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Paul's Modular Control Panel

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Paul Olson:
I started thinking about a modular control panel a couple of years ago, but I think I finally have a workable design so I am starting the build process. I will try to document this as much as possible so others can use it if they want.

To save quite a few comments, let me say that a lot of you will probably not like this design. I designed it more for strength than asthetics, although I think I will be happy with the way it looks. It breaks a couple of unwritten rules I have noticed around here over the years.  The biggest broken rule being that the panels will mount to the box from the top and the heads of the cap screws will be visible at all times! Yeah , I know, terrible isn't it.  :)  I will also have to screw them in every time adding a bit of time to the swap. This was a more than acceptable trade off to me because this design is very strong. I tried many different designs before settling on this one, but none of them were strong enough. Most involved rabbiting the MDF panels, and the MDF was just incredibly weak in that situation.

Here is a picture of my old cp. My goal is to make the new modular panel resemble this one. I like the way it looks, and the size is perfect for me.

I made a new box for the cp and I am using unistrut to mount the panels. The panels attach really flat and tight, and it is very strong. Before I mounted the box to the cabinet, I attached one panel and shook the box around by it for a little while, so it is definitely strong.

I decided to do something different with the panels. I want to limit the amount of configuration options to make things simple, and to avoid small filler panels. The inside of the cp box is 34" wide(the panel with trim will be 37", the same as my old panel), and I will use four sizes of panels: 6", 7", 10", and 14".

Here are the panel blanks:  

The 6" panels will be used in the center of 2 player layouts and they will contain the start buttons and possibly some admin buttons. I made a feww of these so I can experiment with this.

All joystick and button panels will be 7". I do not want to try to fit these on smaller panels, and I think the extra width will make the panel stronger. Two 7" panels per player, plus the 6" panel in between gives me my 34", so there is no extra space to fill up.

Here are the parts that will go on these panels:

The 10" panels will be used for trackballs. I currently only have one little one, but someday I plan to buy two new 3" trackballs. 10" panels will also be used as blank panels and start button panels. For 1 player layouts, I will use the 7" joystick and button panels and two 10" panels on the side to get 34" A single trackball layout will use the 10" trackball panel plus 1 or 2 7" button panels (for left and right handers) plus to more 7" to fill up the rest of the 34". Dual trackball layouts will use a 10" and 7" for each player. This one creates a problem since there is no blank panel to mount the start buttons on. I may end up making a 14" panel for this to mount start buttons and both player buttons on.

The 14" panels will be used for larger controls. So far I have two steering wheels, motorcycle handlebars, and a space harrier controller. I will need to make boxes on top of the panels to get the controls at correct angles. These will probably wait for a while.

I will try to update this as I make progress.

This should be interesting.

Good luck

Paul Olson:
I finished drilling the mounting holes in all of the panels. Here is a picture of the blank panels. I need to find some more cap screws tomorrow. I have been trying to get enough of them for a couple of weeks now, but they seem to be incredibly hard to find. Once I test fit all of the panels, I can build the trim that will box in the panels and make the finished panel look like my old one. Hopefully this will happen tomorrow, but probably not.

Interesting use. They use Unistruts at work (or something like it), but had no idea what they were called.

Looking around at their web site, would the Closure Strip not have worked in your application? Cut, align and attach the metal closure strip to your panels and your panels clip in and out. No screws necessary.

Paul Olson:
Those are definitely a possibility. The only problem is I haven't found a place to purchase them. All of the electrical supply houses around here are closed on the weekends, and I don't have time to go look during the week. I am actually hoping to find different solutions to attach the panels to the strut, but I am starting with what I have because I need to get this panel working. My cab has been sitting collecting dust for over a year now. I planned this one as a testing prototype and it seems like it will work pretty well as is, so I saved some time there. Like I said in the first post, I am most concerned with strength. My motorcycle handlebars are heavy, so the panels will need to be locked down very securely.


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