Robinson Engineering, Inc.

What is Systems Integration?

What is Systems Integration?

Systems integration is the bringing together of separate elements into one single (and hopefully better) element. Integrating systems ideally brings more functionality and value to people and businesses.

Let’s look at an example of systems integration in baking:

I’ve gathered a variety of single systems that do just fine on their own, but I think that if I were to integrate them they would perform a better (and more appetizing) function. These systems are:

  • Butter
  • Chocolate chips
  • Flour
  • Baking Soda
  • Salt
  • Eggs
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Brown sugar
  • Milk

I think you can tell that if I combine these separate systems correctly I’ll end up with chocolate chip cookies. The milk is there to enhance the value of the system of eating (which is a pretty complex integrated system already) by both quenching thirst and adding the fun of dunking. We should dunk more things in life.

Baking, therefore, is an opportunity to see the value of systems integration that takes place all the time. What about in your industry?

Let’s say that you package fish sticks and currently you package 1000 boxes of fish sticks every day and this is what your production line looks like:

  • A station where broken sticks are removed from the unbroken ones
  • A station where the sticks are counted and separated into the amount that goes into each box
  • A station where they are placed in bags
  • A station where the bags are sealed
  • A station where the sealed bags are placed into the boxes
  • A station where the boxes are sealed
  • A station where the boxes are separated out to where they’ll be delivered
  • A station to load them onto delivery trucks.

That’s a lot of steps in a process that could potentially be combined to fewer steps that take less time. If it takes less time, then you’re looking at being able to package more boxes per day and getting them out to the people demanding more fish sticks. How can a systems integrator help you combine those steps? There are quite a few solutions so I’ll just talk about one.

We’ll call our systems integrator Steve.  Steve will gather information about:

  • What you do
  • How you do it
  • What you’d like to be able to do

You tell him how many sticks per box, etc and that you want to double your sticks packaged per day; a lofty goal.

Steve then comes up with a solution that suits your company’s needs and is capable of growing and improving with your business.

What integrated systems can you think of? What do you think could be done better but you just don’t know how? We’d be glad to take a look and find a solution for you so just give us a call!

Robinson Engineering is now a Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator

The Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator program is “designed to educate and produce qualified partners who are able to help solver production challenges by advising on and delivering the best solution with the lowest amount of risk.” We at Robinson Engineering are proud to be a part of this program and look forward to working with Rockwell Automation to better serve our clients.

For more information regarding the program, click here.

What to Do when Your Automated System Fails

Have you ever had an automated system (in part or the whole thing) just stop working? Here’s what we do to try to diagnose the problem. Hopefully this can help you narrow your focus so you can get the help you need faster.

Question to ask yourself:

“What happened or changed prior to when the system quit working?”

If nothing changed then your problem is likely due to a component failure. If your system functioned just fine and suddenly stopped it’s not due to software because software doesn’t wear out or suddenly stop working.

If it was working unreliably before and not working now then it could be software or hardware. A failed piece of hardware would definitely be a suspect, but unreliability may also point to faults in the software.

After these steps we still need to narrow down our focus to get at the problem.

So the system as a whole has stopped working, but are there any parts that are still working? Which parts work and which don’t? What are the malfunctioning parts supposed to be doing? Lighting up? Rotating? Sounding an alarm? Once we can identify what elements are malfunctioning and what they ought to be doing, we can provide solutions.

It’s more effective to narrow down the possibilities and work purposefully rather than just dive in without any indication of where the problems are.

This is just a short introduction to a much more intricate method by which we diagnose and solve problems our customers face. How do you begin the process for diagnosing problems in your automated systems?

For more information on what we do at Robinson Engineering, Inc, read our blog and visit our YouTube page.

One more Post about Panel Building Templates

This week our shop finally had to actually make a template rather than just use one they’d already made, so I wanted to put up some pictures and write up the process.

The template they made is only going to be used for three panels, so the best option for that was a simple cardboard template.

The first thing that needs to be done is to find a piece of cardboard that’s either already the right size, or close to it so you can cut it to size.

As I’ve mentioned before, before you can make a template, you need a panel that’s already been laid out and drilled to make the template from.

Once you’ve got your panel and your cardboard, you’ll need to place the cardboard on the panel and make sure that the edges line up.

Once it’s lined up, punch holes in the corners so you can use screws to mount the template to the panels that you’ll be using the template on.

After it’s lined up and screwed down, flip the panel over so the back of it is showing and you can see the cardboard through the holes. Then drill the template through the holes.

The first time you use the template, you’ll want to mark the holes you need to drill, and then use a square to make sure that your template produces good results.

If you were making a template to be used over and over again for many panels, it would be better to mark the holes on the template and then to make sure the marks are square on the template before drilling.

When you’ve verified that your template works, you can drill your panel and get to work!

Keep in mind:
  • The nice thing about using cardboard for a short term use template is that if you make a mistake, it’s relatively easy and cheap to replace.
  • Don’t skip the beginning steps of creating mounting holes. Being able to place the template consistently from panel to panel is the whole point of a template.
  • Be sure to wear gloves, safety glasses, and take whatever other measures necessary to ensure a safe working environment.


What do you do differently when you make templates for electrical panels? Leave a comment below to share your ideas and we can try them out!

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Three Panel Building Tips

Here are three panel building tips for you to think about over the weekend, or on Monday morning:

Placing an Unwieldy Panel in an Enclosure:

After mounting a PLC, a transformer, a VFD, terminals, and various other components, an electrical panel can get pretty heavy and difficult to maneuver. This difficulty can really become apparent when it comes time to place the panel in the enclosure.

A method that we have found is to attach zip-ties to the mounting holes on the panel and to hook your fingers into the loop and then to lower the panel in. After it’s in, you’ll just have to snip the zip-ties and pull them out. You’ll need two people to do this, but it can make the process a lot faster and easier.

Using a Vacuum when Drilling Fiberglass

Most of the enclosures we work with are metal, but occasionally we’ll work with fiberglass ones. As you may know, fiberglass can be a huge pain to work with because dust gets everywhere and is really irritating when it gets on your skin.

We currently have a project where we have to drill several holes in each of over a hundred enclosures. To make that task easier on our technician, we’ve attached our shop vac to the drill press so that it catches most of the dust right away. (The technician is also fashionably clothed in a paper body suit, gloves, and a

Attaching a Large Air Conditioning Unit to a Large Enclosure

To get a large air conditioning unit onto a large enclosure, we enlisted the help of a hydraulic lift table. First, though, we cut all necessary holes in the enclosure including ones for ventilation and the mounting hardware. Once the holes were cut, we placed the unit on the lift table and easily lifted it up to the proper height and were able to mount it with no problems. Here’s a video showing the removal of the lift to test the mounting:

What tips have you come up with for random or everyday panel building needs? Let us know in a comment below. And feel free to contact us if you’ve got something you’re working on that you can’t quite figure out. We’re glad to help!

Visit our blog for more panel building tips and visit our YouTube channel for more of our helpful videos!

Useful Tools for Building Electrical Control Panels

There are a lot of tools around a panel shop. Some tools get used all the time, and some just for certain types of jobs. We wanted to go over a few tools today that may not be found in every shop that may not be necessary in every situation, they are definitely helpful (and perhaps lifesaving?) in others.

*Disclaimer: Robinson Engineering, Inc. is not receiving any compensation for featuring the products below.

The Portable Label Printer:

A portable label printer is a must for working in the shop as well as on-site, even if it doesn’t have the easiest interface and may at times be a pain to use. Having one of these around prepares you for unexpected situations where you need labels you maybe didn’t plan for.

Brady TLS 2200
The Label Printer:

This Brady BBP33 label printer can be an absolute lifesaver.

While the smaller, portable printer has the benefit of mobility, this stationary one brings with it speed, accuracy, and versatility. There are many different labeling options that work with this printer that all come in the same size cartridge so there’s no fiddling around to make sure labels are installed correctly and you also don’t have to mess with feeding it through so it prints because it’s an automatic function. A printer like this one can save a lot of time and is also useful if you have a variety of labels to print.

Brady Labelmark BBP33


The Wire Cutter:

Wait, don’t we already have a tool for that – wire cutters? Well, yes, but when you’re making many of the same panel it’s incredibly helpful to have a machine cut and strip 435 nine-inch 14 gauge wire than to do it over and over again yourself.

Eraser CS800 Wire Cutting Machine

This tool falls under the “nice to have but not really necessary” category.

The Terminal Label Printer:

There are different kinds of printers made for terminal labels, but our experience with the plotter-type wasn’t the best. Replacing the plotter with a printer that looks like you could bake a cake in, though, has been a delight. While not always (or ever?) necessary, such a printer can even print in color! Wow!

Some form of terminal label printer is necessary, but you’d probably want to stick with what you need and leave out the bells and whistles if you don’t need them.

Allen Bradley Clearmark Terminal Label Printer

What other tools do you have that you can’t do without? Are there any tools you wish you had but aren’t sure they exist? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Check out our other blog posts and videos for more information about what we do and how we do it. Visit our website for information on our systems integration, automation, and systems upgrade capabilities!

Making and Using a Template for an Electrical Control Panel

Templates can be really useful if you are building the same thing over and over again, whether it’s a panel, an enclosure door, etc.

Here are some advantages of using a template:

1. Uniformity
2. Ease in replication
3. Saves time (after the initial time investment in making the template)
4. Other

How are templates for electrical panels made?

First, you need the right material for the template. If you’re just making two or three of the same panel, you might be able to get away with just using cardboard, but if it’s more than that, you’ll want to use a material more durable like Lexan.

This is a template for an electrical control panel made out of cardboard. It's temporary. This is a template for a control enclosure door. It's made out of Lexan.

Once you have the material, you should cut it to either the size of the panel, door, etc, or cut it in a way that you can use it consistently. This could be done by anchoring it to mounting holes, pushing it up against latches, and I’m sure various other ways.

The important thing is that it’s done so that you can consistently reproduce the process and the product.

To make the template, you’ll first have to lay out the panel how it will be made, and drill pilot holes for where things will be mounted. I suggest using a small drill bit so your template is more accurate. (Larger pilot holes can result in your markings varying)

When the pilot holes are made, attach the template material to the panel and mark through the holes onto the template.

When you’ve made your marks, drill them with the same small bit you used previously.

Then, lay it over the panel again to make sure the holes line up. If they do, you’ve got your template!

Using the Template

Securely attach the template to the panel so it can’t shift around.

Mark through the holes onto the panel.

Drill the holes, mount your components, and wire away!

These doors were made using a template. That's why they look exactly the same.

Want to learn more? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for tips on electrical panel building and find more of the same on our blog!

Wiring a Door full of Pilot Devices

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: electrical wiring can be an art. Wiring a door full of pilot devices is an opportunity for great wiring style to really shine, so that’s what we’re going to look at today.

Electrical enclosures and panels are all different (unless they are part of an identical set) so the methodology our lead technician Trace Haskin follows may not be fitting for every circumstance.

Here is the door we’re working with today

Panel with Contactors

Before the major wiring begins:

If there are jumpers between the contacts of one button, wire them first.

  • If there are multiple jumpers needed, cut template wires and make a set so they are all uniform.

Wire Jumpers in Place

Mount the cable tie mounts so you have your route set. Manufacturers may say that the mounts are strong enough to stick by themselves, but it’s good practice to apply a drop of super glue before placing them on the enclosure so they really stay where they should. Also, make sure they are in line left to right and up and down.

Cable Tie Mounts

Use two cable tie mounts right before the transition to the door to make sure the hold is strong enough and doesn’t tear off.

Now the Wiring Begins:

First, route the signal wires from the contacts, following the cable tie mounts to the edge of the door and then give enough leftover to get to where they need to go on the panel (for this panel, Trace left five extra feet of wire)

Signal Wires in Place

Wire all of the signal wires and begin routing with zip ties. Guide the wires so they are uniform, flow well, and aren’t too tight.

Route Wires with Zip Ties

Wire the neutral and power wires. These should follow the same bends as the signal wires. As a side note, the emergency stop always gets its own power wires.

Power wires on Pilot Devices

Make sure that all wires and wire groups fall neatly in line and that bends are clean and fluid. Doing so will set you apart from people who just make wires connect and don’t care how they look.

The finished product:

Wired Control Panel Door

Whew. There’s a lot of work there, but it’s functionally and aesthetically worth it. What is your experience with wiring so many pilot devices on a door? What do you do differently?Leave us a comment to let us know, and check out our other blog posts and videos while you’re at it!

Wiring a Panel with a Schematic vs a Wire Chart

There’s more than one way to know which wires go where when you’re wiring an electrical panel. Two of them that I will discuss are wiring from the schematic and from a wire chart.

From a Schematic

When you wire from a schematic, you see a visual representation of the components and how the wires connect them.

A schematic also contains specifications for the system you’re building (like incoming power and what type of motor will be used) as well as information regarding the wire color, size, and what the label should read.

If you wire a variety of panels your best bet is probably just to use a schematic.

From a Wire Chart

A wire chart is a written, point-to-point list of where a wire needs to start and end and also includes the same color, size, and labeling information.

In order to have a wire chart, first someone must wire a panel according to the schematic and write out where wires start and end so that others can wire more of the same panel. After the chart has been made during wiring, the panel must be tested to make sure the chart is correct so you don’t end up wiring a bunch of panels wrong.

If you make a lot of panels that are exactly the same, a wire chart could help you streamline the process.

A Combination of Both

One of our technicians explained to me that while he uses the schematic for most wiring, he’ll also make a wire chart for certain portions (like the ground wires and power distribution) for better organization.

Either way you wire, it’s better to use the schematic for quality assurance testing because you can locate possible errors that were put in the wire chart and so you have important information like the correct power requirements for safe and accurate testing.

What method do you prefer? Is it one of these or an entirely different one? For more information on wiring panels, check out our other blog posts and videos.

Electrical Panel Quality Assurance Test

Panel Test Procedure

I think we can all agree that quality assurance is important. Without it, things probably wouldn’t be consistent in functionality and you’d always run the risk of getting a shoddy product.

Here at Robinson Engineering, we have in place a test procedure for all of the electrical control panels that we build, and I wanted to share the first portion of that plan so you catch a glimpse of the quality that goes into a panel built in our UL-508a listed panel shop.

Before the test begins, we:

1. Print a new copy of the finalized electrical drawing.

2. Ensure that someone other that the person who wired the panel is doing the testing.

3. Connect multi-panel systems if necessary.

When that’s all done, we move on to the test portion that takes place before connecting power to the panel. This is the stage we’ll discuss today.

First, all wiring and components are inspected for obvious non-conformities. If it looks good, we move on.

 Checking for Non-conformities on Electrical Panel

Next, all components are checked to ensure that they match the bill of materials. If lights are used, correct voltage is checked. If relays with surge suppressors are used, the correct type is confirmed. Also, all contacts on pushbuttons and switches are checked to make sure they’re the right ones.

Next, we check that the required component labels are present, correct, and easily visible.

 Component Label

Close behind that is the inspection of all wire labels to ensure that they are correct, facing outward, and are easily visible.

 Wire Lables Incorrect

Some of these are backward, so they have to be fixed before we can move on.

Wire Labels Correct

Ta da! Let’s move on.

After the component and wire labels are checked, we check all screw connections for tightness.

Screw Terminal Tightness

Then, we pull on each wire to ensure that no connections are loose and that wires have the appropriate amount of slack. You don’t want too much extra wire, but some is good to make sure that it’s not constantly under stress.

Wire Pull Test

After that, we use a multimeter to do a point-to-point continuity check on all wiring based on the electrical drawings and we highlight the drawing as each connection is verified.

 Continuity Test

Make sure any applicable jumpers are properly set and that there is an insulated barrier between exposed jumper ends and other jumpers. The barrier is really important so the jumpers don’t accidentally jump to each other and cause big problems.

 Terminal Jumpers

Using a multimeter, check across all normally open and normally closed contact for proper continuity and operation. This should include (if applicable) the operation of contactors, disconnects and switches.

Testing Open and Closed Contacts

Using a multimeter, check the disconnect handle for correct operation.

Testing the Disconnect

Using a multimeter, perform short circuit testing on all power circuits and PLC outputs.

Short Circuit TestingShort Circuit Testing PLC Outputs

Whew. And that’s just the beginning! All of this takes place before we even think about connecting power because we want to be sure that the panel is correct and safe to use to continue testing, and ultimately for our customers.

What other things do you do in your quality assurance tests? Is there anything you would add to ours? Let us know by leaving a comment or contacting our project manager Cliff at or 757-872-7292 ex 210.

Want to learn more? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for tips on electrical panel building and find more of the same on our blog!

A Well-Oiled, Automated Integrated System

During my first year of college I worked at a small grocery store near my parents’ house. It was a hallmark in the community for being convenient and somewhat overpriced (though this may no longer be the case).


Part of my job there was to work the check out stand, where I got to manually punch in product category codes and prices because the store didn’t have a bar code reader. While it certainly wasn’t difficult remembering the codes and reading the numbers, manually typing in prices definitely was not fail-safe.

For example, one might not push the decimal hard enough and end up with a bill of $500 instead of $50.00, which would result in the embarrassing task of sometimes voiding out an entire transaction (a time consuming and also not fail-safe process) and then having to manually punch everything in again.

A friend of mine would term this a “first-world problem,” and I wouldn’t disagree, but while it may not be the end of the world to have to spend a few extra minutes with a charming college student in a quaint, old-timey grocery store, thank goodness that someone came up with a better and more efficient process for purchasing produce.

What was that solution? The bar code reader! That device saves time, effort, and embarrassment while delivering an accurate description and price of nearly everything you pick up at the store.

What’s even better is that the bar code reader is connected to the cash register so that it becomes part of an integrated system that tells you what you’re buying, how much it costs, how much your bananas weigh, how much all of that is added up, how much you have to pay in tax, and then calculates your change. What a world!

So yes, while one can still get by with typing in codes, prices, etc, the great idea of automating that process with the use of a bar code reader and some smarter software has surely made checking out at the store easier.

And for all of you worrying about robots taking our jobs when you see the “self checkout” lanes, remember how there’s always at least one employee standing around to help with the inevitable problems that arise from not having a living, breathing, and smiling cashier.

How has automation made your life easier? How has it made it worse? Is there anything that you would like to see automated or perhaps de-automated? Peeling bananas, perhaps?Leave a comment below and let us know!

Want to learn more? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for tips on electrical panel building and find more of the same on our blog!

Wired: Building an Electrical Panel, Part 2

Last time, we got the components from the box to the panel and this time we’re going to wire them together.

There is more than one way to wire a panel, and some ways are definitely better than others. The general idea, though, is to get the right wire from point A to point B, and to make it as pretty as possible. Pretty wiring, you say? That’s right – pretty. Like a potter molding clay, a good panel builder makes wiring a panel into a work of art. Developing such talent takes time, so we’ll just discuss the basics.

You’ll want to consult your electrical drawing again to make note of each wire’s characteristics usually including how the wire should be labeled, wire size, and wire color. This is REALLY important so you can ensure safety, quality, and functionality.

Wire label, size and color

The nature of the electrical panel will determine exactly how neat it will be able to look. If the panel is small and there isn’t any room for wire duct like the one below, you’ll have to route the wires sensibly to give it an organized look.

Electical Panel without Wire Duct

Hopefully, though, you’ll get to utilize the beautifying capabilities of wire duct as seen here:

Wired Electrical Panel

As stated above, the general idea is to get the wires from point A to point B as stated in the electrical drawing, and to do so as neatly as possible. Here are a few things to pay attention to that will help you in this process:

  • Wire length
    • You can’t really make a wire longer once it’s cut, so make sure that you measure out the wire before cutting it to make sure that it’ll both reach its destination and also have a little bit of slack. You can measure it by actually measuring the distance the wire needs to cover or just by holding the wire at point A and then routing it to point B the way it needs to get there. Properly measuring wire before cutting it will help reduce waste and save time.
  • Wire Labeling
    • Make sure that all of your wire labels face the same direction. This can get tricky when you have wires in terminals on different sides of the same component, so pay attention so you don’t have to go back and fix it later on.
  • Wiring Consistency
    • If your company is producing more than one of the same panel, work with each other to make sure they leave the shop looking identical. We expect our shoes to match, right?
  • Wire Preparation
    • Wires should be stripped and ferruled (when called for) correctly to ensure proper connections.
  • Whatever you do, DON’T DO THIS:

Awful Electrical Panel

That’s just bad, bad, bad. Turning out something like this once will hopefully earn you a lot of training, but doing it more than once just might cost you your job.

The list can go on and on. In your experience, what other things should one keep in mind when wiring an electrical panel? Share your thoughts!

Want to learn more? Subscribe to our YouTube channel for tips on electrical panel building and find more of the same on our blog!

From the Box to the Panel: Building an Electrical Panel, Part 1

The experience of building an electrical panel can be very exciting and rewarding. If you’re fortunate enough to have this task as a part of your work, good for you! Not everyone can take a slab of metal, attach a bunch of components and wire it all together to make something that will actually function as it should and help a customer get a job done. A salute to you, Panel Builder!

If you’re new to the game, here’s a quick overview of getting components . . .

from the box           Electrical Components in Boxes             to the panel.            Electrical Panel

Next time we’ll talk about wiring, but for now we’ll just focus on panel layout.

Before you start, you need a plan to work off of. Usually such a plan is in the form of either an electrical drawing (schematic) or it could also be a wire chart. We’ll get into the details and benefits of each at a later date, but for now let’s just say you’re working with a schematic.

As a part of your schematic, you’ll hopefully have access to a graphical representation of how the panel should be laid out. A good place to start, then, is to place all components on the panel and mark holes that need to be drilled and tapped for you to mount whatever is going on the panel.

Control Panel Layout

Reminder: When figuring out the layout, be sure to consult the documentation found with each component and follow the manufacturer’s specifications for spacing and ventilation. Also, you should use a square to make sure that everything on the panel is lined up properly.

Electrical Panel Marked

Once you’re layout is planned, you’re ready to drill. As most customers would rather avoid extra holes in an electrical panel, be sure to drill accurately and use tapping oil or grease when you tap the holes to prevent breaking bits and other setbacks.

When the holes are all drilled and tapped, you’re ready to mount your components. Your panel probably look something like this:

Electrical Panel Layout

Or this:

Terminal Block

But not quite this yet:

Electrical Control Panel Wired

Congratulations on getting this far! What other steps do you take when laying out an electrical panel? Any advice for new panel builders?


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Robinson Engineering awarded Economic Gardening Grant

The York County Economic Development Authority recently awarded Robinson Engineering, Inc an Economic Gardening grant through Innovate!Hampton Roads™.

This grant is intended to help small, established businesses effectively and intelligently expand.

panels and hmi

Learn more about Economic Gardening in Hampton Roads and view the article about the award in the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily.