The Lew’s Duino Gear Layout Control System is a collection of intelligent, microcontroller-based hardware running the Layout Control Operating System (LCOS) firmware. LCOS supports a wide range of functionality for model railroad layouts, including turnout motor control, block occupancy detection, ABS signaling, layout lighting and layout animation.
The basic building block for layout control is the Layout Control Node (LCN), a hardware assembly with LCOS firmware preloaded, plus an nRF24L01+ radio and connectors for peripheral devices. LCN’s come in two firmware versions: the MASTER, and the CLIENT. Every layout requires one MASTER to run the network and support a primary control panel. CLIENTS are installed around the layout to do the actual work of running layout devices.
The purpose of this guide is to help you plan your Layout Control System installation. Whether you are retrofitting an existing layout or building a new one, the steps are the same:
- Determine your power requirements and create a Layout Control Bus to meet your power needs. Larger layouts should be divided into power districts.
- Divide your layout plan into functional zones and determine how many nodes and I/O boards you’ll need in each zone.
- Plan Client node placement and addressing.
Step 1: The Layout Control Bus
The Layout Control Bus supplies all the power used by LCNs, LCN peripherals, layout devices and layout lighting. The general power requirements for the Lew’s Duino Gear Layout Control System are:
- +12 volts DC to power LCNs and some layout devices/lighting
- +5 volts DC to power peripheral devices
- Master Common Ground
Run a 3 wire bus, using 16 gauge or heavier wire around your layout. Place terminal blocks every 4 feet or so as primary connection points to the LCB.
Your power supplies have to be sized to accommodate the expected current draw of your layout control devices. You’ll need to do a rough component count, that you will further refine in Step 2.
When calculating current requirements, here are some basic values to keep in mind:
- An LCN draws about 50 mA, with bursts up to 120 mA during radio transmission;
- An sg90 microservo draws 1/4 amp when moving, and 1/2 amp or more when stalled,
- A Circuitron Tortoise switch machine draws about 16 mA.
- A standard LED draws between 20 and 30 mA.
- A typical +5v relay will draw 90 mA when the coil is active.
To size your power supply correctly, count your devices and calculate the maximum power requirement. A typical small layout might need less than 10 amps of power, while a large basement empire might need multiple 20 amp power supplies arranged into power districts.
For example, a mid-sized layout with a control panel with indicators, a reversing loop and some layout lighting, might require this:
- 3 LCNS @ 50 mA = .15 amps
- 5 microservos @ 500mA = 2.5 amps
- 70 LED lights @ 25 mA = 1.75 amp
- 2 relays @ 90 mA = .180 amp
Which adds up to 4.58 amps. Since you want your power supply to have greater capacity than your expected maximum, an 8 – 10 amp power supply would be a good choice.
Multi-voltage power supplies are convenient, but they tend to have lower output current because capacities are divided between the different outputs. For a higher current handing, use multiple single voltage power supplies and tie their grounds together to make a single common ground.
Large Layout Considerations
You probably know that a good way to limit wire resistance and voltage drops is to use larger gauge wire. Still there are limits to how far you can go without power loss.
Larger layouts, especially over 12 linear feet may need supplemental power supplies to compensate for voltage drops over longer distances. If you do that, we recommend creating power districts. Each district is nominally independent, with the exception of the common ground which should extend continuously around the layout.
Using Computer Power Supplies
Another way to power your LCB is with one or more computer power supplies. The beauty of the computer PS is that it produces 3.3, 5 and 12 volt outputs (usually called “rails” in the computer PS world) with substantial current handling capability; up to 1200 watts combined (10 amps @ 120 volts) on really big power supplies. Computer power supplies are regulated and produce noise-free power. Its really the best possible power source on a budget, for under $100. A used computer PS in good condition will work well too; you may even have one lying around!
Should you modify a computer power supply to meet your needs? No, please don’t.
I’ve done it but I don’t recommend it for most people. There are some very large capacitors inside a computer power supply that can hold a big charge for a very long time. Serious injury is possible if the power supply is not fully discharged before opening it up. If you miswire it, a fire and electrocution hazard will result.
Thankfully, it is not necessary to modify a computer PS in order to use one. Today, there are a multitude of breakout adapters available that accept the main system board connector (20 or 24 pins) and give access to all the “rails.” Two styles of adapter are generally available.
One style consolidates all the rails into 4 power pairs: +12v/GND, +5v/GND, +3.3v/GND and -12v/GND. The limitation of this type is that the consolidated rails may be current-limited, so check specs carefully before purchase.
The other style is a pure breakout, with each rail individually exposed for connection. Here the current limitations are the limits of individual rails. Combining rails (connect all like rails into one power output for each voltage type) maximizes the current available for your layout.
Of the two types, the latter is probably best because it gives you the greatest flexibility and current handling capacity.