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Industry Focus: General Manufacturing, Industrial
Product Type: Connctors/Cables/Terminal Blocks, Drives/Loop Controllers/PAC's/PLC's, Power Supplies, Switches/Indicators/Relays/Solenoids, Sensors

August 2, 2021

By: Process Solutions

Electrical control panels are an integral part of any automated manufacturing process. At a basic level, control panels house various electronic devices that provide signals to direct the operation of equipment and machines. While control systems are a fundamental aspect of electrical engineering, many people aren’t aware of the key control panel components required to function safely and reliably.


Transformers reduce or increase AC voltages between circuits. A common application for an industrial control panel transformer would be converting incoming 480V AC to 120V AC so the control panel’s other housed devices can use it.

Power Supply

A power supply converts alternating current (AC) voltage to direct current (DC) voltage. In a control panel, the power supply will typically be converting 480V AC or 120V AC to 24V DC.

Circuit Breakers

Circuit breakers protect an electrical circuit from becoming damaged by detecting when there is excess electrical current and opening or breaking the circuit to stop the flow.

Disconnect Switch

While a disconnect switch can come in many different styles and form factors, the overall purpose is to completely disconnect the control panel from its electrical supply. A common use for a disconnect switch is to shut off power to the control panel to complete repairs or maintenance, as well as for emergency stoppages.

Terminal Blocks

Terminal blocks are connection points that can join two or more wires together. It is possible to arrange terminal blocks together in a strip to direct power from one source to various devices in the control panel.


A relay is an electronically or magnetically operated switch that makes or breaks contact to turn on or off a device. Relays typically allow low currents to activate higher currents. The relay can achieve this activation by directing the lower current to flow through an input circuit and activating an electromagnet. The charged electromagnet then pulls the output circuit closed, allowing a higher current to flow through the output circuit.


Similar to a relay, a contactor switches an electrical current on or off. The main difference between a contactor and a relay is that contactors are usually larger and used in applications with higher currents, where a relay is for lower currents. A common use case for contactors is for controlling electric motors, which often have high-current loads.

Overload Relay

An overload relay protects electric motors from overheating by preventing the motor from pulling more amps than the overload allows. This can occur when the motor’s circuit is being protected by a circuit breaker with a higher amp limit than the motor’s full-load rating. The overload relay protects the motor by opening the circuit when the current becomes 115% to 125% of the motor’s full-load rating.


A fuse is a safety device that protects an electric circuit from becoming overloaded by a current that is too high. Once a fuse has operated, it becomes an open circuit and you must replace it.

Motor Drives

While there are numerous types of motor drives that each serve a specific purpose, the overall function is to operate a connected motor. Common motor drives used in control panels include VFDs, Servo Drives, and soft starters.

Motor Starters

A motor starter is a device that combines a contactor and an overload relay to control the electrical output from the motor during start-up, as well as provide overload protection while the motor is operating. A motor starter often has a modular assembly and includes a manual on-off switch.

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC)

A programmable logic controller or PLC is an industrial computer specifically designed for the control of manufacturing processes, such as moving equipment and machines on an assembly line. PLCs are programmed using a specific computer language and are designed to operate in factory conditions that may include high levels of noise and vibrations. To control equipment and processes, PLCs monitor the status of sensor inputs to control outputs, such as motors, HMI displays, valves, lights, and solenoids.

Ethernet Switch

An industrial Ethernet switch allows for communication between devices inside the control panel, such as PLCs, VFDs, and HMIs, as well as networked devices outside of the panel, such as other control panels, SCADA systems, or information systems.

About Process Solutions

Located near Seattle Washington, Process Solutions is the Northwest’s largest control systems integrator. With 30+ years in business and over 100 engineers and technicians on staff, Process Solutions has the experience and capacity to take on almost any automation project. Process Solutions provides a wide range of control system services, including electrical control panels, PLC and HMI programming, robot system integration, energy management and refrigeration systems, SCADA software, and machine monitoring software.

Editor's Pick: Featured Product News


Extremely space-saving and flexible

The C60xx series of scalable ultra-compact Industrial PCs combines maximum computing power in what is currently the most compact format with a wide range of options for installation in the control cabinet. It is ideally suited for control, visualization and communication, for example into the cloud.

The latest Intel processors − in three different performance classes, from the Intel Atom with one core to the Intel Core i7 with eight cores – offer maximum scalability and power density with an optimal price-performance ratio.

Performance classes and application areas

The C601x series offers Intel Atom computing power for a wide range of automation and visualization tasks. Due to their impressive computing power in relation to their size, the PCs are mainly suited for use in Industrie 4.0 applications, for example as an IoT gateway.

The C603x series unites high-performance Intel Core-i processors with extremely compact housing dimensions. The processors from the 65 W class have only been used in the much larger ATX-based Industrial PCs up to now. The devices thus represent a new dimension in terms of power density. They are suitable above all for particularly complex automation and visualization tasks, but also for a wide range of other applications in the field of image processing, the handling of large volumes of data and in the IoT environment.

The C602x series is the link between the C601x and the C603x, and the fanless integration of Intel Core-i-U processors of the 15 W class opens up new application areas and options.

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TE Connectivity has recently upgraded its rugged, high-speed Mezalok mezzanine connector family to support the growing demand for higher data rates and improved processing power in military electronics. The upgraded connectors have increased data rate support up to 32+ Gb/s. The Mezalok connector family has been designed specifically for mezzanine cards in rugged applications and is standardized as the interconnect for XMC 2.0 (VITA 61). Rapidly evolving technologies in signal intelligence, radar, communications and surveillance are driving the need for more powerful embedded computing solutions. 

Mezzanine cards are often used to provide additional functionality and processing capability within a small form factor. TE designed the Mezalok connector family to support these applications. Typical applications include application-specific high-speed input/output (I/O) protocols, graphics, memory and digital-signal processing.

“New designs in rugged embedded computing require higher speeds and high pin counts in order to pack more functionality into smaller plug-in modules,” said Jason Dorwart, product manager for TE’s Aerospace, Defense and Marine division. “TE recognizes this trend and is continuing to build on this platform to help solve customer needs, offering new options in stack height, pin density and higher speeds, giving the system designer a broader solution set to work with when needing a fast, rugged and reliable mezzanine connector for extreme environments.” 

TE’s highly reliable Mezalok mezzanine connectors more than double the speed and durability of competing technology, making it one of the most viable options for today’s military and commercial aerospace applications.

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