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Control Panels Control Panels

There are numerous control panel sizes and materials for detention facilities. Ninety nine percent of all detention panels are custom made for the particular facility. These range from the very simple bare metal panel with switches and lights to metal-plastic laminated panels with multi-colored graphics to identify each switch and light. There are three main physical components to each control panel, the panel and graphics, the components and the wiring.

The layout design of each control panel is the most important component of panel design. Good panel design consists of more than just copying and pasting the floor plan onto the panel, operator duties, line of sight, number of control points and graphical presentation are a few of the factors that are needed for good operator friendly panels.

Panels and Graphics

These two topics are combined because they are inter-related and dependant one each other. The panel material will determine what kind of graphics can be used.

Basic metal panels may be made out of a non-oxidizing material like stainless steel or aluminum. Stainless steel is difficult to cut or engrave so graphics are generally limited to silk screen graphics. Aluminum may be engraved and backfilled with paint for visually contrasting labels. Aluminum panels may also be painted or anodized. Panels painted dark can be engraved with graphics with or without painted backfill. Anodized panels have the graphics applied as part of the photo anodization process. Color can also be added.

Hybrid panels usually consist of a base metal layer laminated to a clear cover such as Lexan. Graphics may be reverse silk screened with colors onto the bottom side of the clear cover and then laminated or attached to a dark metal base. The graphics are then protected from daily wear on the exposed surface of the control panel. If graphic changes are frequent a similar approach can be effectively used. If the components are fastened directly to the base, the holes in the clear cover can be cut to fit over the components and bolted to the base. When the graphics need to be changed, the clear cover is removed and replaced or modified with the new graphics and replaced.

Labels can be added directly to some types of buttons that can add to or replace panel graphics. The size of routinely used panels and the location of switches should be limited to the operators comfort access area to prevent repetitive and overreach injury.


There are several types of devices that may be mounted on a panel. These include; switches, buttons, LED's, microphones, speakers, clocks, intercoms, radios, CCTV monitors and brackets to hold temporary information such as inmate name, photo and phone lists.

Momentary or maintained function. Momentary is used when the action is to be temporary and conditions are to return to normal when the action is complete. Maintained is used when the action is to remain in the non normal condition until it is specifically returned to normal. For example, certain doors are to remain secured except when being used, a momentary button is used to unlock the door. When the switch is released and the door is closed it will relock. If a door is to remain open for a period of time then a maintained switch would be used, when switched the door would unlock and remain unlocked until the switch is returned to its normal position. Software can be used to latch momentary buttons so that they act like a maintained button. This is very useful when one door may be controlled at more that one location.

Switches are usually defined as requiring a rotation or back and forth action to operate and the term is sometimes used generically to include buttons. Buttons require an in or out action to operate. There are a couple types of unique momentary buttons, membrane and pressure sensitive. The membrane buttons require a special thin material cover to cover them. These covers can make beautiful color graphic panels. If the button can not be replaced from the rear of the panel, the cover must be cut and repaired to replace a bad button. Membrane buttons should not be used for functions that require daily operation, they do not have a long operational-cycle life. Pressure sensitive buttons have no moving parts and can be mounted in or behind a panel depending on the model type. These long life buttons are not easily destroyed.

The shapes, color and configuration of switches and buttons can be used to define its purpose. For example square buttons could be used for cells, rectangle for movement and round for intercom. Adding colors and configuration increases the possibilities.

LED's are all most exclusively used on control panels instead of incandescent lamps, they have low power consumption and the LED life expectancy is unknown.

Other devices may be placed into a panel for convenience of operation. This depends on the specific operation of each station.


Panel wiring should be neat and assessable for maintenance and repair. No soldering should be required to remove and replace a device and the wire should include a service loop and access to facilitate the replacement. The cable to the panel should have a strain relief or mechanical fastener so as not to damage the panel wiring itself from cable stress.

Layout Design

The panel presentation is critical to the overall effectiveness of the panel in its function. All panels should be intuitively designed so that a new operator can locate and operate any door or device within one minute.

Graphics should be designed for ease of navigation and for optimum operator event handling. The use of colors, switch or button shapes, graphics and audible tones are all used to create intuitive and ergonomic operator interface stations. Operator duties, distractions and fatigue must all be considered in the design.