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Creating Custom Electrical Panels.

Sooner or later, when you are doing projects on your Recreational Vehicle, you will run into the need for a panel to mount switches, controls, or other items. Often, the appearance of the panel will make the difference between a project you are proud to show-off and one you want to hide.

And... your projects just seem to work better if they are more attractive. I am not sure what bad "Ju Ju" is responsible for this... perhaps it's Mr. Murphy or some other unknown force - but this relationship does seem to exist.

 

You can improve things to some degree with off-the-shelf switch products such as this Blue Sea 4303 switch panel, but it is limited to switches. They are available in 2, 4, 6, or 8 switch banks, and they do come with labels that you can apply to the switch functions.

However, the labels are Boat related so there may not be any labels appropriate for your use. You can order custom labels for $5 each - with a $5 setup charge, so a two switch panel with custom labels is around $40 to $50 - a fairly expensive switch panel.

 

There is a better way

There is always a better way. Two custom panel shops that I am aware of will construct single runs of front electrical panels to your specifications. To be fair, I have only used Front Panel Express, but I will provide links to both shops at the bottom of this page. Both operations are similar except for perhaps pricing and ease of design.

To create a front panel, you must first download a panel designer. This is a layout application that will allow you to create your panel as well as any cutouts necessary. There are a few cut-out templates provided with the software, but they are limited, so plan on measuring or drawing the cutouts yourself.

 

 

 

Cost is not significant. I created the front panel you see to the right using Front Panel Express. The total cost was around $22, which included engraved lettering. The switches were another $5, so for $27, I created a panel equivalent to the Blue Sea panel for a significantly lower price. And I am not restricted to color of the panel, size, or the kind of cutouts I want.

 

One of the hardest parts of designing your own panel is to get the cutout dimensions exact. However, this is easily done if you can find and download specification sheets for the items you wish to put in the panel.

These are usually found at the manufacturer's website as a .pdf download. Most of the time (but not all) you will find a recommended cut-out for panel mounting their product.

 

Step-by-Step

  1. Download the designer application from the panel shop you wish to use.
  2. Install the application.
  3. Download spec sheets that has dimensional cutouts for all of the items you wish to use.
  4. Measure the cutouts for items you don't have spec sheets for.
  5. Start the designer application and design your panel.
  6. Order your panel (this can be done directly from the application).

 


Video on how to create a custom panel for your RV.

 

Saving Money

Inevitably, you will end up designing a panel that costs hundreds of dollars when it shouldn't. The fees charged by the panel designer depend on how complex the panel is. Here are a few tips when designing panels...

  • Select the proper panel thickness, material, and finishing. There is a huge difference in pricing depending on the material you select.

  • Minimize tool changes. Each time the machine has to change tool diameters, there is an up-charge. You can monitor this by clicking on the "Pricing" icon (the icon to the right of the menu that looks like two coins).

  • If you can avoid it, consider not adding any threaded holes. You can easily tap your own holes when you receive the panel.

  • When you letter your panel, consider not filling in any color. The raw aluminum of the panel provides enough contrast in most situations. Also, you can buy aftermarket paint sticks that you can rub on Lacquer into the voids of the engraving if you want different lettering colors.

 

Resources:

Front Panel Express Front panel shop - I have always used them.
Proto Panel Formerly Cetina. I have never used them, but when they were Cetina, they were a bit less expensive.