Control panels are used to receive inputs, trigger outputs, and monitor systems and instrumentation. They are used in a variety of industrial, manufacturing and process control applications. There are many different types of control panels. Examples include access control panels, electrical control panels, motor control panels, and pump control panels. Access control panels are used in security systems to limit unauthorized access to office buildings, manufacturing facilities, or processing plants. Electrical control panels monitor and regulate the flow of electricity into a building or structure. Motor control panels are used with various types of AC motors and DC motors. Similarly, pump control panels are used with all manner of industrial pumps. Some industrial control panels have a basic interface and offer limited functionality. Others are complete control panel systems that include hardware, software, and controller cards. Lighting control panels, HVAC control panels, and custom control panels are also available.
Most control panels are flat, vertical units that mount on wall or stand freely. General specifications include length, width, weight, operating temperature and materials of construction. Often, aluminum and mild steel are used. Electrical and wiring specifications for control panels include supply voltage, control voltage, current rating, and cable conductor size. Some control panels use single-phase power. Others use three-phase power. Control panels that require low or extra-low voltage AC cables and low or extra-low voltage DC cables are also available. Typical control panel components include switches, lamps, fuses, isolators, control relays, contactors, starters, terminals, electronic and timers.
Control panels may be housed in enclosures which prevent the ingress of environmental contaminants such as dust and water. Control panel suppliers often indicate compliance with National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) or Ingress Protection (IP) ratings. NEMA ratings indicate whether control panel enclosures are suitable for hazardous or non-hazardous locations and designed for indoor or outdoor use. All NEMA enclosures protect personnel against incidental contact with enclosed control panels. Types 1, 2, 12, 12K and 13 NEMA enclosures are rated for indoor use in non-hazardous locations. Types 3, 3R, 3S, 4, 4X, 5, 6, and 6P enclosures are rated for both indoor and outdoor use in non-hazardous locations. The IP ratings system from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) describes the degree to which industrial enclosures provide protection against the ingress of foreign objects and moisture. There are six IP ratings that describe protection against foreign objects.