The patch panel or patch bay is an instrumental piece of equipment in many offices and technology centres. Fundamentally it houses cable connections and in the majority of cases is rack mounted. The patch panel is typically two sided; the front predominantly houses shorter cable connections whilst the rear has longer wires. This setup is used because it allows the technician to perform temporary alterations to connections at the front while the rear connections remain permanent. This functionality allows for easy and convenient interconnecting, monitoring and circuit testing.
The convenience of being able to quickly and easily change connections and more specifically the path of signals is provided by the patch panel without the need for expensive switching equipment. For those who are still unsure of exactly what a patch panel is the easiest explanation is to imagine the early telephone operators and how they would connect calls by pulling a chord from one plug and then insert it into another; in function and form, this is essentially what patch panels do.
As we have established the very earliest patch panels where used within telephone exchanges where essentially a more automated form is still in existence today. However, it is not in telecommunications where the patch panel is used most extensively today. One of the largest users of panels is the entertainment industry, for example, you are likely to see patch panels in recording studios and television studios. Additionally they are also used in concert halls. In these instances the bay is used to control the connection of different pieces of equipment such as microphones, speakers and other electronic items. They are used not only for their convenience and relative cost effectiveness but also because patchbays make quick changes in equipment possible and also because they make it far easier to identify problems such as feedback, ground loops and static.
As previously stated the process that patch panels perform can be undertaken by dedicated switching equipment. In some instances switching equipment is an extremely viable alternative as they make routing far simpler. Essentially, with switching equipment the technician simply has to press a button rather than remove a jack and place it into another plug. However, while switching equipment can sometimes be a more convenient option, it is often the case that the cost of such equipment makes its usage incompatible with business budgets.
This article has hoped to provide an explanation of what a patch panel is and fundamentally what it is used for. While this equipment may not be extremely interesting to many, in certain industries they are an essential inclusion in any system.