Panel downsizing: help is at hand

13 April 2016

Jodie Commercial discusses how a new breed of compact panel components can help to address panel builders downsizing challenges.

There are many challenges facing panel builders and machine designers today. They need to reduce costs, increase flexibility, and meet user requirements to optimise plant floor space. All of these have led to a trend towards reducing panel size. At the same time, however, end users want increased functionality, often built around new control architectures, which tend to require increased panel space.

Panel space has always carried a cost premium, but as the prices of steel and copper rise the requirement to minimise panel sizes has become more acute. Panel builders – and indeed machine designers – will frequently also have to take into account export costs, and the bigger and heavier the panel, the higher the cost of transportation.

However, it is not just the panel builders who have an interest in downsizing panels. For end users available space on the plant floor is inevitably limited as they strive for ever greater levels of productivity within the same production real estate, there are requirements for smaller panels to help optimise available floor space.

Complicating matters further, end users also frequently ask for panels which allow for ongoing system upgrades or for customisation. A given line may have an operational lifespan of 15 years or more, and will be modified on numerous occasions to increase performance or to handle a wider array of products. For the panels themselves, this inevitably means the addition of more control and I/O components.

This makes panel downsizing even more of a challenge at the design stage, with panel builders being required to implement an initial control solution in the tightest possible space, and yet still leave room in the panel for upgrades. Alternatively, at the midpoint in a machine’s operational lifetime, panel builders may be asked to upgrade existing panels where there is no more space, facing the challenge of adding increased functionality into panels which already seem unfeasibly small.

To help meet these challenges, Omron has developed a range of compact components to enable panel streamlining. The slim in-panel component designs offer widths of as little as 6.2mm, as well as on-panel components with reduced depth. This can help to reduce overall panel dimensions by as much as 20%.

The complete range of compact in-panel components includes electromechanical and solid state relays, micro connectors, safety relays, temperature controllers, timers, measuring and monitoring relays, PLCs and power supplies. On-panel components with reduced depth include pushbutton switches, temperature controllers, timers and counters.

The slim industrial relays allow modules to be downsized or the number of I/O points to be increased without increasing panel space. Safety relays save mounting space and measuring and monitoring relays offer a compact footprint for narrow panel spaces with widths of only 17.5mm and 22.5mm. These products also offer features such as screw-less terminals, LED status indicators, simple front wiring and push in terminals, all helping panel designers to optimise panel layouts without impacting on issues such as usability or maintenance.

A compact uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) is also available. It uses lithium-ion batteries to minimise component size and weight, as well as increasing product life. Further, standard switch mode industrial power supplies have been redesigned to be up to 13% smaller than comparable power supplies, offering the smallest footprint on the market.

As a further aid to panel downsizing, Omron has made parts data for all control products available via an online data portal. The information from this portal can be directly imported into panel design software packages such as EPLAN and Zuken E3.
Jodie Commercial is product marketing manager for components at Omron.

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