Cluster of Gauges on a Dashboard
Cluster of Gauges on a Dashboard

When you regularly order vehicle instruments and gauges, you probably weigh a lot of factors in your decisions, with price ranking high among them. The cost of individual components can work its way along the manufacturing chain to eventually affect pricing and profits on final products. 

Decisions should not be made on price only, however. The supplier you choose for instrumentation affects your customers and reflects on your company reputation. It is important to balance price with quality, reliability, customer service, turn-around time, and other factors that may be important to you and your engineers. When you fully understand how price is determined you can make a more informed decision. There are four main factors to understand.

1. Attributes and Functions

The most important aspects of a component are how it works and what it does. There are several major categories of attributes and functions that might influence the overall cost.

Analog vs. Digital

Let’s start by comparing analog versus digital components. Analog gauges are typically cheaper to manufacture, but they come with drawbacks. 

For example, reading an analog gauge can create parallax error, which happens when the reader isn’t looking at the gauge straight on. They might misread the needle, a situation that is not ideal where precision is critical. On the other hand, users of analog gauges can easily spot variations visually, since movement of the gauge’s needle attracts attention.

With analog gauges, each function requires its own independent wiring for signal. An analog signal (resistive, voltage, mA/milliamp) is subject to interference by outside “noise,” causing the signal quality to degrade. 

A digital signal (J1939, CANBus, RS232, RS485), on the other hand, takes the form of a series of discrete, binary signals. Digital signals can be transmitted, stored and processed without introducing noise. With digital gauges, all the information can be transmitted over one connection and then sent to individual visual displays. With the increasing manufacture of “smart” vehicles, different components need to communicate with one another, which makes digital gauges necessary. Analog gauges of all kinds cost less than digital gauges.

Single Function vs. Multi-Function

With space at a premium on the dashboards of boats and commercial vehicles, multi-function gauges can save space. Most standard gauges give a reading of only one function, but multi-function gauges can be developed to show three or four functions in one place. The faceplate is divided into sections where each section then displays a different reading and function. These gauges can either be analog or digital. 

Multi-function gauges are more expensive, regardless if they are analog or digital, but when you take into consideration that you are essentially getting three or even four gauges in one, the cost per gauge function is lower overall.

Display or Motor Movement (Cross Coil vs Stepper Motor)

Based on customer’s preference and applications, some might want a LED or LCD panel look, with multiple information displayed, or they would like a more traditional look with dials. Each option is powered differently, which affects the cost of instrumentation.

A cross coil motor or air core motor, typically the least expensive, employs a pair of coils that are moved by the electric current. The electromagnetic force generated by the electric current moves the cross coils core and drives the pointer to move or rotate smoothly with no noise. This type of motor movement tends to cost less, but with a sacrifice in accuracy. 

A stepper motor tends to be a bit more expensive, but the movement is more accurate and controlled. With a stepper motor, the pointer is controlled by a series of microcontroller gear boxes which are driven by the electric signal rotating clockwise or counterclockwise. This type of motor results in greater accuracy, applicable for different environments. 

Type of Display

LCD, liquid crystal display, is capable of a higher resolution for easy reading and typically costs less. However, LCD panels have several drawbacks in comparison to their LED counterparts. LCD displays suffer from readability issues in sunlight and obscure viewing angles while also being applicable to damage from corrosive saltwater and air. 

LED, light emitting diode, produces a brighter display with greater contrast, which can be read even in sunlight. LED displays are thin, lightweight, and require less energy to run. They are easier to read from a greater distance than an LCD display.

2. Appearance and Arrangement

In many cases the appearance of an instrument panel stems from the functions described above. Sometimes appearance is aesthetic, but other times it affects a user’s experience with the component, such as the ability to read a gauge clearly.

Displays

Displays can be customized with branding elements like a company’s logo and color palette. You can also customize the color of the LED backlight when the gauge lights up. Each of these will add to the cost.

Single Gauges, Clusters and Panels

While a cluster or multi-function gauge costs more than a single gauge, it can save installation real estate and installation labor.

Size

Function usually dictates the size of the instrumentation, but aesthetics might play a role as well. The larger the diameter of a gauge, the higher the cost. Another factor would be whether you select a standard size option or a custom size; you can get gauges in any size, but the price will increase due to the tooling cost associated with the customization.

3. Physical Requirements

Materials for Gauges and Bezels

Gauge manufacturing offers options for materials, as well. A material may be chosen depending on aesthetics and/or application. For example, a gauge inside a vehicle cab will need to look more polished than something less visible. It might demand a premium material, such as stainless steel or chrome.

For industrial equipment, a simpler, more rugged look and feel is appropriate. This appearance can be achieved with engineered plastic for housing or plastic lenses.

Another choice to make is the material for bezels surrounding each gauge. Bezel materials are either plastic, often with color options, or stainless steel (SS 316). The cost difference between plastic and stainless steel is minimal, perhaps a few dollars per gauge, but this variation could add up on a large order.

Gauge Housing

Housing for single gauges, or a cluster of gauges, versus an instrumentation panel varies. Cost depends on how many gauges per cluster, or how much function you would like to have displayed.

Wire Harness

Working with the manufacturer directly means you can customize and specify things like the length of the wire harness. Having a digital multifunction gauge versus a cluster of analog gauges will also affect the amount of wire harness needed.

Tooling

When ordering instruments and gauges, you need to decide if the quantity you intend to purchase offsets the cost of any new custom tooling. Otherwise, it might be more economical to choose from a design that takes advantage of the manufacturer’s already tooled components.

Usually companies opt in to purchase the tooling afterwards. That means, if you do choose custom tooling, you would then own it for future products. Planning ahead may prove more cost efficient in the long run. The tooling costs for gauges are rather wide, depending on the amount of customization and materials. This range can begin in the four figure range but can easily reach five figures.

4. Development and Validation

Finally, we must consider the costs of ensuring your components perform as required.

Testing and Validation

Many outside forces can affect the appearance and operations of instrumentation. Your components will need a variety of tests, such as EMC (electromagnetic compatibility), and how well they withstand shock and vibration. You will need to see if the product functions as designed when exposed to different weather conditions to prevent fogging or water intrusion. Instruments also need testing against aging from UV-rates, particle spray or dust intrusion.

Warranty

A warranty may not be the first thing you think about when sourcing components, but it helps protect your investment and may affect overall cost. The warranty terms are directly proportional to the cost. Warranties are measured by hours of usage, mileage, or years. Typically it may be a combination of two or more but it’s usually whichever comes first rendering the end period of the warranty.

KUS Provides Excellent Value for the Price

While price is an important decision factor when sourcing gauge instrumentation, it should never be the only factor. By understanding the factors that influence price, you can make informed choices.

KUS always balances price with quality, but can save you money over other suppliers in several ways. 

  • We do our own manufacturing rather than outsourcing or off-shoring.
  • We conduct in-house testing and validation.
  • We never sacrifice quality, so you know you’re getting a product you can trust.
  • We have been in business since 1984, so you can trust us to be around should you have any issues or need to place future orders of the same components.

Contact us today to discuss excellent quality gauges that work within your budget

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