Mini Panel AIU
Some time ago, I invested in a Mini Panel from DCC Concepts with a view to using it for some simple automation on the layout.
First, a brief introduction. The Mini Panel acts as a Cab controller and can issue DCC commands based upon the status of up to 30 inputs and/or a sequence of commands that can be programmed into the unit.
The inputs can be triggered either by shorting one of the inputs to ground or by opening the connection to ground of any input. Each “input” can trigger four commands in sequence. If you want to use the Mini Panel to do some automation, you can set the unit to watch a number of inputs and then set the remainder of the inputs to work as a sequential program.
Once you have decided how many inputs that you need, such as reed switches or BD20 block detectors or push buttons, the remainder of the 30 “inputs” can be programmed to issue DCC commands. Each “input” can hold four program steps. By default, each “input” will execute the four commands and then stop (unless you use a “go-to” command). However, you can configure the Mini Panel so that inputs above a certain number will run from one to the other in a continuous program.
In my case, I set the first eight inputs to be scanned and inputs nine to 30 to work as a continuous program. The AUI Manual mentions that you can set these parameters but doesn’t really explain how to do it.
The unit is programmed by plugging the ProCab into the “Setup” socket, a ProCab cable is plugged into one of the “Cab Bus” sockets and the other end plugged into a socket of the ProCab Panel and the “Prog” jumper (in green on the diagram on the right) installed, then the power is turned on. The system is similar for non ProCab controllers.
The ProCab screen displays:
Press “Enter” and the screen display changes to:
Press “1” for Setup:
You are now at the “Input” or “Config” level of the programming tree. Press 2, to enter the configuration (this only has to be done once).
Configuration values only need to be changed for the inputs to be treated as continuous memory, flowing from one to the next, which is set in Memory #3 and for the cells where the Mini Panel will not scan for input, which is set in Memory #4.
When you pressed “2” for Configuration, the screen shows “Memory # = 0”, press “enter” and it will show the “Memory Value = 3” (for the Cab Address). Keep pressing “Enter” until you reach “Memory # = 3”, press “enter” and then key in 8 (because I want all inputs above 8 to work as continuous memory). Press “Enter” again for “Memory# = 4” and press “enter” for “Memory Value =” and key in 8 as I want the Mini Panel to ignore inputs above 8.
This means that the first 8 inputs can be connected to inputs such as buttons or block detectors and all the space above 8 will be available for programming.
Press “Prog/Esc” at any time to go back. Your changes will be saved. The configuration memory is as follows:
As an experiment, I set out to create a simple automation based upon the Hayling Island Branch, which ran a train every 30 minutes in each direction with a journey time of about 13 minutes. To do this, one train would be waiting at Hayling in the Bay Platform. When the train arrived from Havant, the one in the Bay Platform would leave while the other would run around its carriages and then shunt them into the Bay Platform to wait for the next train to arrive.
Point 1 is at the end of the Main Platform, point 2 is at the entry of the Main Platform and switches between the Main and Bay platforms and point 6 connects the run-around loop onto the main line. I used two block detectors from Megapoints, but I have also run a similar setup with BD20 block detectors. These detectors were mounted on the two “dead” sections of point 2, so they would detect a loco just about to enter either the Main Platform (Input 3) or the Bay Platform (Input 4).
So the sequence is as follows:
Loco 2 arrives, slows down, stops before point 1 and disconnects (Kadee coupling). Loco 1 then leaves the Bay Platform while Loco 2 moves forward and then reverses past its carriages back onto the main line. Loco 2 runs forward and couples up to its carriages before pulling them back up the line and then pushing them into the Bay Platform. The system then resets to await the next train to arrive.
There are some interesting program examples on the internet but it took a while to work out how to use the Mini Panel in practice. The instructions only take you so far. It is quite easy to program the Mini Panel using the ProCab, particularly if you write down the key sequences for each line. So, for instance, the initial eight steps in the program are as follows:
If you select a loco, as in line 18-2, after you have entered the loco number it will immediately ask for the speed and direction, so the two line string ends up being 3,1,2 – 2,2,4 F. Before I discovered this, I kept on pressing the “3” in line 18-3 and so got the wrong command.
Also, in line 19-3 I wanted the loco to Reverse, but the screen defaults to Forward. To change to Reverse, you need to press the “Direction” button on the ProCab and then “enter”.
It can be confusing because some of the options in the menu require you to press enter after keying in a value, while others do not. It is, therefore, easy to press enter when you don’t need it and get the wrong command.
Unfortunately there does not seem to be a way of going back a step. So it is best to continue and then go back and edit your mistakes. At any time, you can press “prog/esc” and exit back to the start screen. On that screen, if you choose “Review” you can select which input to start and then step through the program to check that you have entered it correctly.
If, on the start screen, you choose “Input” you can enter the “Input” number and then the “Step” so that you can re-enter a specific cell’s entry. Press “prog/esc” to exit and save.
The rest of the program looked like this:
The last command in line 24-4 is not shown on the menu, but it will stop the program.
Having entered the program, wired in the two block detectors to inputs 3 and 4 and set up the three macros in the ProCab, I switched it all on – and tried it.
It didn’t do anything!
Having checked everything and re-read all the documentation and tried several options, I eventually discovered that it seems that whenever you power up the Mini Panel, it will start with Input #1. So, I reconfigured Input #1, Step #1, with a command 5,3,18, which says “Link to Input 18”. After switching on the power, I shorted Input #1 to ground, and the Mini Panel was then sitting waiting for the train to arrive at the block detector on Input #3.
There is also an Input #31, which is specifically designed to reset the Mini Panel, so that I found that it helped to short out Input 31 and then short Input 1 to get the program started.
I also found that the “Normal” and “Reverse” directions on the ProCab and Macros, did not always follow the convention of “Main” and “Branch” – some of them were reversed, which explained why one of the macros wasn’t working correctly. So, you need to test that the macros on the ProCab and Accessory commands on the Mini Panel are working the way that you want them.
Ultimately, the idea is to extend the program to run the loco round the carriages in Havant and bring the train back to Hayling before starting the whole process over again – so the two trains will go back and forth on their own. But, at least it works so far.
Look! No Hands!
All in all a very interesting exercise that showed that the Mini Panel is a very versatile device and, although it does have its limitations, it can be used to build quite a complex automated sequence.
All the best,