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CONTROL PANELS - TRADITIONAL/ANALOGUE & DIGITAL
Control panels are generally associated with traditional analogue DC track control. The requirement to break the layout down into track sections with each section requiring a switch together with turnout motor control switches and accessory switches makes a control panel necessary. The hands on operation of the layout particularly turnout motor control is very popular and is becoming more popular on digital layouts. It is possible to integrate analogue switch control with advanced digital accessory decoders e.g. Team Digital SMD82. Digital control panels are briefly featured at the bottom of this page. Please see the DCC digital section for more information.
ANALOGUE CONTROL PANELS
The control panel is usually the most used feature of a model railway. Its design, construction and operation must therefore be given careful consideration to ensure the finished product will operate the layout in the required manner. The normal requirement of panel is to control some, or all of the three primary control features on a layout - track power, turnout motors and signals. It may also be convenient to have other operating features controlled from the panel, for example turntables, sound effects, and lighting.
Control panels can be of two specific types:
Schematic Control Panels
Schematic control panels are by far the most popular and easiest to use as the necessary switches are located where appropriate on a track diagram. The track diagram is drawn to a size that allows sufficient space for the correct location of switches rather than to scale. It is therefore comparable to the diagrams seen in signal boxes. Schematic panels are easier to operate, especially for those unfamiliar with the layout as the panel switches relate to the layout itself.
Most layouts do not require such a large control panel as that shown above. For smaller layouts or 'local' control panels on a large layout it is not usually necessary to manufacture a bespoke panel with an aluminium or Perspex screen. Often we can use a standard electronic apparatus case to manufacture a small panel with either an aluminium or ABS plastic screen as shown below.
Non-Schematic Control Panels
Generally used on smaller layouts, the panel consists of rows of switches to control the functions required. As no track diagram is present, either notation or memory is required to remember the function of each switch. A very popular option is to use the lever style switches manufactured by Peco and Hornby. A variety of switch types are available, usually with a different coloured housing to allow them to be identified easily. For example the black Hornby switch is a momentary (passing contact switch) for turnout motor control, the green switch is on-off and the yellow switch on-on.
Peco manufacture their switches to fit into a lever frame holding six switches. The switches are again colour coded depending upon the switch type. The black switch for turnout motors are also available with alternative coloured levers.
Professional Layout Services are very experienced in the design and construction of control panels to customer requirements. From a supplied track plan we can design your panel screen for schematic screens, if required produce the panel from a variety of materials available, and install the panel onto your layout. Alternatively we can design and or construct the panel producing an internal connection diagram for the client to connect the panel to the layout. We are also happy to wire your layout using lever switches as shown above. This is particularly popular on DCC layouts where the track control is DCC digital but there is a wish to have turnout control by conventional methods similar to a signal box. These panels can be fully digital - please see the DCC Digital section below.
Control Panel Under Construction:
CONTROL PANEL FEATURES
DIGITAL CONTROL PANELSIt is possible to combine an analogue style control panel with DCC digital. Why would you want to do this? Many model railway enthusiasts enjoy the manual input of switching turnouts or having the ability to detect the presence of a train on hidden areas of the layout particularly fiddle yards. A schematic panel can be useful to locate turnout switches or display indicators for track status. Traditional lever switches e.g. Peco or Hornby can also be used if a lever frame is preferred. More advanced DCC accessory decoders have input channels available to allow the input from a switch to change the turnout via the accessory decoder. The device we use for this purpose is the Team Digital SMD82 switch machine driver capable of operating both solenoid or slow action Tortoise style turnout motors. This high quality device has a 10 pin IDC input designed for primary inputs via a header or the Team Digital TSA (Terminal Strip Adaptor) shown below on the left. A wired Team Digital TSA is shown to the right with the input wires from Hornby lever switches.
The use of primary inputs does not prevent the operation of the turnout via the DCC handset or the use of Macros/Route settings. It therefore adds yet another dimension to the versatility of DCC control and can lead to an automated layout.
DCC track detection is much easier than analogue and does not need to result in a reduction of block power. Whilst analogue detectors can be used DCC detectors are very simple to install as shown in the wiring diagram below for the Team Digital BlocD8. Each isolated block needing detection simply requires one block wire passing through the detector. Status is shown on the unit or external indicators can be added to a schematic control panel.
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