Patch-panel fabrication

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I have 96 drops that need to terminate on a pair of 48 connector
panels.  The panels aren't supported in a rack but, rather, as
plates in/on the wall.

There are constraints as to their size and shape.  And, most
importantly, cosmetics (this is a house, not a business!  I
want these things to be as unobtrusive/classy as possible).

I need to start cleaning much of this stuff up for "public display"
(tangles of wire tend to be intimidating to most folks -- can see
the forest for the trees!)

I could *possibly* take a pair of 96 port 4U panels
and butcher them -- cut them in half to yield
a 48 port "left side" and a 48 port "right side".  But, there's
so little "extra panel" left over when this is done that you end up
needing to augment it, just to get it mounted!  (e.g., you've lost
the mounting ears on one side of each half).

Fashioning a "half panel" from heavy gauge steel is tedious -- esp
if you want it to look nice (don't want irregularly shaped holes
for the connector bodies).

The "easy" way of making something "cleanly/precisely cut" would
be to do so on the laser cutter.  But, that limits you to
acrylic and thin sheets of hardwood (60W CO2).  Neither of which
is particularly stiff when those sorts of long slotted openings
are introduced.

With "limited/personal resources", I see the only practical
approaches to be adding layers -- for strength (behind) and
appearance (before).

For example, cutting a "front panel" that provides for mounting
(e.g., ears, oversized) and then smaller panels (undersized)
to stack behind this to provide more stiffness.  Finally, an
overlay (depending on how "pretty" the front panel piece might
be) to carry the legend and dress it all up.

Alternately, trimming the existing steel panel to provide the
stiffness function and adding a mounting flange and cosmetic
overlays in front of it.  I'd have to think hard about the
durability of the cosmetic overlay as it will see a bit of abuse
(plugging and unplugging, wiping it clean, etc.) over the years
and I'd like not to have it looking shabby from age/wear.

(If you've ever examined one of these panels, the "circuit
boards" on which the connectors are mounted are typically offset
behind the panel with standoffs.  So, there's a bit of empty space
(in Z) to play with, there, if you tweek the standoff lengths.)

Any other suggestions?  I'd like to make a dry run cutting/dry-fitting
a sample, this weekend to see how well the idea (whichever!) will work.

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
Den onsdag den 3. maj 2017 kl. 21.54.30 UTC+2 skrev Don Y:
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get a cheap pcb made,
screw/epoxy some ribs on the back side if you need  
it more rigid, you could do the same to laser cut acrylic

a few straight pieces of wood as a template and a regular wood router  
with a carbide bit would work just fine to cut square holes in an  
aluminium sheet


Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/3/2017 1:23 PM, Lasse Langwadt Christensen wrote:
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I think I can more easily (and cheaply!) get a piece of acrylic of
hardwood laser cut.  And, get nice squared corners (instead of
milled/routed ones), engraved legend, etc.

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It would be a lead-pipe cinch to simply make a *second* (or
fourth) copy of the front panel and trim some off the outer
edges and laminate it to the front panel to gain additional
thickness and stiffness.  All of the holes/slots perfectly
lining up with the holes/slots in the front panel, etc.

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Eeeooo!  I'm not sure I'd like to try that.  A nibbler and file
would probably yield better results.  Or, a set of punches
(which, I suspect, is how the metal panels are made).

But, this gives me the idea to consider changing the circuit board(s)
that mount *behind* the panel.  I'd assumed I would simply steal
the boards off an existing (metal, rack) panel and mount them behind
my "new" panel.  These are typically small groups of connectors
with punch-down blocks wired to the pins of the connectors.
In groups of 6 or 12 -- or 24.

If, instead, I lift the components from those assemblies (close to
zero parts cost) and resite them on a new PCB that was designed
to support ALL of them, I could include the stiffening function
on the PCB instead of on the panel.  Affix the PCB to the panel
aggressively and let the panel benefit from the stiffness of
the PCB assembly!

The boards would be a bit more costly as they'd be pretty large
(~sq ft) and few in number (compared to the multiple smaller
boards presently used by the panels).  But, it would give me a
bit more freedom in placing the connectors instead of being
coerced into the rack-mount format implicit in COTS solutions
(and designs derived FROM those!)

E.g., it might be better to arrange the connectors in columns
instead of rows to make it easier to get a hand on a particular
cable plug (when you are reaching DOWN to access them instead
of in front of you at something closer to eye level).

I'll have to see how much flexibility I have with my real-estate

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
Den torsdag den 4. maj 2017 kl. 09.09.46 UTC+2 skrev Don Y:
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routers and circular saws meant for wood works perfectly fine on aluminium
with carbine tools

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/4/2017 11:27 AM, Lasse Langwadt Christensen wrote:
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But you get "rounded" corners instead of nice square ones
(like you would with a nibbler or punch -- or, laser cut!)

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 05/05/17 04:27, Lasse Langwadt Christensen wrote:
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Some care is required. If there's a risk of jamming,
wood will splinter, but aluminium is much more likely
to either break loose and get flung, or break the
cutter - both have caused major injury.

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
Den fredag den 5. maj 2017 kl. 00.57.35 UTC+2 skrev Clifford Heath:
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using (power) tools always require care

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On Thu, 4 May 2017 11:27:50 -0700 (PDT), Lasse Langwadt Christensen

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You bet they do.  One look at my table saw fence will prove that
point.  :-(

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
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those things use stubs, loops, and other PCB trace features to  
compensate for the connectors, if you use a different PCB material  
you may need to change the traces too :(

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maybe just make a panel with lots of holes that can accept CAT6
socket inserts, might need three layers to catch the hook

there's basically 3 styles, Keystone (rectangular with a big hook)  
HPM (square-ish with large radius corners) and Clipsal (square with small
radius corners) maybe I have these two swapped round.

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Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/10/2017 10:57 PM, Jasen Betts wrote:
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Yes.  Maintaining signal quality as it moves from twisted pairs,
untwists, through the punchdown blocks, across the PCB foils and
then out the 8P8C is obviously an issue -- esp given that the signal
can move through more than one such transition in its nominal
propagation between switch and device *innards*.

I studied the boards/modules from a few of the different COTS panels
that I have on hand and there's no obvious common characteristics so
I suspect many ways to skin that cat -- finding ONE of the right ones
then becomes an issue (but, one rooted in science, not mysticism).

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A buddy fabricated a panel (not PCB's) for me the other day.
That let me try out some different layout and stiffening ideas.

Learned a *lot* about mechanical aspects of acrylic and fabrication
techniques to favor/avoid.  Will make next attempt with wood to get
a basic comparison (mechanical, cosmetic, etc.).  I'm now confident
that I can get virtually any layout to be stiff enough by hiding
reinforcement(s) "inside" (the connector bodies that I'm planning on
using don't impose any constraints on the thickness of the panel
or what *must* lie behind it).

My buddy added some great "features" that I'd not considered, originally,
so I'll revise my approach to incorporate them from the start.

The bigger issue turns out to be more mundane:  making things "fit"
in ways that are identifiable when the panel isn't sitting at eye
level, accessible when not at "arm's reach", etc.  E.g., just rotating
a connector (and its mating cord) alters the effort required to
mate/demate it!

I started assembling a dry mock-up of several different PCB modules
in different spacings and orientations.  I'll walk it around the neighbors
this weekend and invite them to mate/demate cables and see what *they*
think in terms of convenience, comfort, etc.  Siting it at floor level
really impacts "use"  :<

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Re: Patch-panel fabrication

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Just buy what ever patch panels you need. and bolt them to the wall.
( Theres hindged panels too)
I've used rack mount trays bolted to a Plywood backing for holding
equipment. A little pricy, but looks good.  Theres always the wall
mount racks, but that probably more than you want to spend.


Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/3/2017 5:32 PM, Martin Riddle wrote:

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I can easily "make things work".  The problem is making things
*pretty* and NOT looking like a server farm.   I've managed to
"hide" almost all of the kit, save for the switch and the
cabling to it.  These "hide" beneath the bottom shelf in a
storage closet -- where they are less noticeable than if they
were on prominent display, somewhere.

OTOH, as they aren't *completely* hidden, I don't want them to
look like a tinkerer's nightmare.  E.g., if you had a loadcenter
*in* your living space, you'd probably NOT wanting it to look
like a load center!  :>

The patch panels are seldom accessed so its silly to make them
more easily accessible *or* more noticeable.

[The space in the closet is at a premium, as well (the house
has an "open" floor plan so there are few conventional places
to hide things) which means no desire to sacrifice that space
to kit!]

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
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reduced-width panels: - maybe a bunch of these:

or these:

it's not like your problem is unique.

do a search on "residential patch panel"

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Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/3/2017 11:34 PM, Jasen Betts wrote:
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I have some of those.  But, I'd need 4+4 to address my needs.
Then, end up with a bunch of things "pieced together" instead
of a homogenous panel(s).

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What's "unique" is the desire not to have it techy (i.e., tacky!)
looking!  Note the Home Depot "installed" example, above.  Imagine
having *four* of them.  And, the associated cables (in my case,
only the cables plugging into the panels "from the front" are
visible, unlike the HD example).

The typical black-with-white-legend rack panels are too large
(wrong shape) and too techy.  Also, impractical in my siting
(can't read what would typically have been hand-written labels
adjacent to each connector).

My original implementation (only 72 ports -- 36+36) built on
the rack-style concept.  I added a mylar graphic overlay that
allowed me to "permanently" legend each connector (the wires
on the backside aren't ever going to change, so why not
commit the legends, permanently?).  And, fabricated 72 distinct
patch cables -- each trimmed exactly to length (cuz both
ends are fixed in place!) -- to cable the patch panels to the
switch (which hides itself).

This "looked pretty" (e.g., nice, neatly dressed wires, no
slop for service loops, etc.) but was impractical.  Couldn't
read the legends (panels are located close to the floor so
they aren't "in the way") and hard to physically plug/unplug

In addition to adding 24 more ports, I'm eliminating the legends
in favor of indicators.  Similar to the indicators that would normally
be visible on the switch (which, you recall, is hiding!) but more
informative.  E.g., tell me "at a glance" if the device that a
port is servicing is "failed", "off", etc. so I don't have to
power up the "console" and examine the status directly.

Additionally, it lets me "identify" a particular cable (connector)
when/if I need to plug/unplug something:  flash the indicator
associated with that port instead of forcing the user to read
little numerical/iconic legends, etc.  (I can make this all
look even LESS techy by blanking the indicators until needed)

I'd like to make this "mess" look more professional; more
up-scale.  E.g., replacing the panel with a piece of zebrawood.
Or, a plastic extrusion machined to fit the connectors.  etc.

I.e., the difference between having wiremold power receptacles
and light switches throughout your home vs. "in wall" fixtures.

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Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 12:54:30 PM UTC-7, Don Y wrote:
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Classic approaches include hiding it all behind a mirror, avoiding
eye-height (under3 feet, over 7), and finding unseen space (behind
drapes, inside the closet over the closet door).    

A panel can hide atop a bookshelf behind some added moldings.
It can't hide on the mantel.

Keystone modules are a flexible wiring scheme, and easily mounted in just about
any frame that can take a screw.


Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/4/2017 1:52 AM, whit3rd wrote:
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Behind a mirror might be hard -- unless the mirror sat in a deep
recess!  96 cables have a fair bit of bulk (along with the
device(s) to which they mate!

I've located the various panels, here, in "out of the way" places.
Of course, trying to balance concealment with ease of access and
assessment.  In this case (the largest 2 of the panels), they
are located around ankle height in a closet -- that is accessed
regularly.  But, everything is really "tight"; all the cables
are cut to length and dressed in neat bundles that splay their
individual cables directly to their intended physical locations
(as if it was more of a prefab *harness* than a collection of
individual patch cords)

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I've been disappointed with them in all but "wall plate" applications.
There, the appeal of being able to mix-and-match a variety of different
connector bodies in a custom grouping is hard to beat!  (e.g., I have
8P8C + 6P6C + RG6 in most places; 6 * RG6 in others; 6 * 6P6C in
still others; etc.)

Even then, opting to use a telephone wall plate with keystone
insert has seen the insert always popping out of the plate (perhaps
due to the NATURE of the mating action as the station set is plugged
into and *slid* onto its mounting posts).  I'll take the easy way out
and just epoxy the damn thing in place!

I think trying to put 48/96 keystones in very close proximity would
likewise be "disappointing".  And, if I had to remove a *plate*
to pop one back into place, it would get old REALLY fast!

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Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 11:41:56 AM UTC-7, Don Y wrote:
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The only reason they'd loosen is if the wires on back are under strain;
that's why there's strain relief provisions in the boxes (and on the gigundo
96-position panels).   Those strain reliefs are NOT present in the wall plate
case, where you can only adjust the wires before the plate is moved into

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/4/2017 9:22 PM, whit3rd wrote:
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The telephone keystone has a foot of service loop coiled up in the box
behind the wall plate.  There's nothing "tugging" on the keystone
from the "inside".

Rather, the force exerted on the jack by the *phone* (not phone CABLE)
being mated to it is enough to dislodge the jack.

The other wall plates, here (typ 3 and 6 unit) don't exhibit the same problem;
but, they are interfacing to discrete *cables*.

I have no idea how a string of 24 keystones in a 16" span would behave.
Given that each connector is 5/8" wide, that only leaves 1" to distribute
between the 24 connectors.  The units that I have are nominally 3/4" wide
(I have several different models from different vendors; some are *really*
wide -- like > 1" -- it appears to be a design decision as they all claim
to have the same performance characteristics.  But, I don't have any that
I could edge-stack at 5/8" wide to achieve the same density of the
stock panels.

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 11:04:04 PM UTC-7, Don Y wrote:
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The point of using the keystones is FLEXIBILITY.   You can do something
significantly different than a string of 24.   Like, a strip 6' high, with a decorative
door that looks like the left side of a bookshelf, or a fluted column.

Trying to copy a wiring closet, is only gonna lead to something
that's just as imperfectly beautiful as a RETMA rack.  

Re: Patch-panel fabrication
On 5/4/2017 11:24 PM, whit3rd wrote:
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But, I can do that pilfering parts from a COTS panel -- given that
I'm looking to make a "custom" front panel, it only stands to
reason that I can choose to put the individual connectors anywhere
I want!

E.g., space for a label above each connector is wasted -- I'd have to
lie on my belly to read what it written, there.  Likewise, numbers
printed *under* the connectors won't be visible with wires plugged
into the connectors immediately above!

What makes sense for a panel in a data center makes little sense
in a home -- unless you want to replicate the "data center experience"
(I don't!  :> )

I'm stuck with the amount of real estate capable of supporting a 4U panel.
But, it's split into to pieces.  So, 48 ports in each place.

But, within that "half 4U panel" space, I am free to arrange connectors
however I wish.  *If* I can come up with a way to mechanically support
them that is also cosmetically appealing.

The typical "black metal plate with white legend" is far too tacky/techy
for my tastes.  *But*, offers the right amount of rigidity, support, etc.

I need a way to make a functionally equivalent plate that has the
same mechanical characteristics to support that number of connectors.
The easiest approach, IMO, is to laser cut something.  Put the holes
wherever *I* want them, the legend where I want it, etc.

E.g., I think a more practical approach is to arrange the connectors
in columns (though they could be rotated 90 degrees within that
column).  This allows the VERTICAL column of empty space between
columns of connectors to be visible when looking DOWN, from above,
even when the connectors are mated to cables.  This space then being
suitable for "identification" (more later).

And, instead of ROWS of connectors, legend, connectors, legend...
being replaced by COLUMNS of connectors, legend, connectors, legend...
it would probably be more effective to use connectors, legend, legend,
connectors, connectors, legend...  This further "opens up" the
space (vertical column) for identifiers yet still lets the relationship
of identifier to connector be obvious -- why do they need to CONSISTENTLY
be above/below/left/right of their connectors?

Finally, numerical identifiers are just as difficult to "read" as
textual labels would be -- when the panel is hugging your ankles.
So, organize the connectors in a way that is more intuitive for
a user to commit to memory:  e.g., groups of 5 or 10 -- instead of
6 or 12 (common for COTS panels).

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