After a bit more Playing around with the design, I discovered that firstly 3 DZUS holes high for each toggle row was just a little 2 tight, so first thing, is I increased that to 4 holes high (38.10mm)
Then upon a bit of reflection I felt that it definitely was a bit overkill having the plates interchangable for each row, so I ended up settling on make it 2 rows of switch per panel. This meant each panel was 8 Dzus high.
So time to get cutting new base and middle plates mount the switches and we end up with this.
Shortly after engraving the 2 top plates we are now starting to look like below.
Definitely taking better shape and looking much nicer. Note that white line between the plates will practically disappear once its screwed down. I have had to order some black m4 bolts from EBAY, the local hardware has nothing but zinc and I’d rather not go the route of spray painting bolts !
Now to throw in some LED backlighting to see how this looks,and it definitely pops looking smexy.
Next up is getting these nuts in when they arrive, and getting the bolts on the inside and some cable routing.
Something I have had on the back burner for quite a while now is a Generic Toggle Switch Box that is as modular as possible. As part of my effort making panels I took the opportunity to get this off the ground as it shares a few features.
Something I wanted to be able to offer is a Generic Toggle Switch Box for those flight simmers who don’t want full specific panels, but still be modular in a way.
I did a bit of thinking and thought I would do the initial concepts below. Able to swap and change positions of switches where practical Able to have a customisable top plate that can be swapped out showing various control names Able to be Back lit.
What I have come up with utilising the design of what I am going to be using my own F18 panels. A box that is confirming to DZUS standards. It will accept a panel 146.05 wide, and be the Standard DZUS 9.525 hole spacing.
A quick mockup is below, the Box is MDF that when close to finalising I am deciding if I will vinyl wrap (carbon fibre perhaps) or enamel paint for a nice finish. The “rails” are 3mm acrylic that I will tap for an M4 bolt to secure the plates on.
The plates I am thinking to be as convertible as possible will only be 3 DZUS holes high (28.575mm) and will hold 4 toggles / rotaries etc.
This will be made up of a 3mm bottom plate to secure the toggles etc to, then a 3mm middle plate to space capture nut, then a 1.6mm Engraved ABS top to give a nice white surface.
One of the biggest problems, being generic is I had to come up with what I would engrave the top plates with by default, below are some of what I came up with that are relatively standard across most aircraft.
The plates with multiple will line up like below
Obviously being modular means there is a thin gap between each plate which I’m not sure I can eliminate, but if clients required and knew there exact layout I could do larger or a single plate to avoid that look.
The Benefit of this box being DZUS spaced is that my standard fighter plates can also be dropped in as well, and this is what I will be using to build my own personal simpit as I don’t have the space for a full cockpit build.
Some thoughts are to work out, how high do I do as a standard (currently 15 dzus holes high ~ 150mm) I think that’s a good starting point, but obviously can customise as much as required.
This box was a rough Mockup, I have a new one cut and waiting for the glue to Dry, once that’s done I’ll work out how I mount the LED strips for backlighting, and also work out how I will handle the cable wiring.
The next part of panel construction I am working on is how I tackle the Hazard striping for the F18 Hornet Panels.
A perfect example of this is the F18 Hornet ECM Panel. This Panel has Yellow white striping around the ECM JETT button.
The white is obvious , I will laser engrave that, and the yellow is obviously going to be paint of some kind. but how do I do it?
First up I get a bit of scrap and laser engrave the white sections with a raster engrave (Ignore the horizontal black lines I was tweaking the power for another purpose.) This gives us the white lines with the black diagonal strips to separate out the pattern.
Next we apply some low tack tape (Painters tape) over the design.and do a vector cut at VERY Low power (just enough to cut the tape) on every second diagonal box This is where we are going to paint.
After this we strip of the bits we just cut to show outlines to paint
I have a few things I’m going to test and the first is good ole rustoleum rattle can yellow spray paint. Lets give that a hit of 2 light coats.
Once the paint is dry we peel of our Masking Tape and voila we are left with the below.
Not bad, but not great, but definitely a good start. I did Initially try spray painting over the black, but it looked so bad it doesn’t deserve to have a photo. I think the next step is I need to widen the black strips inbetween the colours, and do 2 lighter coats to avoid the paint pooling.
I might also look into some Tamiya Enamel model paint and trial painting that in by hand (still keep the masking) and see how that looks.
After some cutting and mucking around with the Hornet Cockpit Panels, I think I have decided on the approach I am going to go.
Below is a screenshot of the Bottom 3mm Opal Acrylic plate with the Toggle switches screwed in tight.
Then we get the middle 2 mm Opal Acrylic plate and place it on top and it looks like the below. This is the plate with the larger holes to accommodate the nuts.The nut sits nice and flush with it the plate.
Once we have done that, its a matter of placing on the Laser Engraved top plate (Ignore the off centre circles.. The dog decided to bump my laser mid job which moved the stock.. Grrr time to lock the door!
I have the base plate a quick mask off and hit it with spray of paint to show the below
When we have a close look at the profile of the 3 plates it looks like below. Overall I’m quite happy with it. The top will be masked of and a quick spray on the edges, or I might use a paint pen to do it, I haven’t decided yet.
I can quite easily change the dimensions here, swap the 2mm and 3mm around, or use both 3mm as I see fit. I also have 4.5mm Opal Acrylic stock I can substitute in as well with minimal loss of light emission.
After previous attempts, I have now refined what I am doing from a design standpoint and I am now sticking with a material that I know 1.6mm Engraving ABS.
I have done the F18 Hornet Sensor Panel below
The Whites are nice and bright unlit, and the black that nice even finish.. Just wondering with the Rotaries whether I really need the white circle… that will all depend on if I can come up with some illuminated knobs, probably best to include it now as it is only an extra 20 seconds of engraving time.
Now what I have done as mentioned before, I am sticking with a 3mm Base plate, this time using the new Opal 445 Acrylic. Putting this and and doing some back lighting the difference is quite remarkable. Below is a shot illuminated with 5050 SMD LED strip through a layer of 2 x 3mm layers Opal and with a ambient light on in the room.
And Below is a shot with the light turned off and only light from the monitor.
There is nice even light transmission and no hotspots. Now there is brighter spots, but that is because I am literally just placing 2 strips of LED’s underneath with no thought to placement like I will will the final panels. With proper placement I am confident everything will be evenly illuminated. I also have a 3528 strip to trial later on.
Next its time to go through and do cuts and determine what panel layout I will use between the 3mm and the 2mm.. Doing some Math, the base and middle as 3mm with the 1.6mm top makes it 7.6mm overall (which I think is getting a bit on the high side (although close to the real height of a set of panels according to my research). If I go the 2mm that makes it 6.6 which I think is a nicer overall height.
Will post some pics once I finish off and put some switches in to see how they sit.
Ok after some rather unsatisfactory Results using Painted Acrylic for Cockpit Panel, I have picked up some 3.2mm Engravable Black on White ABS with a Matt Black finish on White.
This time I did the Ext Tank F18 Cockpit Panel. I already use this material for Making Saitek Plates so I know what settings I need to use for engraving, I just had to adjust the speed for cutting as it is twice the thickness, , and MAN it made a LOT more smell with fumes. Time for a better exhaust, but that’s another project 🙂
Straight Away it is a remarkably better finish, the engraving is actually pure white which is good, not the dulled off white of the engraved acrylic.
Below is a comparison of 2 plates, the bottom being the ABS which looks much better. Also the black is a nice consistent colour, and is MUCH more hardy. Perhaps hard to tell with the photo but definitely superior.
Time to have a look at this with some Back lighting. Definitely very lackluster barely anything coming through, the extra thickness of the ABS is just too much for light to penetrate. So Now I flip the plate over and engrave some notches out where the text is.
Now that has definitely made a difference, you can see the WING is back-lit now, but still not stellar results, and I don’t want to go etching the back of every plate as that will be painful.
Where to from here? Ok I am now going to do this with my 1.6mm ABS material, I know it back-lights well, but the reason I went to 3.2 as I was only planning on having 2 plates, the bottom 3mm, and the top 3mm.
Now in Hindsight, I am seeing a problem with this plan for my Cockpit Panels. See the pic Below.
Without a Plate in the middle, my screw for toggle switches is going to be on the top. which looks bad. So I mocked up an idea out of MDF to save acrylic, I would “rebate” the bottom plate to allow the nut to sink into that before the top plate, IE below.
Now it does work, but again extra work required on each plate. So the only alternative to this is going to the 3 plate design after all!
Also as a note, my back lighting I am currently using is LED green strips. a Mix of 5050 and 3528. I have been using the White acrylic as the backing, but its still not letting as much light as I would like. Now I have discovered some acrylic called OPAL 445. this has a light transmission of 50% as is designed to diffuse light efficiently for the signage industry.
Now I have picked up some Opal, and plan on doing some more cutting tonight and see how it goes, utilising the 1.6mm Engraving with a 3 plate design.
I thought I would go through my process of Manufacturing some Flight simulator Cockpit Panels
First thing I am working on is Cockpit Panels for the F/A-18C I wan’t to use for DCS. I have sourced some source images of the Cockpit Panels , and been tweaking my sizes of the to be the standard 146.05mm standard width, DZUS 9.525mm Spacing for screw holes. I also chose an M4 nut size to secure the plates which gives it a 4.5mm hole.
One thing I am not a fan of the F16 or MS 33558 Font that is often used by flight simulator cockpit builders. Instead I am going to be use a Gorton Heavy font which looks far better to me with less work required for letter spacing etc and I’m happy with.
With all my research everyone seems to use acrylic in their process of making Flight Simulator Cockpit Panels, so I have gone through and done some various testing and picked up some Clear and White acrylic. I did my first test on clear acrylic, got some rattle can Rustoleum 2X paint, and gave it 2 coats.
This is the Result of the first F18 cockpit Panel
Now this doesn’t look to bad at first glance, the text is a bit fuzzy, the white frosted look from the engraving is visible but not vibrant. The Spray can on inspection is a gloss which doesn’t look that great either.
So now I throw some lights behind this bad boy to see how it back-lights.
Oh yeah serious problem right here, Despite 2 coats the back light leaks like crazy and would require 3 or 4 coats.. Lets scrap that idea.
Now I move on to a White Acrylic, this time the Ext Power Panel. Instead of using the Rattle can paint, I use some acrylic Primer, and crank out the spray gun and use a Flat black Water Based enamel 2 coats.
Now this looks better already, the text engraves crisper, the white shows through and looks a bit better, and I also like that flat black vs the cans gloss.
Lets see how this looks with some cockpit back lighting.
I think this looks much better, still a bit of light leakage but nowhere near as bad, and I think that’s because I did not have an even spray. With a better even spray job I feel the 2 coats would suffice.
Definitely getting some hot spots through with the LEDS so that is not the best. Lets try a Different panel see if the results get better.. This time the F18 Sensor Panel, I took more time with spraying, still only 2 coats, but making sure I got better coverage.
The light leaks are no longer there, but still getting the hot spots, and looking at the non-lit version below the surface does look OK, but it is VERY easily scratched and they show up quote noticeable.
So far I am getting good coverage, but I don’t think the acrylic is going to work for what I am after.
Now this is a bit of a DUH moment. But I have experience doing Saitek X55 / x56 HOTAS Custom Plates ( out of an engraving ABS, and was thinking why the hell am I doing all this spray painting. I guess I chose to do that is because that is what other people have done when making their Cockpit Panels.
I have found out I can get that Engraving ABS in 3mm, so I have ordered some of that thickness . This will minimise the amount of painting I need to do and give a nice consistent finish. And HOPEFULLY back-light well.