary annex to the UL 1008 standard provides additional testing and performance requirements for closed transition transfer switches (CTTS) used in emergency power systems. CTTS are a type of automatic transfer switch that provides a seamless power transfer between two sources by briefly paralleling them during the transfer process.

Design considerations & key components

Several design considerations must be taken when designing an industrial control panel to ensure that it both meets the requirements of your application and relevant regulatory standards, including:

Enclosures: The metal enclosures that house the industrial control panel can have several variations. These include the material, which is most commonly a metal such as stainless steel or aluminum but can also be fiberglass. The enclosure must also have sufficient space for the components and wiring and, simultaneously, fit the space of the available premises. There are also considerations around ventilation, accessibility, and serviceability.

Grounding: An industrial control panel must ensure all circuits are adequately grounded or bonded to minimize potential electrical hazards such as short circuits and current overload for operators and equipment. This is done via busbars, grounding bars, and grounding straps.

Space requirements: The layout of components within an industrial control panel must give sufficient spacing between components and also for wiring and wire bending. Spacing is required to allow for ventilation and reduce thermal overload and the risk of arc flash in non-insulated electrical components.

Power distribution: This is an important consideration as the power distribution must be tailored to meet the needs of the industrial control panel’s application. Common power distribution components are transformers, which change the voltage, and power distribution blocks, which distribute electrical circuits from an input source.

Automation components: These allow the industrial control panel to adjust processes in response to preset parameters, including logical programming. These components include timers, counters, sensors that collect data about the process and relays, switches, and contacts that control the equipment’s function. PLCs, HMIs, and communication mechanisms are also integral to ICP automation.

Wiring: Wiring connects the various components and systems within an industrial control panel and connects them with a power source. Wire types for specific industrial control panel applications are outlined in the relevant standards, such as NFPA 70 and UL 508A. Wire routing and management is an important design consideration to keep clearance distances and allow for easy identification and maintenance. Wire management is done using cable ducts, cable trays, and wireways.

Markings: Markings improve ICP safety and maintenance procedures. Markings in industrial control panels include component identification for components such as relays, circuit breakers, and transformers, where their function, voltage, and ratings should be written. Wires and terminals should also be marked with their function and numbers, and wire destinations to allow for easier connection and replacement during maintenance. Documentation should also be present on the front of the industrial control panel giving the ICP’s designs, compliance and certification labels, hazard labels, and safety warnings.

Enercon designs and builds industrial control panels, generator control systems, and energy control systems for all needs and to exactly the specifications you require for your application. This can be according to your own design or engineered by our expert team, taking into account all the design considerations and key components you need.

Do you need custom industrial control panels?

A standard industrial control panel's dimensions, components, and fittings will only meet their specific requirements for some applications. This can include modernization projects where you're looking to upgrade to HMI controls on custom power control systems whose dimensions were set long ago, and the scope doesn't involve changing them. You could also be looking to install a generator control system requiring a specific generator control module to meet your project objectives.

Custom industrial control panel assemblies are needed in a wide range of fields for projects such as:

  • Waste and Environmental Systems

  • Military and Defense Applications

  • Agricultural Automation

  • Robotic System Controls

  • Aerospace Control Enclosures

  • EV Charging Stations

  • Solar and Wind Controls

  • Manufacturing Equipment Controls

It is critical that when seeking a supplier for custom control panels, you choose one that has full certification and knowledge of relevant standards for your application, especially UL508A, UL698A, and their application-specific addendums. Your supplier should also be able to either build exactly to your custom specifications or have the capacity to assist you with designing ICPs to meet your needs.

At Enercon, building custom industrial control panel solutions is a big part of what we do, and we’re proud to have built a team and a panel shop that can design and assemble virtually any custom ICP for any field. We design, build, and deliver industrial control panels to whichever regulatory standard you need and provide a cost-effective way to tap into custom ICP building expertise.

Why outsource industrial control panels?

Outsourcing industrial control panel production makes sense for OEMs interested in freeing up resources and shop space for their specializations. Here are just some of the reasons why OEMs outsource industrial control panels to trusted third-party partners:

Saving Time and Money: With a dedicated 50,000-square-foot facility, we can handle projects of all sizes and for all needs, even custom ICPs to your own designs. Having such a large production facility, good supplier relationships, and an expert team in our shop means that we can turnaround ICPs quickly and to any regulatory standard (such as UL508A/UL698A) , cutting down on your need to use in-house resources.

Delivering Quality Assurance: For OEMs, outsourcing their industrial control panel construction to a dedicated team that builds ICPs every day of the week means greater reliability, consistency, and quality in control panel assembly. With all control panels built to the certification level required and tested on site, outsourcing can meet all of your needs in terms of quality assurance and regulatory compliance.

One-Stop Shop: Dedicated industrial control panel manufacturers should be able to handle any specification or requirement you need for a specific application. This includes either building to your required design or helping design the ICP for your needs themselves. They should also be capable of delivering fully engineered and tested end-products in terms of engineering specifications, PLC programming and testing to relevant standards so you don’t have to spend time and money going around to several different suppliers.

Scaling Capacity: Having a trusted industrial control panel fabricator allows OEMs to overcome their own capacity constraints and scale in line with current demand. The quick turnaround and guaranteed quality of outsourced ICPs can also deliver significant production efficiencies, with firms knowing they can commit to projects assured of the control panels coming on time and meeting all their needs.

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