More than 20 years ago, our sister company Schaeffer AG revolutionized the customized front panel business by developing Front Panel Designer, heralding customer-specific automated production in our company, long before it became the industry standard. Front Panel Express has continued this legacy and proudly follows the same tradition of quality and innovation.
Today, with our team based out of Seattle, WA, we produce front panels, enclosures and milled parts with CNC precision. Our team includes people from the most diverse backgrounds, lifestyles and professions. Drawing on our pooled in-house expertise, we do our utmost every day to provide you with products of the highest quality. In practice this means that we produce every front panel to a customized order at our own facility, checking each one manually before they leave our premises. This is only made possible by the seamless organization of internal teams within the company. Automating and digitalizing work steps is a fundamental part of the corporate culture we embrace.
To ensure processes at the company remain independent and flexible, we develop our software in-house wherever possible using open source solutions. This applies equally to customizations in the free ERP system ADempiere and optimizations in the production strategy – and of course in our Front Panel Designer.
Our customer service team is always available to help answer questions about Front Panel Designer or your order, or you need some technical advice. We also really appreciate and encourage customer feedback. Over the years, many of the innovative features implemented into Front Panel Designer have started as customer requests. Key milestones have included UV printing, glued-in studs and STEP export.
Across the world, thousands of technicians, engineers, hobbyists and companies of all sizes place their trust in our long-standing production expertise and delivery dependability. We still have a lot of plans for the future and will work passionately to keep impressing you with our quality, service, and innovation.
FRONT PANEL EXPRESS HISTORY
In 1961, the German physicist Bernhard Schaeffer founded the family enterprise primarily producing an amusement machine that he had designed and developed – the Dynamometer. In the 1960s and 1970s, approximately 10,000 units were manufactured in Berlin, Germany and marketed throughout Europe.
At the end of the 1970s, Bernhard Schaeffer designed another amusement machine, the original model of the Power Rocket, which was still found throughout the 1990s in many of Berlin’s amusement parks.
In the 1980s, the company started to develop and produce measuring instruments for thermodynamic research. This included creating labor intensive front panels made by hand for the instruments.
In 1992, Bernhard Schaeffer’s two sons joined the company. Jörg Schaeffer (technical computer scientist) and Kai Schaeffer (physicist) brought electronics and software to the company. Nevertheless, the manufacturing of front panels for the requested measuring systems in small production runs still involved laborious manual steps during this time.
In 1996 hand tools, like files and drills, ultimately gave way to the first CNC machine which made everyday business increasingly easier. However, the process of drawing the front panel, programming the design, and production of the panel still remained cumbersome and time-consuming.
The idea for Front Panel Designer came about in 1997 to help simplify this process. Jörg und Kai Schaeffer developed a CAD/CAM system adapted to the production of front panels, which would allow individual customer wishes to be quickly and efficiently transferred to a CNC machine. The knowledge that many other engineers were facing the same problem sped up the decision to make free CAD software downloads available to customers on the Internet.
In 1998 the first version of Front Panel Designer went online in Germany! Customers could now configure and order their designs directly in the software. This led the company in a completely new and exciting direction. Demand for customized front panels was so great that Jörg and Kai Schaeffer decided to focus solely on the production of customized front panels.
The ever-growing influx of orders meant that the company’s premises in the Zehlendorf area of Berlin, where 4 CNC machines were operating, quickly became too small. In spring 2001, the Schaeffers rented 4,900 sq ft building near the original site and moved from Zehlendorf to Hohentwielsteig with its equipment and all five employees. During this time, founder Bernhard Schaeffer increasingly dedicated more of time to his own research projects.
In 2002 following up on from the rapid growth in Germany, Schaeffer AG set up the partner company in Seattle, WA and named it Front Panel Express LLC. Kai Schaeffer and his family, along with two CNC machines, moved to Seattle and set up shop in the South Park neighborhood just south of the city.
In 2005 Front Panel Express was growing so fast that it quickly needed more space. The Seattle, WA location, with its proximity to California and Canada, turned out to be a great choice for the business. A much larger facility was found in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood and more CNC machines were brought in.
Front Panel Express in the US and Schaeffer AG in Germany both expanded. The companies are continually enhancing and automating their internal processes with a keen eye on the future.
Commercially available, self-clinching threaded studs cause impressions on the opposite side of thin sheet metal used for front panels. In addition to the optical defect, this also affects the anodized coating. Front Panel Express has therefore been using glued-in studs as standard from 2013. The process for this was developed and optimized in-house.
The Schaeffer brothers recognized the potential of digital printing for the production of front panels at an early stage and experimented with many different processes. After several years of research, UV printing is now offered as standard by Front Panel Express and has been included in Front Panel Designer since Version 5.0 in 2015.
In 2017 Front Panel Express celebrated 15 years in the front panel business. The online webshop was opened. Here, customers can now place and manage their orders, making the process even easier than before.
In 2018 Front Panel Designer was given a 3D view and the long-awaited STEP export. This helped make it even easier for customers to visualize and craft their panels.
Today, Front Panel Express is still growing. The company remains true to its principles of quality, delivery dependability, and innovation. Its customers include prominent companies and medium-sized engineering firms, as well as ambitious individuals.