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Cutting panels

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by Don Y, Jul 21, 2013.

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  1. Don Y

    Don Y Guest


    I need to fabricate a "patch panel" for a network
    distribution point. Most COTS panels are fabricated
    in multiples of 12 or 24.

    E.g., 1x12, 1x24 (as 12+12), 4x24, etc.

    Graphically, something like:




    Each 'X' being an 8P8C RJ45S connector.

    Typically, these "connector assemblies" are fastened
    to the rear of an aluminum plate while the connectors
    themselves protrude through holes in that plate
    (actually, since the connectors typically abut each other,
    the holes are really long *slots*)

    [Sorry if all this is obvious -- if you've seen one such
    panel, you'd understand what I mean]

    In my particular case (1-off), I need to fabricate two
    "3x12" panels:


    My problem is cutting these long slots in some material
    (e.g., aluminum) in a manner that doesn't look amateurish.
    [I suspect these slots are punched in commercial offerings
    so they are nice and square, etc.]

    You *know* aluminum with a file is going to look like
    "aluminum with a file" :< I just can't imagine keeping
    nice hard, straight edges going that route!

    So, I'm exploring other fabrication options. E.g., perhaps
    replace the aluminum with lexan? (though I'm not sure that
    will be any easier to machine -- "hot knife"?)

    [I have a friend with several wire EDM's but can't bring myself
    to ask for that big of a favor! :-/ ]

    Currently, I figure the easiest solution is to find a couple of
    4x24 panels and cut them each in "half" (more like 55/45%]
    discarding the undersized "halves".

    Is there some other trick I can explore? Anything *strong* that
    can be "molded"/poured? (the panels have to support a fair bit
    of force as things are plugged/unplugged "carelessly")

  2. Find a place that does laser cutting? think there's even some on ebay

    if it is mostly slots could you bolt/pop-rivet it together from standard
    strips of alu?

  3. Search for "custom panel laser cut metal"
  4. amdx

    amdx Guest

    I'm don't know what type of connector will go in the slot, but many
    have a small lip to cover minor flaws. I if indeed the job is 3 long
    slots and not 36 small slots, I would fabricate it myself with a jigsaw
    and a file. I usually scribe lines in the aluminum and put a fresh coat
    of masking tape on the bottom of my jigsaw to protect the material, then
    grab the proper glasses, and lighting for good vision. I'd mount the
    aluminum securely maybe in a vise, maybe screwed to a piece of wood.
    You might want to change the masking tape part way through.
    Use a variable speed jigsaw and a new blade (I like the bimetal)
    and take your time and take breaks.
    If your not up to that, make a drawing and take it to a machine shop.

    I bought one of these panels for a system using RJ45s TT/
    I bought it for the parts when I put together a temperature monitoring
    system for 13 freezers. (A "One Wire" system)
  5. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Not sure why you'd see filed edges in this case. If you mean the
    outsides of a cut panel I do this:

    a. File with a coarse file, then a fine one.

    b. Go over it with an electric sander and 240-grit paper or similar.

    c. Go over it by hand with 600-grit paper.

    d. If I want to be extra good I go over it once more with 600-grit and
    chalk in it. Commercial product does not live up to that.

    A pint of Guinness can help with that :)

    IME they all have a lip. Else they'd fall out the back :)

    That's exactly how I do it. I use a Bosch 230V jig saw running a bit
    slow on 120V, makes nice clean cuts. You just have to resist the
    temptation of rushing the job by pushing too hard.

    I clamp it to a wooden workbench. Also with some masking tape so the
    clamps won't mar the aluminum.
  6. Carl Ijames

    Carl Ijames Guest

    For just one, find someone with a manual mill and have the slots milled.
    Maybe post on rec.crafts.metalworking and tell where you are and maybe
    someone will volunteer. Or find a machine shop in your area. Laser
    cutting, punching, or cnc milling will all cost twice as much because of the
    set up and programming involved. If you want five or ten or more, then that
    gets spread out and doesn't matter much, but for one the overhead is a

    Carl Ijames

    "Roberto Waltman" wrote in message

    Search for "custom panel laser cut metal"
  7. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Or use the situation as the perfect excuse to get one of these:

    It's still less than what most wives spend on shoes, handbags and such
    in a year :)
  8. Guest

    Good solution. You could either layout one panel and the person doing the work can stack the plates and mill both of them at the same time. Or you could provide a drawing and let the person doing the work find the material.That way the shipping would be less. How thick is the material? I mighthave some appropriate material.

    Doing it with a sabre saw and a file could still end up looking professional.You just need the right file. MSC has files for aluminum that work well..

  9. I'd think he wasn't so much talking about the finish on the edges but more
    that making a long accurate and perfectly straight slot with a file and a saw take a bit of practice
    with the right bit a normal router works fine on aluminium, hack up a
    template from a few pieces of wood and use a copy ring

  10. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Lasse,

    Actually, while hunting for some images to post, I've encountered
    panels that use groups of 4, 6 and 8 as well! So, I guess there's
    no hard and fast rule, here (except that the slots will be long
    and narrow -- and many of them!)
    I think that will be expensive. I'd like to come up with a solution
    that others could replicate -- on a hobbyist/DIYer budget (since I
    don't think most folks would be deploying this sort of thing in an
    equipment rack (for this application). Nor would they tend to
    need as many ports/connectors as are typically available COTS.
    <frown> Icky-poo! I don't see how you can end up with something
    that didn't look "pieced together"/amateurish.

  11. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Carl,

    (slaps head) D'oh! Friend with EDM's probably still has a few
    Bridgeports in the back room for jobs that are too small to setup
    on the wire cutters! I.e., no real "set-up" involved using a mill
    (compared to "programming" the EDM's). This is a much *smaller*
    favor to ask... ;-)
    Exactly. Old school is the only practical way to go if you are
    going to have someone else do it for you.

    Thanks! That gives me a more practical approach (though still leaves
    "those who follow" in a bind...)

  12. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Not sure why though. I even did those as a kid, using a simple tiny
    metal saw because a motorized jig saw was outside my budget back then.
    But when I bought the hand saw I made sure that the blade could be
    inserted 90 degrees rotated. Those are very simple and cheap tools:

    In those days I always wanted one of these because it's much easier to
    flip the blade, but couldn't find it locally:

    When I built electronics I usually built the enclosure first, the result
    had to look good and preferably free of blemishes and imperfections.

    Most had cut-outs or sides that needed to be polished. The last one has
    lots of scratches but those are from various ham events were it got a

    For a one-off piece I'd plunge right in with it :)

    Unfortunately I don't have a router and I am really out of space for
    more such tools. I do enjoy making stuff by hand on occasion, when there
    is time. Otherwise, in America you can rent just about anything.
  13. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    You can also use an off-the-shelf panel an then make a cover plate for
    the unused positions. Paint that the same color as the panel and it'll
    look professionally. It even tells people "Hey, this is expandable" :)

    Anyhow, if you don't rush the job you can probably make such a panel in
    your garage.

  14. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Mike,

    Most of the units I've seen (I've accumulated quite a nice
    collection! :> ) have the connectors *peek* through the slots
    in the front metal plate, mounted from behind.

    For example:
    Note the "black dots" -- each a boss/stand-off that's supporting
    the PCB onto which the individual connectors are mounted.

    which has some alternate thumbnails showing detail of the
    openings in the panel -- along with a view of the back side.

    E.g., a PCB (or, a set of PCB's) is mounted behind the panel.
    On one side of the PCB, the connectors are mounted. On the reverse
    side, a series of punch-down blocks (the third thumbnail) which
    are connected to the connectors via traces on the PCB's.

    Viewed "end-on" sighting down the row of connectors, you have:

    B B

    where CCCC represents the connector's body and B the punchdown

    But, the epiphany is hidden in your phrase: "a small lip to cover
    minor flaws"! I.e., while the connectors themselves don't have such
    a lip, there's nothing to prevent me from *making* one!

    Specifically, creating a "precise" veneer to mask any ugliness
    in the fabrication of the "metal/lexan panel". I.e., use the
    panel for structural support and adhere a thin (rigid) plastic
    veneer *to* it!

    You could precisely cut the slots in that veneer with a good
    straight edge and sharp xacto knife. Heck, you could even
    make it out of an exotic *wood* veneer: "Be the first on
    your block to have a Mahogany patch panel!" :>
    With the veneer approach, you could be *really* crude in how well you
    cut the slots. And, "filing" would only be necessary to remove burrs,

    Yes, I like this idea! It's something that others could easily
    reproduce and get "good" results -- all while avoiding the need
    to locate some "service" to do the work for you!
  15. sure it is doable with practice and attention to detail, look like the ones
    you show all have mountings the goes on the outside of the panel
    with something that gets mounted from the back so you can see the cut out
    it need to be that much more accurate
    a router takes less space than a pair of shoes :p

    lots of hacker spaces and places online where you can get laser cut
    acrylic, that might work

  16. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Oh, yes! A rigid (thin) sheet of plastic onto which is adhered
    a nice, *legended* applique (photographically reproduced from a
    Photoshop/Illustrator file created on your PC for $2 at your local
    Costco, etc.). Make things look *really* professional/custom!
    Much cleaner than scribbling what each connector services *on*
    the panel itself!

    And, for little/no money! Finestkind!
  17. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Joerg,

    [Are you threatened by fires?]

    Then you've got to find a place to *store* the damn thing! :<
    (I've been procrastinating buying a tile/wet saw for exactly this
    You need to find yourself a less-expensive model!! ;-)

    [I now have *three* pair of shoes and it has left me stressed to
    the max! Never can find the pair I want to wear... <frown> ]

  18. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Sorry, the last link was wrong, this is the unit that got scratched up
    in service:

    I sawed the front panel from a larger piece of aluminum. One of the cuts
    actually had to be made with the bare saw blade wrapped in an old sock,
    the bow of the saw was too small to reach around. It resulted in some
    nasty blisters. I went all the way to 600-grit paper with chalk on this one.

    But not for this job. You need a small router table as well, plus
    ideally a stand. Like this:

    Sure, but sometimes it's nice to build something with your hands. I
    still have stuff my grandpa made by hand, he taught me that.
  19. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Joerg,

    No. Outside is easy -- you can bring power tools to bear (belt
    sanders, etc.) But, when cutting a long, thin slot/opening in the
    interior of the piece, your choices quickly get limited. Esp if
    you want nice square corners, etc.
    The ones I've seen are all *mounted* from the back. See the
    images (URL) I posted in another reply.

  20. Don Y

    Don Y Guest

    Hi Joerg,

    On 7/21/2013 12:53 PM, Joerg wrote:

    [Attributions elided]
    A lot will depend on the preferences of the individual as well as
    its installed location, etc. E.g., here, expansion is out of the
    question as running additional cable is painful (no basement/attic).
    So, I've run everything I'll ever need (and hope none of the cables

    Also, in my case, the panel is fastened to the *wall* (i.e., the
    individual cables that terminate at the panel connect to it from
    behind -- *in* the wall). So, the size and shape of its footprint
    becomes a concern (e.g., studs on 16 inch centers don't accommodate
    19" panels! :> ).

    The problem boils down to a "mis"application of some commodity
    product to a domain where it wasn't (currently) intended to be
    deployed. I.e., the patch panels are typically designed for
    use in equipment/"relay" racks.

    [Some "consumer" manufacturers are now entering this market with
    the growth of "home media". But, their products are off in a
    completely different direction (all "proprietary" solutions) and
    with an exhorbitant price tag. "Hi, I need to service 72 ports.
    How many of my arms/legs/children do I have to give you??"]
    The "veneer" approach makes this a piece of cake! Folks can pick
    whatever material they are best equipped to handle (maybe even wood?).
    And, can be as inept as they want (within reason) "machining" that.
    Then, hide all their sins behind a dressy $2 "decal"!

    In *my* case, I'll just sacrifice two 4x(12+12) panels -- cutting
    each one in half (roughly) vertically (yielding 4x12) and then
    trimming off the bottom row (for 3x12). This gives me the nice
    clean *punched* holes from the original product. Slap a nice applique
    on top to dress it up and I'm done! Repeat for the other panel...

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