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FFCobra Fanatic
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I am developing a custom control panel (toggle switches, small LCD display, etc.). These are small panels say 3" x 5" or so. The plan was to make the face from something like an .050 aluminum sheet and have a custom overlay of some sort (vinyl?) made to cover it with the switch and gauge labels, etc.

However, after searching around the internet a bit I am starting to wonder if I shouldn’t just have this control panel face made from some sort of plastic and have the labels directly applied. The problem is I just don’t have any experience or understanding of plastic. Any plastic sheet product I’ve seen on the internet also seems very expensive (10x the cost of the aluminum). I’m sure I am just looking at the wrong stuff.

Is there anyone out there with some experience with such things that could advise? Please note that in addition to going into my cobra this is likely to become a product as well so cost and aesthetics are both very important.

Questions I am currently considering include what type of plastic material is rigid enough to be the face of a control panel and not too thick - say .125 and under for aesthetics? Also cost effective. Best place to buy - directly from whomever will print the labels on it? Etc. You get the idea.

Thanks for any insight you can share!
-Matt
 

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FFCobra Fanatic
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Not sure if they have them on the East Coast, but anything I ever need in Plastics (Including Advice) I went to Tapp Plastics. Retail Plastics Outlet. Brian
 

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Polycarbonate (Lexan) comes in a variety of styles. You can get it in thin 15-20 mil smooth one side, textured the other. This is used for membrane switches, like fast food restaurant and atm keypads. It also comes in thicker more rigid dimensions, that are good for fabricating. They can be silkscreen printed, or you can put down vinyl lettering. Most local plastics dealers will carry it, or you can try Ridout Plastics in San Diego.

Ridout PolyCarb

Or try Piedmont Plastics, but they usually have a minimum order.

Piedmont
 

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wow if you are talking about getting something molded, a die can cost $10,000 or more (for the first one.)

do a google search for this:

stereolithograpy

you may very well be better off making something out of wood or metal, and coat it with fiberglass, theb you can sand down and paint it. (just like custom speaker enclosures)
 

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Charter Member
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you can buy sheets of acrylic or polycarbonate pretty cheap. Lexan is a trade name for Acrylic (Dow I think) but polycarbonate is actually stronger and more scratch resistant. A 4' X 8' sheet of 1/2" Polycarbonate is around $200. Small scrap pieces should be much cheaper. The problem with these materials is cutting them. They tend to melt more than cut when you use traditional methods. A circular saw usually works best. A router is even better. Call a plastics fabricator and have them make it for you. If you call Precision Plastics in Clovis, CA. Ken will make whatever you want with dimensions over the phone and ship it out to you. They can screen print the material or even route out the text whick looks really cool when you put a light behind it.
 

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Lexan is a trade name for Acrylic (Dow I think)
Lexan is the trade name for Polycarbonate by G.E. Acrylic is plexiglass (Lucite). Much more brittle and less scratch resistant than Lexan. Lexan is widely used in automotive and aerospace applications.
 

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Cobra Junky
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Honestly, from a fabrication standpoint. I've used polycarbonate, acrylic, and aluminum for more projects than I can count over the years.

Acrylic (Plexiglass) is easy to work with. It can be heated with a heat gun or hair dryer and molded over most things, 90's, radiuses, etc.
Standard sanding methods finish it easily and drilling is best with a unibit. DOWNSIDE: It scratches way too easily and there is no good way to avoid this.

Polycarbonate ( Lexan), is a bit more work to form and cut. A laminate blade in a skill saw or table saw is great for this, as is the router mentioned previously. Sanding is more of a pain as this is more rubbery, for lack of a better word. Bending is as easy as treating it like sheetmetal and bending it in a brake. Not quite as easy to form into compound shapes. This stuff is nearly unbreakable.
DOWNSIDE: Harder to form, not as optically clear and more likely to yellow and craze in the sun.

Aluminum, is the magic material here. you can buy it in any number of thicknesses, cut it with basic tools, and bend/form it with a homemade brake or one of the hobby brakes they sell for a few hundred bucks. It can be etched, painted, TIG welded, scuffed, polished or jeweled and can be easily refinished if the wear starts to show.

If you are looking at production labeling, the label can be laid out to match the housing and the covers can be jig drilled to maintain consistency with switch/label placement, etc.

You can get A LOT of little 3x5 pieces out of a sheet. You can have the metal ditributor cut it into stips the right width for a few extra dollars, so all you have left is cutting the Squared/sheared pieces to length, drill your holes, and prep for bends.

Heck, if you want to up the quality right there, you can get a bulk price on having the metal supplier cut your finished squares and save yourself alot of patience and loose tolerances.

PM me if you need help or more info.

Les
 

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FFCobra Fanatic
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for all the feedback but guys, please, this is something simple. I am asking for something that would work for the face of a simple 3" by 5" panel that I can mount some switches in. Probably talking 1/8" thick sheet stock. No molding. Nothing thick. Something like this (just the face). If plastic would make a good option I was thinking of buying a peice to do some prototyping with. Just not sure what to use.



And Pat, thanks for the offer. I'll read up on the stuff.

Brian, thanks for the tip on the retail plastics outlet - will have to see if we have something like that in this area.

Jim, thanks for the tip on the polycarbonate.

Les, you may be right - aluminum may be the way to go.

[ March 26, 2007, 02:45 PM: Message edited by: Matt Kennedy ]
 

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Junior Charter Member
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I was watching Trucks a couple weeks ago and the guy was making a gauge panel out of electric guitar pick guard material. Comes in any color, style and can be easily shaped. I was thinking of looking into it. Looked pretty nice.
 

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Over Engineerer
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McMaster Carr sells all type of plastic sheet (search for "plastic sheet" and narrow it down from there). You could use Acylic, ABS, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) or Polystyrene. I would look for something with a textured or grained surface or else small scratches and scuffs will show badly. I also assume you would be making the panel black, which should be available in all the materials listed above. Since these things will be subject to heat and UV, I suggest using ABS.
 

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FFCobra Fanatic
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Matt,

I've got a 91 integra with a blue interior that I'm about done parting out. Want any of the interior pieces to play with? Heck.....come take the whole dash, if you want it.
 

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FFCobra Craftsman
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24,699 Posts
I have used Kydex plastic and it is a near perfect match for the standard FFR dash covver material.i get it here.
http://www.jantzsupply.com/cartease/search-products.cfm
Used it for this

The usual use for Kydex is for forming into a shape. Hairdrier temp is just right.but it works just fine as flat sheet material and available in two thicknesses.Good luck
 
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