Constructing a front panelPosted: November 1, 2011
Taking on the task of building a machine in a customised case is not without it’s challenges. As I soon discovered when I came to designing the front of the machine. With six LED’s, two switches and one illuminated power button. I had plenty to fill up the flat blank looking facia. But how was I going to go about it? I knew I wanted lettering under the various lights and switches to indicate function. But how exactly was I going to do it, without it look awful. Someone with money to burn, might have paid for chemical etching or some method that paints the letters on. On a budget I faced using a label maker and sticking labels on to the front facia. This was definitely not the look I was aiming for. The Altair had a wonder front to it and I wanted something similar.
It was then when I had an idea.
Placing the front panel under the flatbed scanner, I made a reasonably high resolution copy. I then loaded the image up and began designing where all the LED’s and switches would go. Having already sketched a rough design out on paper, with measurements of the panel and the components. I had a pretty good idea where things would be installed, which meant building it on the computer was fairly straight forward.
Printing a template out on my laser printer, I cut it out and taped it to the plastic panel. Then using a dremmel and a drill piece, I bore out holes for all the components. The LED’s where the trickiest part, make the holes to large and the LED’s would fallout, the fitting needed to be snug. With the holes made, I used a file to clean the panel up and removed the paper template. Offering the switches and light up, I found more filing/drilling was needing. So back to the dremmel I went.
It took a good hour of fiddling before all the components slipped in to their designated openings, but soon it beginning to look Altair-ish. I wont deny a sense of pride filled me, when I saw the front panel with all the components sitting in the case for the first time. Up until that point, the project had felt more a less like a pile of components. So seeing it come together for the first time was pretty satisfying.
With switches and light installed, I used a hot glue gun to secure the LED’s. With the wiring I know the chances of them falling out would be inevitable.
The next step was the actual facia or cover. Now this was the clever bit which I mentioned earlier. Having made a template on the computer, I had also incorporated in to the template all the various labels. Printing out another copy, I cut the out the holes for the LED’s and switches and offer it up to the front panel. Almost all the components pushed through the holes where they should. But several of the LED’s did not line up. As I had been cutting out the holes by hand with the dremmel, I guess I should be pleased at most of them aligned at all.
Taking measurements I went back to the computer and altered the layout, spacing the LED’s farther apart. This took me several attempts and many templates before I finally had one that worked. Finally with all the parts pushing through where they should. I was ready for the next stage. Making a final panel cut out, using thicker, high resolution card. When the printer spewed forth the finished version I saw a problem. Unlike normal paper the high resolution card had given the black ink a gloss look. With no way around this, I took a leaf out of my prop making skills and made a gamble. Using some Matt varnish spray I use for for water sealing decal paper. I sprayed the facia with three coats, with 4 minutes between coats. I then used a hair dryer to gentle dry the varnish. After 20 minutes it was dry to touch and had to my joy given the printed panel a Matt finish!
Using some 3M adhesive spray, I mounted the facia to the front of the case. Definitely heart in your throat work, as fowling up at this stage would have meant a big mess. As it where, it went on without a hitch.
One thing I was aware of when making the cover, was the need for it to be 3-4mm smaller then then actual plastic panel. As the panel it self, slid inside channels cut out along the front of the bottom and top sections of the case.
With the card attached the panel would have been to thick to fit. As the facia only needed to cover the visible surface of the front panel, it wasn’t much of a problem. Thou when the lid finally did go on, some trimming was need before everything went on properly. Even the best laid plans can run fowl!