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Thread: DCC in a Box by Reality Reduced

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    DCC in a Box by Reality Reduced

    I'm back with a new and different project. I'm building a DCC system in a box to power my home NTrak layout as well as to take to NTrak shows to improve operation. Rather than do a step-by-step how-to I've gone a different route focusing on why I made the choices I made, and what things you should think about while building your DCC system.

    This is a multipart effort, it will take several blog posts and YouTube videos to show all of the details. I've shot a lot of footage, and I'm just starting to turn it into articles. In real life I'm about 90% done, and let me tell you the final product is going to be great!

    The series kicks off with my "givens and druthers" article and a teaser video. See:

    http://www.realityreduced.com/Realit...e_Layouts.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkAOkhpPor8

    I've also gotten the first segment done, which is all about how I'm powering my box. I think you'll find I'm doing something a bit unconventional for a model railroad by borrowing from the Ham Radio community.

    http://www.realityreduced.com/Realit...x_1_Power.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg72SiWUeZU

    I'm starting a thread on each of the major forums to try and keep all the comments and questions in a single thread. I may be a little coy until the entire set of segments is up, but rest assured I will answer any and all questions.

    As always, I also want to know how your DCC system is set up. I encourage folks to make video responses and post them on YouTube, or write on your own blog and link in one of these forum posts. At the end of this project I'll post a wrap up article in my blog with links to all the videos and articles I can find.

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    Very neat. Your videos are great, keep it up!

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    Excellent bicknell!

    Someday I'll be brave and rich enough to try DCC.

    Someday.

    (sigh)
    I heard the Denver and Rio Grande locomotive howling off to the mountains. I wanted to pursue my star further. - Jack Kerouac

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    Very nice. Having a well tested, "known good" system that is all self contained will be very useful, I think.
    Never mistake a guy who talks a lot for a guy who has something to say...

    CH&FR Site and Blog: http://www.chfrrailroad.net and http://blog.chfrrailroad.net
    Appalachian Railroad Technology: http://www.apprailtech.com


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    Very interest new set of videos, i have enjoyed your other series of instructional videos.



    Sparky(Jeff)

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    Very cool. I have just watched all your videos. I'm going to keep an eye on your site for more vids. You do a great job and I wish there were shows on TV that cater to modellers. Every little bit of info that I don't know about really goes a long way.

    Keep it up! Looking forward to more.

    ~Sean

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    Although I don't do n-track, this is a really neat concept. Thanks for sharing.
    Doug S.

    Proudly Serving In The US Army

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    The second installment is here, talking about command stations, boosters, and power management. See the blog post and YouTube video!

    http://www.realityreduced.com/Realit..._Boosters.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJzwkkaKdYg

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    Leo,

    I am really enjoying this series!! You have me wondering about the PM42 (well, Tony's version of it anyhow). I can't imagine exactly what you are hinting at, but am excited to see the results.

    How did you come across all the cool HAM stuff? Are you a radio operator? I wish I had tapped that resource earlier. Could have made some of my wiring a lot simpler.

    The RAMP meters are great and I use one on my layout. Having one for each booster will be a big plus.

    I have heard there are issues with using one power supply to handle many power needs, multiple boosters and other powered DCC devices, in a DCC system. This is not just related to fusing, which you have well covered. I do not know enough about it to really discuss it, but perhaps you do and could include some of the info in your upcoming segments.

    I can't remember if you talked about programming track facilities, but I have added something I am very pleased with to my programming track. I have a rotary switch that allows me to have a section of track be either DCC, Programming or DC. There is also an isolation section before the switched track that drops out when anything but DCC is active. The cool part, to me anyhow, is that I am using a DCC decoder to provide the DC to the track. When I switch to DC operation to test a new loco, it is actually taking signal from the DCC bus and putting it through a wired decoder and the motor outputs are to the track. Sweet eh?

    Anyhow, love the series and look forward to the new installments!
    Sean McC

    "No man is a failure ...

    who has friends." -- Clarence

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    Powerpoles lead me to the ham stuff. I was checking out some places to buy them and stumbled across some of the stuff. It really is a great resource many folks don't know about.

    I asked a lot of people about the one power supply thing. I've found no one who can give me a solid reason why, and the only manufacturer info I can find is a Digitrax recommendation that things not share power supplies but they never explain why.

    I think the issue here is twofold, one is many 5 amp power supplies are poor supplies, draw 5A and they sag and get hot. So there is a concern about overloading the cheap lower end supplies. I think the second issue is that folks don't spec well. Gee, I have 2 5 amp boosters but only a 5amp supply, that's ok since I'll only use 5A at once! Well, eventually they try to draw 3A on each and kill the power supply.

    But, I don't know. If it is a problem I'll find out soon enough!

    Generally for programming we use dedicated programming tracks at NTrak shows. A computer, DCS 100, and programming track get set on a table in the middle of the layout. For a show I wouldn't use the DCS 100 in the box to program anything for the reasons I outline, but at home a short bit of Kato unitrack that I can use on the programming leads.

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    Hey! I'm just getting caught up on the details of this project. Just read your power article. This is really, really neat!!

    I suspect the whole "don't use a single power supply" thing is either urban legend or manufacturers being very conservative with cheap supplies.

    There's no good reason why a properly designed single power supply couldn't run an entire layout, be it a postage stamp or a club size. The key is in the bolded words above. You seem to have done a good job estimating the power loads and conditions, and that is key. Things like what are your steady state and peak power loads, how will the peak draws from the various devices overlap, how "clean" are the input stages on the device (how much EM garbage are they feeding back into each other via the power lines), how large and how long are the peaks, and what are the thermal conditions on the supply all greatly effect what the proper design should be.

    Certainly, the simplest way to do it is to have a separate wall wart for each component. I figure the manufacturers recommend this precisely because it's the simplest way, and the least likely to create calls to their service desk.

    This should be a fun project to watch unfold...

    And thanks for the tip on the Ham radio equipment... looks like some nice stuff there!
    Never mistake a guy who talks a lot for a guy who has something to say...

    CH&FR Site and Blog: http://www.chfrrailroad.net and http://blog.chfrrailroad.net
    Appalachian Railroad Technology: http://www.apprailtech.com


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    We come full circle Leo! My original discovery of PowerPoles was from ham radio sites, and they seemed a natural for NTRAK use. You then started with Powerpoles and discovered the ham radio sites! Ham radio and model railroading have always had an affinity, so this is no surprise.

    The Astron supply and Rig Runners are fine choices. I also have an Astron supply for my ham radio and it’s been a workhorse (although a bit of a boat anchor). Have you investigated some of the beefier laptop supplies (at least for individual boosters)? Switching supplies are a BUNCH lighter than linear regulators such as the Astrons, and the “universal” supplies such as the following can be configured for a range of voltages:

    http://www.geeks.com/details.asp?inv...50-PXM&cat=NBB

    Great videos BTW, but a question: What about distributed power configurations? The centralized approach you have taken certainly keeps things neat, but for some layouts requires long feeds from the box to get to "where the action is", as well as more cables on the floor. I know you looked into the voltage drop issue (as we did during the Powerpole evaluation), although you allowed for a greater permissible drop than we did (max of 1 volt or 10%). In addition, the PM42/PSX must be located remotely (and the PM42 needs aux power).

    A decentralized scheme (much like that used by NVNTRAK, BANTRAK and others, and used at both megacons) means that all you need to string around the layout is LocoNet and booster common (but you do need AC at each point). Standardization is achieved by building standard boxes with a power supply (PS515, MF615 or re-purposed laptop supply), booster/command station and PM42/PSX (A RRampmeter too). Each box would have AC in, LocoNet in/out, booster common in/out (via green PPs perhaps) and of course the R/Y/B/G track feeds out. The command station box would also have the programming track output and perhaps the UR92, either in the box or on a pole (Booster boxes would of course not need these).

    Another issue is UP panels for local plug in. With duplex throttles, fewer would be needed, but a few strategially placed (corners, yards) would make a lot of folks breathe easier (and would be necessary for simplex radio, which will be around for a long while). This means you have to run LocoNet cable in any case.

    Both centralized and distributed models work, (and interwork, as at Capitol Limited and DCE). Perhaps you have some thoughts in that regard.

    Keep it up!
    Doug Stuard,

    In the wilds of Northern Virginia

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    Quote Originally Posted by dstuard View Post
    The Astron supply and Rig Runners are fine choices. I also have an Astron supply for my ham radio and itís been a workhorse (although a bit of a boat anchor). Have you investigated some of the beefier laptop supplies (at least for individual boosters)?
    Not in any detail, and here's why. Supplies like the Astron, while quite heavy, are very much proven technology. I bet with proper cooling my supply could easily put put 50 amps for several minutes. Astron also does excellent voltage regulation. You can "redneck weld" with one and the volt meter barely moves. My guess is that huge 20 pound transformer and the capacitor as big around as my wrist can really soak up the bad stuff.

    Quote Originally Posted by dstuard View Post
    Great videos BTW, but a question: What about distributed power configurations? The centralized approach you have taken certainly keeps things neat, but for some layouts requires long feeds from the box to get to "where the action is", as well as more cables on the floor. I know you looked into the voltage drop issue (as we did during the Powerpole evaluation), although you allowed for a greater permissible drop than we did (max of 1 volt or 10%). In addition, the PM42/PSX must be located remotely (and the PM42 needs aux power).
    Well, it's a multi-dimensional problem. In no particular order......

    PM42's are old tech. I really don't like the relays, slower to act and less reliable over time I fear. For me the PM42 was just not an option. The PSX by contrast is all electronic. It needs no loconet, the programming you can do is done over the rail interface. It also needs no power supply, it's powered all from the rail as well. Another reason to use 8A boosters. I think it only draws like 20ma though.

    I'll let the cat out of the bag, not that it was well hidden. The PSX would go "remote" where the extension lead would plug into the modules. So you run one #10 extension cable over to a PSX-4, which breaks out red/yellow/blue/green for the track feeds and gives you individual track power protection. Unlike the PM42 there is nothing more to run.

    Voltage drop; I don't think how much is quite as key as keeping it equal. A 1.5 volt drop is ok as long as when you get to the insulated joint you don't have 11.5 on one side and 10 on the other. Making the runs nearly equal length is the key. You don't want to feed current through a loco when it passes over the joint.

    That said, if it is an issue, flip the boosters to the HO setting. Although the Digitrax manual claims they put out "15 volts", my RRampMeter reports it's more like 13 volts. (For the record the N scale 12 volt setting is 11.5 on my meter). So flip them to 13 volts, take the drop and be right back where you should for N scale.

    But really the biggest factor for me is troubleshooting. I think every layout I have ever been at with distributed power had at least one issue of a booster with the wrong polarity, or set to auto-reverse, or a loconet cable with bad polarity. These are all quickly rectified, but they are still an hour of extra troubleshooting, best case. Being able to roll in and know everything in the box is already perfect is huge to me.

    And, most layouts aren't that big. I've planned for a 100'x50' loop, which is large, with 50' extension cables. I'll probably also make some 20-25' cables for the more likely smaller layouts. A 14x30 would be a much more typical layout. It might get two blocks, and use only two of the boosters.

    It's also important to think not just of the boosters, but the other loconet items. I haven't really covered it yet, but there is a UR91 and UR92 in the box. For a 14x30 again, it's just done. Yes, you probably want some remote UP5's for the simplex radio guys to aquire, but looking forward to a duplex world there will be less of that. On many small layouts running the loconet willbe reduced to 1-2 runs to UP5's.

    Quote Originally Posted by dstuard View Post
    Both centralized and distributed models work, (and interwork, as at Capitol Limited and DCE). Perhaps you have some thoughts in that regard.
    There is no 100% answer. It's all a set of tradeoffs, I'm going to have to accept a bit more voltage drop and reduced radio range by having them all in a box, but for a small layout I'll literally be able to connect 4 track feeders, hit the power on and be done; a 10 second setup. That to me is the big win.

    Of course there is also the factor that I actually have an NTrak loop at home. I suspect not that many people do. So having something that can power my home layout and look good doing it is also a factor.


    I'm going to try and get the next video on RRampMeters edited today, if I don't get it up today then probably tomorrow. That will be followed by a short LocoNet discussion, and then I have most of the assembly video shot. Perhaps by next Sunday or so it will all be up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bicknell View Post
    You can "redneck weld" with one and the volt meter barely moves.
    I was gonna suggest a supply from A.O. Smith but......

    PM42's are old tech. I really don't like the relays, slower to act and less reliable over time I fear. For me the PM42 was just not an option. The PSX by contrast is all electronic.
    Agree. Althogh more $$$, the PSX is more robust, and more sound friendly.

    Voltage drop; I don't think how much is quite as key as keeping it equal. A 1.5 volt drop is ok as long as when you get to the insulated joint you don't have 11.5 on one side and 10 on the other. Making the runs nearly equal length is the key. You don't want to feed current through a loco when it passes over the joint.
    Yup, so long as you don't drop to the point that decoders gasp for electrons. Also, equal load is a factor as well. Even with equal length feeds, if there is any significant resistance, passing from a heavily loaded power district to one with only a couple of locos will result in an "electric bump". That's where short feeder cables (i.e., putting the regulation close to the load) are an advantage.

    But really the biggest factor for me is troubleshooting. I think every layout I have ever been at with distributed power had at least one issue of a booster with the wrong polarity, or set to auto-reverse, or a loconet cable with bad polarity. These are all quickly rectified, but they are still an hour of extra troubleshooting, best case. Being able to roll in and know everything in the box is already perfect is huge to me.
    A big plus for sure, although much of the time and consternation that you refer to for the distributed configuration could be addressed by a phase switch in the rail sync lines in each booster box. This would be in the LocoNet input to that booster only, and would not affect any downstream boxes.

    I haven't really covered it yet, but there is a UR91 and UR92 in the box.
    I figured as much <G>. Rather than putting the URs permanently in the big box however, you might include a mounting option that would elevate it. The guys in Tucson had such an arrangement with their box, IIRC.

    There is no 100% answer. It's all a set of tradeoffs,
    It's kind of a Ford/Chevy Coke/Pepsi debate I guess.

    I'm going to try and get the next video on RRampMeters edited today, .... Perhaps by next Sunday or so it will all be up.
    I'll look forward to it!
    Doug Stuard,

    In the wilds of Northern Virginia

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    Quote Originally Posted by dstuard View Post
    I figured as much <G>. Rather than putting the URs permanently in the big box however, you might include a mounting option that would elevate it. The guys in Tucson had such an arrangement with their box, IIRC.
    I gave some serious consideration to some sort of pole, but decided against it for a few reasons.

    - Logistics. I wanted something that stowed self contained and that presented some challenges.

    - Range. I have no interest in supporting IR, to me IR is an exercise in frustration. With that out of the way I don't think having them in a box on a table reduces range that much from being up on a pole. It would be fun to do some tests in an empty room, but I think the range thing is overblown.

    - Throttles per radio. I've been told you need 1 UR91 per 10 wireless throttles or so, thus if you have a range issue, you probably have a largeish loop, which probably means you need another to support > 10 throttles. Basically if range is an issue you need another UR91/UR92 anyway, so might as well have the first in the box.

    - Optimizing for small-medium layouts. Most layouts are 10x30, not 100x50. Two in a box easily cover a 10x30, and thus cover 80% of the cases where this will be used.

    Yep, a lot of coke/pepsi ford/chevy things going on here. Lots of personal preference because there is no strict engineering win for a lot of these choices.

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    Have you considered some form of "expansion connector" for the box? Like a LocoNet and Power port set on the side or something... so you could either gang two of them together (perhaps at some distance) or add additional boosters or other components when needed?

    Just wondering...
    Never mistake a guy who talks a lot for a guy who has something to say...

    CH&FR Site and Blog: http://www.chfrrailroad.net and http://blog.chfrrailroad.net
    Appalachian Railroad Technology: http://www.apprailtech.com


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    Quote Originally Posted by TwinDad View Post
    Have you considered some form of "expansion connector" for the box? Like a LocoNet and Power port set on the side or something... so you could either gang two of them together (perhaps at some distance) or add additional boosters or other components when needed?

    Just wondering...
    Quit getting ahead of me.

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    Another installment, this time on RRampMeters and monitoring your DCC output. See my solution to panel mounting them!

    http://www.realityreduced.com/Realit...RampMeter.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDrmqLCc59s

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    This is a GREAT discussion!
    Sean McC

    "No man is a failure ...

    who has friends." -- Clarence

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    Quote Originally Posted by bicknell View Post
    Quit getting ahead of me.
    Sorry!
    Never mistake a guy who talks a lot for a guy who has something to say...

    CH&FR Site and Blog: http://www.chfrrailroad.net and http://blog.chfrrailroad.net
    Appalachian Railroad Technology: http://www.apprailtech.com


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