Author Topic: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line  (Read 5263 times)

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GaryHinshaw

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Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« on: February 27, 2015, 03:13:25 AM »
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I'm deep into the electronic underworld these days and I'm planning my next purchase of components to support turnout control, block detection, and signalling.  I like the variety of offerings from RR-CirKits, but their literature is distinctly geared towards the expert, so it's a bit bewildering to penetrate the first time through.  I come here to seek guidance.  My base system is a Digitrax Super Chief with jmri attached to the LocoNet via a PR3.  Here are my questions:

1. My first question is how do I choose the type of command bus to go with?  One option is the Simple Serial Bus (SSB), which hangs off of LocoNet via an SSB-adapter.   The linked diagram seems pretty clear about which components work with this bus and how they are hooked up.  Another option is a Tower Controller (TC-64) which interfaces directly with LocoNet and drives a whole different line of cards to achieve the same functionality as above.   Are there obvious advantages or disadvantages with either approach?  The TC-64 seems like an extra layer of hardware that adds no obvious functionality or reliability to the system, but I could be missing something obvious.

2. Is a Watchman detection board functionally equivalent to a BOD-8 detection board?  Any advantages or disadvantages of one or the other?  (I gather that the BOD-8 requires a TC-64 to function.)  Same question for the Motorman vs. the DCDB-8.  Both give the functionality to drive 8 turnouts; the former is a bit more expensive, but the latter requires a TC-64 layer.  Same question for the SignalMan vs. the 4ASD-4 for driving signal aspects.

3. My inclination is to use the SSB and components as per this diagram.  Any words of caution about this approach?  What kind of cable do I need for the SSB?  Is it ok to hang different branches of the SSB off of different points in the LocoNet bus?

Thanks in advance!
Gary


victor miranda

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2015, 11:20:21 AM »
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nothing like questions inside of questions....

the difference is what device gives you control.

use SSB to control
or
use loconet to control.

I didn't look at prices.

the theory is that anything on loconet can be controlled and respond via loconet.

I do not know how SSB acts. in the diagrams SSB is a loco-net substitute.

welcome to networking.

I like everything run off the DCC signal, however, that seems to not be a popular idea.
(a third option...)


eric220

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2015, 01:28:20 PM »
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#1 I did a price comparison when I was planning my layout between RR-Cirkits/Tower Controllers and Digitrax components. Assuming you can fill all 8 slots on the Tower Controller(s), they are quite a bit less expensive than Digitrax in the end. In practice, I've had no problems with them; they just report on the loconet like the native Digitrax stuff. I'd highly recommend this approach. One thing that you can do with the tower controller that I'm not sure how to do without is facia buttons. You can configure one (ore more) of the eight ports as an input, and then fan out the ribbon cable, giving you 8 open/closed detection circuits. If you use them for push buttons to control turnouts, you can even set it up so that no computer interface is required.

Edit: I looked over RR-Cirkits' stuff to try and answer #2, and it looks like the TowerMan can do the I/O functionality I described on SSB.

#2 It would appear that the -man stuff is the SSB line, and the others are meant for use with the Tower Controller.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2015, 01:34:35 PM by eric220 »
-Eric

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GaryHinshaw

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2015, 03:03:56 PM »
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#2 It would appear that the -man stuff is the SSB line, and the others are meant for use with the Tower Controller.

Exactly.  It took me a while to discern this from their web site, but they basically have two complementary approaches to communications: a Tower Controller or an SSB (both of which hang off LocoNet), and two different sets of components that interface with them.  So I am mainly seeking opinions about those two approaches.  The SSB seems simpler - and therefore preferable - but it's hard to tell!  I think I'll send a note to Dick Bronson (the proprietor) and just ask his opinion.  Maybe he can give me a simple answer.


eric220

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2015, 04:26:33 PM »
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One advantage of using the tower controllers is that they just daisy chain into the loconet like any other component. This makes mixing and matching components a little easier. For instance, I didn't have to run a dedicated loconet bus to get to the second UP panel halfway around the room. I just installed it between two tower controllers.
-Eric

Modeling a transcontinental PRR
http://www.pennsylvania-railroad.com

jagged ben

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2015, 08:40:41 PM »
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Gary,

First of all... E-mail Dick Bronson with your question.  He's pretty good at responding.

As for my advice...

My impression is that the '-man' line exists for non-Digitrax command stations and/or people who want to control stuff directly from DCC.  Since you have a Digitrax command station and Loconet, either approach would work for you.   Price wise I think it mostly comes out very close, with the '-man' line just a teeny bit cheaper for most applications. 

Otherwise, depends a little on how many total components you will require for block detection and signalling, and your personal preferences..  If your needs were really minimal, then it could be simpler to hook up a handful of the -man components.  But I think you will easily fill up some Tower Controllers with your layout, so that would not be a waste.  Another consideration may be whether you want all these -man components to be spread out around your layout, or have all your stuff centralized on a few Tower Controllers.   The former means more longer runs of SSB and/or DCC and Loconet wiring.  The latter means longer runs from the Tower Controller to components like signals and block detectors (use Cat-5 or the 10-wire ribbon cable), but less and more centralized Loconet and power wiring.  Kind of a matter of personal preference and how you like to organize your work. 

Keep in mind you can do some things directly from the Tower Controller, like drive LEDs for signals or display panels.  For example you can source the 10-pin sockets he uses and wire LEDs or Tortoise contacts directly to them, then use the 10-wire ribbon cables to go to the Tower Controllers.   (The fan-out boards may be worth it for signals with magnet wire connections, though.)   

Also keep in mind that some of the '-man' products commit you to 16 of the same type of input/output (and it's better if all 16 are near each other on the layout), whereas for the Tower Controllers it's only 8 at a time.




GaryHinshaw

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2015, 10:04:20 PM »
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Thank guys.  Things are much clearer now.  I think I need to spend a bit of time thinking through the actual component counts and spatial layouts to see if there is a clear winner.  But I understand the trade-offs much better now.  I did email Dick this morning and got a very prompt and helpful response (below).  He is clearly building up the SSB line, and right now I am leaning towards that, but I won't finalize that until I've done a bit more homework.

Quote
Gary,
You have made the distinction correctly. Our original products were based on one or more central I/O boxes (e.g. Tower Controller Mark II) with a number of different cable connected layout interface modules. As copper (cable) prices went up and processor prices came down we came up with a new distributed option. The SSB itself is simply the LocoNet data line supplied with power and ground for the various boards.

The SSB boards currently are 4 styles:

The TowerMan is a way to connect to our original I/O modules or to other manufacturer's devices.

The WatchMan is essentially the BOD-8 with a built in LocoNet (SSB) interface.

The SignalMan is essentially a 4ASD-4, plus a FOB-B, plus its LocoNet interface. Because it has a processor on board we were able to give it various special effects like lamp fade and brightness adjustments. Also it understands the new NMRA signal aspect messages. That can cut down a lot on LocoNet traffic.

The MotorMan is similar to the SMD-8, again plus the LocoNet interface.

The SSB boards tend to be a bit more costly than the individual I/O modules themselves, but when you count the lack of any central interface unit, and interconnect cables, they are more cost efficient. Also the main idea is to cut down on the total time and amount of layout wiring required. Some of the boards include an extra I/O port suitable for fascia switches, driving LEDs, or even extra I/O modules.

The SSB system does require one or more SSB-Adapters to provide the wiring conversion from 6 wire modular to the 3 wire terminal strips, and to provide power. All the commands are standard LocoNet messages, so a program such as JMRI makes no distinction between TC-Mark II systems, SSB systems, or Digitrax's own hardware, and in fact they intermix freely. (except for the wiring differences)

Your PR3 will work fine as the LocoNet interface.

Dick :)
« Last Edit: February 27, 2015, 10:15:11 PM by GaryHinshaw »

fcwilt

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2015, 12:35:04 AM »
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I started with a dozen or so TC-64s (mostly 1st gen, some 2nd gen) when I began to wire my new layout for computer automation.

Not too long ago I purchased a couple each of the new SSB products (TowerMan, WatchMan, SignalMan, MotorMan) to help a friend get started with them.

After having worked with those SSB products for a bit I scrapped the idea of using the existing TC-64s for signal control (hadn't started wiring for signals yet) and ordered a batch of SignalMan units for signal control.

I highly recommend the SSB line in particular and RR-CirKits in general. Dick and Karen are great folks to work with.


GaryHinshaw

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2015, 01:06:22 AM »
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Thank you!  Great to hear about a head-to-head comparison.  After feeling a bit lost at sea reading their web site over the last several days, I'm feeling a sense of clarity now.  I too hear nothing but praise for Dick and Karen.

bdennis

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2015, 05:40:09 AM »
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I echo the great words about the support from Dick and the team. I have had 2 x TC64's for many years and they have been flawless and each time I have a config question (because I like to do complex things with them) Disk is always helpful.
Brendan Dennis
N scale - Delaware & Hudson Champlain Division

eric220

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #10 on: February 28, 2015, 01:45:04 PM »
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After having worked with those SSB products for a bit I scrapped the idea of using the existing TC-64s for signal control (hadn't started wiring for signals yet) and ordered a batch of SignalMan units for signal control.

Very interesting. What was it about the SSB that drew you to it that strongly? I've still got a lot of layout to wire myself, and I'm getting curious about the path so far untraveled.
-Eric

Modeling a transcontinental PRR
http://www.pennsylvania-railroad.com

fcwilt

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2015, 11:56:03 PM »
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Very interesting. What was it about the SSB that drew you to it that strongly? I've still got a lot of layout to wire myself, and I'm getting curious about the path so far untraveled.

I don't care for soldering connections under the layout so I prefer connectors that work some other way, screw terminals, compression, etc.

So given that as a condition, to install 4 signals using the older Tower-Controller approach you need a TC-64, a 4ASD-4 board and a FOB-B board.

Now of course the TC-64 could handle 32 signals using 8 4ASD-4 boards and 8 FOB-B boards, which would be a total of 17 devices.


With the SSB line, to control 4 signals you need 1 SignalMan board, for 32 signals you would need 8 SignalMan boards.


Each pair of 4ASD-4/FOB-B boards connects back to the TC-64 with a 10 conductor flat cable.

Each SignalMan connects to other SSB devices using 3 wires (I use un-shielded 3/20 cable). It uses a daisy-chain scheme so you will likely have 3 wires in from a previous device, then 3 wires out to the next device, but each device only needs the basic 3 wires (power, ground, signal).


To adjust the brightness of the signal LEDs with the older approach you install resistors on the 4ASD-4 boards, you may need to install up to 8 resistors, depending on the LEDs and your desired brightness.

For the SignalMan you control brightness by setting configuration values in the unit itself which is usually done with JMRI DecoderPro3.


There are other things as well. The TC-64 has 8 ports, each port is 8 bits. The ports can be input or output ports but all bits on a port are the same, input or output.

With the SSB devices the direction of every bit of a port can be specified, so you could have an 8 bit port with 4 inputs and 4 outputs.

Now of course in some cases this is of no benefit. Configuring the signal control port on a SignalMan with input bits makes little sense. But the general purpose 8 bit ports you find on the various boards can be configured however you desire.


I have 15 TC-64 on my layout and they are working fine and I have no reason to change them. But future needs will be met with the SSB line of products - unless Dick comes up with something even better.


Hope this helps.


eric220

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2015, 02:30:41 PM »
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Thank you, that does help. It seems like there are some good reasons to investigate the SSB line more.
-Eric

Modeling a transcontinental PRR
http://www.pennsylvania-railroad.com

Sokramiketes

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #13 on: December 15, 2015, 12:16:30 PM »
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I'm deep into the electronic underworld these days and I'm planning my next purchase of components to support turnout control, block detection, and signalling.  I like the variety of offerings from RR-CirKits, but their literature is distinctly geared towards the expert, so it's a bit bewildering to penetrate the first time through.  I come here to seek guidance. 

Thanks in advance!
Gary

I was thinking the same thing about the bewildering part... I have been wiring signals in a simple ABS system on Modutrak using discrete boards that talk to each other, and am now jumping in to wire a large layout with SSB's.  The learning curve seems steep at first, not only with how the SSB's act, but how JMRI and the programming side interacts.  It's very electrical and computer engineering versus my mechanical tendencies...

Are you still moving forward down this route, Gary?  Are you also using any Signalman?  I'm considering more of a step-by-step for beginners, as to what needs to happen to make it all work.  I'm still navigating the waters myself, but if there are others using the product here it might be a good place to start documenting my work as well.
Mike

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Better modeling through peer pressure...

GaryHinshaw

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Re: Seeking help navigating the RR CirKits product line
« Reply #14 on: December 15, 2015, 01:05:56 PM »
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I'm deep into it now, and in fact I just exchanged several emails with Dick Bronson over the weekend about some puzzles I was encountering with my jmri panels.  He was equally puzzled, but together we sorted it out and all is well now.  I highly recommend these components and they come with great support (as long as they stay in business...).  I agree that the documentation is written by an EE and is hard to penetrate - especially when you're trying to make a shopping list.  But once you've got a device working, it seems obvious in retrospect.  I am using the following SSB components:

* Motorman - will control up to 8 switch machines of different types (solenoid, Tortoise, etc.).  It is handy to have a fan-out board ("FOB-C") paired up with one as an interface between the board and the switched leads to each Tortoise.

* Watchman - will detect up to 8 blocks via current-sensing CT coils (sold separately).  These were very straightforward to install, but programming one is where I ran into puzzles with jmri.

* Signalman - I plan to use these, but have not installed any yet since I don't have any signals yet.  For the moment I'm (happily) using virtual signals on my jmri panel until I decide I am happy with the block & signal arrangement and logic.

* SSB adapter - a little transformer that ties a "simple serial bus" (SSB) to a Loconet bus.  (SSB is just a parallel Loconet.)

The biggest trick to using these is to understand how the components are wired, and then how to program them.  Despite its almost comical complexity, this diagram goes a long way to clarifying the wiring:

http://www.rr-cirkits.com/wiring/ssb-wiring.jpg

As for programming them, Dick provides templates in Decoder Pro for each of the components, but I got into trouble last week with some conflicting ID's that were causing fits with some of my jmri panel initialization.  I now understand why, and I think I have a decent grasp of the Motorman and Watchman programming, but not yet the Signalman.  I'd be happy to try and answer any questions you might have about the former.  I need to order some more boards in the next few days, so I might put a Signalman in the order to see if I can get some experience with it so I have a better understanding of that road ahead.  We can learn together.

-gfh