4 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Industrial Control Panels

by Bill Bezek, Electrical Engineer

Your new equipment is up and running with expectations to produce product right away. Are you sure how to maintain the components of your system? The electrical components and panels of your system are expensive and when they are not working their best they can cause unscheduled down time. After many years of experience here are some guidelines on maintaining the industrial control panels used in your system.

1. Managing Temperature –Cooling systems matter

Fan Cooled Cabinet

Over 55% of electrical component failure is due to temperature. In consideration it is important that the cooling system for your panel be sized appropriately If the system is under sized then components will be exposed to high heat and are at risk for failure, conversely if your system is oversized you could be dealing with condensation problems and exposure to moisture. Cabinet cooling should be manufactured to meet the environmental requirements of the factory, for example a NEMA12 unit is intended for indoor use and provides a degree of protection against circulating dust, dripping non-corrosive liquids and falling dirt.

Air to Water exchanger

Most industrial control panels are cooled using one of the three systems listed below:

  1. Fan cooled cabinets- this system consists of a fan/or filter that provides cool filtered incoming air that displaces the built up hot air inside the panel. The hot air is then exhausted through an exhaust/filter usually located higher in the cabinet than the incoming fan/filter. This is a low cost option and a good choice for limited space; however it is not a good choice for extremely dirty locations or restricted explosive environments. These systems require constant monitoring and maintenance as the filters need to cleaned and changed out frequently to maximize the life of the electrical components inside.
  2. A/C cooled cabinets- this system consists of an air conditioning unit that is typically mounted to the outside of the cabinet. This is a closed system and provides an enclosed separate environment from the external factory environment. The advantages to this system are that it is thermostatically controlled, filters do not require cleaning as frequently and there is minimal maintenance.
  3. Air to Water heat exchanger – this system consists of a fan and radiator which is a closed system similar to the A/C unit. Instead of an A/C compressor and refrigerant, it uses plant chilled water to drop the cabinet temperature. Advantages with this system are a simple durable design with a lower operating cost and little to no maintenance.

Whichever unit your system is equipped with, be sure that you perform the regular maintenance and that the units have the manufacturer’s required clearance around to the unit to keep it running optimally.

2. Scheduled Inspections- Preventative Maintenance

Panel diagnostics , preventative maintenance

Most industrial control panels vary in size; there can be small with few electrical components to large banks of components housed in multiple cabinets. It is recommended that you schedule regular maintenance by qualified personnel to inspect and clean panel components. Inspect for worn components, brittle wires and loose connections. If you have a small panel to maintain you can do this all at one time. If you have a larger bank of panels, we suggest breaking it into quadrants and rotate through inspections on a schedule. When your inspection is complete, repair or tighten components needing it. Be sure to follow manufacturer's tightening torque recommendations and safe handling procedures including proper Lock Out and Tag Out procedures. Having a regular inspection and PM schedule can help find issues early and save costly emergency repairs.

3. Cleaning and Storage

Electrical panel

While maintaining Lock Out /Tag Out procedures there are a few recommended additional steps after your inspection. Vacuum and clean the tops and bottoms of components. If there is an area you cannot reach you can use compressed air, follow the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations for the PSI that is acceptable. Panels should not be used for storage. Remove any unused parts and debris. Loose parts and paper could cause a fire. A safe and centralized storage space for extra parts and machine notes will save time searching for parts when you are under pressure to get your machine up and running.




4. Labeling and Documentation

Functioning control panel with safety stickers

When you have completed your preventative maintenance procedures take a few moments to check the labeling throughout the panel and on your machine, replacing worn or damaged labels can improve repair time and also increase the safety of your panel. Also, documenting all changes, repairs and updating prints and schematics can shorten time when repairs are needed or when troubleshooting operation issues.

Every plant is different but establishing a proactive approach to maintaining your industrial control panel can lead to a longer life span for your equipment and less burden on personnel when repairs are needed, that can result in shortened down time. Contact us for more information on customized control panels and programming.