Saturday, January 19, 2019

Front Panels: The Technique So Far

Not only am I learning about electronics but also working with metal?

Here's a quick post about how I do this, hope I don't forget this in a couple of years. This technique (?) is good for drilling holes, reasonably accurately lined up, in flat metal prototype panels.

First: I get my aluminum blanks from PCBWAY in China ("Alubase PCB").  Personally I use FrakRac format for my Audiodiwhy craziness but this should work for 5U, Euro, a one-off front panel for a preamp, a 19" 2U panel for a power amp, or whatever.

Today I am building an modular synthesizer ADSR and need extra drills for SPDT switches and the PCB bracket's 4/40 screws....


Using Eagle (but any illustration program should work) I create a 1:1 drawing of the existing blank with existing holes, and add any extra holes that are needed.

Next I see if it all lines up--this one is getting close.



More alignment, but still not there.



Once aligned (or before) I can add pencil marks for anything else I want to drill. I am basically being lazy--it makes more sense to put this on the CAD drawing, but, oh well. Here, it's for the brackets to hold the PCB. A straightedge and ruler are friends for this.


In the words of my personal hero, Frank Zappa: here is the "crux of the biscuit": The glue on the left will attach the paper print out to the front of the panel, with enough stick to not come loose or tear during drilling. The solvent on the right will completely remove the paper template and any glue that doesn't come up when it's time to ditch the paper. Warning: the solvent stinks to high heaven, so wear gloves or whatever, work outdoors, and as a last resort, try not to breathe the fumes.

All can be purchased at amazon, craft stores, hobby stores and the like.


I use a very small hand drill to create the pilot holes. These can be found on line or in hobby shops--the model airplane folks apparently use them quite a bit for instance. I have found that punches and the like can distort the metal panel's shape.


I invested in a small drill press and put it in my garage. Highly recommended. But!! Caution: Use sharp bits, and always wear gloves and eye protection with this tool--seriously, I have had some close calls here.



Here's a mock up of how things ended up this time. Pretty good, but not perfect! The left hole for the PCB got screwed up; the drill press skittered because I didn't have the bit tightened down enough.  Damn! Glad I was wearing gloves!  This time, I am going against every fiber of my mild OCD; I am going to try to leave it as-is. It's good for me!


Final mock up. Not bad for a prototype, in spite of the screwed up goof on the left. Damn! Oh well. I need to finish the ADSR, and it's a 3 day weekend here in the US so maybe I will do some Lazertranning.

Moving on....happy drilling!

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