Integrated prototype functions ease control panel design

Software helps control panel designs and the component selection, prototyping, setup, and testing of control panel components prior to assembly. Such software also can help with optimal component placement, standards compliance, and ensure that programming works upon installation.


Design, setup and testing of control panel components inside software prior to assembly enable appropriate component selection, optimal placement and standards compliance. It also ensures programming works after installation. Such built-in prototype functionality, sometimes not even referred to as prototyping by control vendors, speeds time to market for control panel builders, system integrators, and original equipment manufacturers. Software can improve quality, reduce risk, ease integration, streamline commissioning, and better manage product lifecycles, compared to paper-based (or lost) project documentation.

Prototype functionality allows easier upgrades, lowering costs over the lifecycle of the control cabinet or panel and for use of connected components beyond the control panel. Multiple entrants in Control Engineering’s Control Panel Design Contest in in the past two years agree about the value of such software tools.   While software cannot do everything, and no software package provides all of the following functionality, control panel designers may use software for:

  • Electrical design;
  • 3D prototyping for component selection and layout;
  • Control panel compliance regulations, such as UL 508A, the Standard of Safety for Industrial Control Panels, ANSI/UL 347, "High Voltage Industrial Control Equipment," and ANSI/UL 508C, "Power Conversion Equipment," among other standards.)
  • Control software design, analysis and testing, and integration with human-machine interface and networks; and
  • 3D motion simulations for motion-related devices connected to the panel.   In general, software is deeper in functionality than just a few years ago. It’s also quicker to learn, easier to use, modular (allowing users to buy want is needed), and may be available as a software as a service (SaaS).

During design, intelligent software cautions the user about incompatibilities during design. This allows a smoother prototyping in software and hardware, and in the final assembly.  Product images and dimensions can be imported from libraries of components. Software can suggest placeholders, links, and missing components. Bills of material (BOM), incorporating and checking for compatibilities from multiple manufacturers, may be automatically generated.

Built-in guides and wizards automate many steps, transferring I/O (input/output) tags from design to runtime software, saving time and eliminating a source for errors. Imported knowledge from prior projects, other areas of an organization, and other software can be incorporated, and designs can be collaborative over multiple locations, as needed. Digital prototyping software can run diagnostics prior to assembly, ensuring challenges are addressed during design, more economically, and quickly than during assembly.

On the hardware side, many control component manufacturers offer advice, examples, videos, and starter kits to help with initial designs. If it’s the first design of many, they may even offer incentives. Users should refer to various vendors for details.

For more about various prototyping, software tools, and control panel design, also see:  

- Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering content manager,, part of CFE Media,    

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