What’s So Hard About Custom Panels?

Custom Broadcast and AV connectivity panels. A small part of the Broadcast or AV budget that has a big impact on the success of any job. Required for completion and touched by everyone who uses the system – but often overlooked as a critical component. So, in a world of Super-Sized Video Walls, AV over IP, and Sphere’s where the AV experience is other worldly, why do connector panels often become the crisis point of installs?

Because the basic connectivity that makes up these panels ties all the complex technology together.

Building construction and renovation is a world unto itself – where materials and start times are everchanging, but the Grand Opening is written in stone. The Broadcast/AV systems integrator is typically the last to the job site, and must adjust his or her work schedule to meet the required completion date – which has been compressed by all the contractors that came before. Never mind that the electrical, drywall, and painting are continuing weeks beyond that schedule – the AV integrator has no time to demand a clean work environment for install of the environmentally sensitive components of his or her job. Testing must begin, and the concert, the theatrical performance, or the opening day game must happen on time.

Ultimately, the wall plates, rack panels, Decora inserts, Map Panels, floor box plates, and Nema Panels that tie everything together must be in place and functional for that testing.

So why can’t better planning minimize job site drama? Well, proper planning always helps. And as long as all the trades that participate in the associated work follow the plan, planning is ideal. But when does that ever happen?  When a 4 gang box that is in the electrical spec is replaced by two 2 gang boxes, proper planning goes out the window. When a Nema panel for a 12×12 box is made to size, but the sheet rock gap around the box is over an inch on all sides, planning falls short.

Most experienced Integrators understand this, and wait until they can verify site conditions prior to placing an order for panels. But in a compressed time frame, that can be problematic. This is why providing the best and most accurate information possible is more important than getting an order processed early.


INFORMATION – Clear and concise information is the key to any successful panel order. Avoid GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. Incorrect or poor-quality input will always produce faulty output. Never truer than with custom work. Knowing what you want, or working with a company that you trust is the first step.

DRAWINGS – It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. We agree 100%. Make sure that parts are properly identified, and that text and spelling has been reviewed and approved.

DOUBLE CHECK FINISH AND COLOR – Make sure that the color is identified properly for each panel, preferably on each drawing. This is really important in projects that contain plates with multiple finishes.

DOUBLE CHECK CONNECTIVITY IDENTIFIED IN THE FINAL QUOTE – Does it match what was requested in the spec or drawing? If not, is it a suitable substitution? Too often, customers ask for a quote on something, then assume that the estimator understood it exactly as they intended it. An example may be when a customer want’s a pass thru connector, but is quoted a punch down connector. Both look the same on any drawing. Even if it is spelled out, make sure the estimator quoted what you asked for!

CHECK THE ONSITE INSTALLED BOX SIZE BEFORE ORDERING PANELS – It’s happened more times than can be counted. A detail-oriented engineer specs a 4-gang box for a 4-gang plate. The electrician installs 2 two gang boxes, or a 5gang box “to allow for future changes. But the engineer ordered and received a 4-gang plate. This results in an issue that requires a new panel or serious adjustment in the 11th hour in the field. Less than ideal.

CHECK THE PANELS FOR ACCURACY WHEN YOU RECEIVE THEM – DON’T WAIT! – Is everything you expected and ordered in the box? Mounting screws? Engraving properly spelled? Parts in agreement with order? Time is critical, so don’t throw that box of panels in the corner and wait until you are on a job site with hourly employees to discover issues!

PANEL DESIGN SOFTWARE– Whenever possible, use a Panel Design Application that lists all the parts and pricing. There are many companies that have a Licensed software package or a proprietary app that will do this. Most are intuitive and easy to use. The parts and panels library is maintained for you so you can focus on the design. The best packages provide pricing for budgetary use in real time. Many will allow the drawings results to be exported as DWG files that can be easily incorporated into your engineered drawing package. Use these tools to minimize mistakes and ensure the result you want!


Connectivity Panels are typically the smallest part of the budget, but can be the difference between a job that ends well and one that does not. Any AV or Broadcast system must be functional to have value. Testing and turning over a working system is usually the last thing between an integrator and payment. Find a Panel Manufacturer that provides quality product, who ships on time, and who you can communicate with, and you’ll make systems integration a much better experience for your installers and your customers!

Douglas Macuch