The Acc+Ess Protocab range provides a simple and effective way to enjoy the real benefits of wireless control of your model railway locomotives. With power stored in rechargeable batteries inside the locomotive, wiring the track is a thing of the past! No more do your locomotives need pickups and because the Protocab components inside the locomotive are self-contained, you do not need to make sure that the pairs of wheels are electrically insulated. Imagine never having to clean the track again to maintain electrical contact, not having to insulate points and crossings, and not having to divide your track into sections! As long as your locomotives have space for the Protocab battery and control units, installation and operation are simple. Each component features sub-miniature plugs and sockets. The only soldering you need is to connect two wires to your locomotive motor terminals. Components inside the locomotive have been separated into small units connected by cables to offer maximum flexibility for where you can locate them in the typically limited spaces inside locomotives.
How does Protocab work? The control signals sent by wireless from, for example the handheld walkabout Direct Controller (0201 are received by the Locomotive Control Unit (LCU) installed in your locomotive, which also sends messages back to the controller to maintain integrity of all operations. The LCU manages the flow of power from the on-board Protocab lithium-ion/polymer battery to the motor according to the setting on the controller.
The Protocab Loco switch uses fingertip touch to switch the battery on and off through a simple pad installed wherever convenient in the loco.
When powered by an Acc+Ess Protocab battery, the LCU ensures that up to 10.8 Volts are available to the motor throughout the battery charge as required to power your locomotive's motor to its full potential (i.e. the loco won't slow down as the battery discharges).
The 9601 Plug Charging Unit (PCU, the only component on the locomotive to which the operator needs access, enables the battery to be recharged without removing it from the locomotive. Batteries can be topped up at any time because they do not have the ' memory effect' problem of earlier battery chemistries. A fully discharged Protocab battery takes around four hours to recharge and then last in normal then operation for around four hours (in a typical running session of a couple of hours, the loco may only be running for a total of half an hour, so a fully charged battery may well last for several running sessions).
A green light on the 9601 tells you when the battery is fully charged, with safety devices on the battery and the 9601 to prevent overcharging. A range of fixing points enables you to securely install it in the locomotive.
The first LCU to be available is the model 0502, aimed at the medium sized 4mm/foot scale locomotive with a running current of 450mA (stall current 500mA). Its small footprint of 25mm x 18mm enables it to be installed in a wide range of locos. The LCU range will be continuously expanded to handle larger 7mm and larger scale locos and smaller 4mm, HO and 2mm and 3mm/foot scale locomotives. Installation of the components in the locomotive is simple through the micro-connectors and sockets fitted to each component. The initial Protocab battery range will be expanded to cover a wide range of shapes and capacities.
The 0201 Direct Controller can support up to 9 locomotives, each of which is selected by an illuminated push button. A simulation mode provides acceleration and braking facilities. (The 0201 data sheet obtainable from Acc+Ess gives full details.)
Protocab controllers communicate with locomotives using internationally recognised wireless network standards. The Acc+Ess Protocab protocol makes sure that if the LCU loses communications with its controller for more than a few milliseconds, it cuts off the power to the motor to prevent damage to the loco.
When you want to expand beyond the capabilities of the 0201, other products in the Acc+Ess Protocab range are available to enjoy the further benefits of wire-free model railway control.
So what are the snags? The first problem is whether the locomotive is suitable for conversion. Older motors are very greedy in terms of current demand. So if your motor is one of the open framed types, it is worth checking it out. This may be done with an ammeter wired in the power line to the motor. Disconnect one of the power leads and clip it onto the probe of the ammeter. Similarly clip the other lead onto the motor terminal. Switch on the power with the shaft of the motor jammed against turning (stalled). Take it up to full power and see what the ammeter reads. Don't hang about or you may overheat the motor. If the ammeter reading was less than 0.5 amps - all will be okay. If not you can choose another engine, or fit a new motor.
Fitting the charger point to the locomotive. It is important to keep the electronics intact with the power input socket as these prevent over-charging. It is suggested that you place the system either in the tender or under the coal if in a tank engine. Some videos are available on YouTube (see below for full address) which show some successful conversions. The fixing has to be substantial as you will be pushing the plug in and pulling it out. So take your time and make up a suitable bracket. I used a 20 x 10 mm aluminium section which I bought in B&Q. Cut off a length wide enough to go across the locomotive or bunker. Cut out space for the socket in the wider section and after measuring the height needed for the socket to be just below the coal/tank, drill 2 fixing holes through the bracket to line up with two holes in the pc board of the socket. Check the position of the bracket on the floor, and drill 2 more holes and bolt the bracket to the floor.
Once fixed, the wiring to the other components is straight forward. In sert the plugs into the sockets of the other component parts leaving 2 wires to connect to the motor. Which way round do they go? It does not matter at this stage, because there is a 3 button code which you can use to change the polarity of the output and so change the direction of the engine.
Alternative ways of charging the battery. Fitting the charging socket is possibly the most difficult operation of the installation. Whilst an inductive coil set between the rails is the easiest system to use, it is not the cheapest. For plastic bodied locomotives the simplest is to use the buffers. The operator has just to drive the locomotive against the buffer stops and leave it for a few hours, or until the green indicator light beside the socket comes on.
Another way of charging the battery is to use the otherwise redundant wheel pickups, on a layout which does not carry any rail current for other engines. To charge the battery you then need a section of track where the loco can be parked while charging.
Will early systems become obsolete? No, future enhancements are planned, and indeed happening now. Since the characteristics such as speed, acceleration and braking can be programmed into the controller for each loco which is adopted by it. These features can be setup in you controller, and new ones may be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website whenever they become available. Recently the starting and slow running performance has been improved and made available to all current owners of Protocab.
Can sound modules be fitted? Yes and no, the LCU is provided with 3 channels for the operation of extra functions. However these modules are still being developed and may be based on other manufacturer's products - such as sound and smoke. Lights are also seen as desirable functions, and may soon be available.
How many engines can be run at once of one controller? Up to 9 engines can be adopted by each hand held controller. However only one engine can be in action at any one time. However a future development will allow for a second engine to be left coasting whilst the first engine is being driven.
Can an engine be adopted by more than one controller? Yes, but it can only become active on the second controller if it is stopped on the first controller. However work is being done to enable double heading to be controlled from one controller.
What other features are in the pipeline? A new controller which shows the loco speed and the remaining battery life is being developed.
When will these developments be available? This is a chicken and egg situation, except that it is a one way condition. The more sales that are achieved, the faster the new features can be introduced. But most of these of these will not make existing equipment obsolete. As one's system grows extra uses will be found for the older controllers etc. However a buy-back scheme will be introduced so that new users can benefit from the older equipment, albeit in newer boxes etc. and serviced up to original specification.
What is the life of the lithium-ion batteries? These carry a manufacturer's guarantee of 5 years.
What are the limitations on the broadcasting performances of the system? These have recently become much more stringent. Whereas there are limits on the band width of older radio controlled systems which allowed the use of low powered one-to-one systems for model boats and aircraft. Use of fixed frequency systems such as adopted for Protocab, have to be tested and certified. The penalty for not doing so has now been extended to cover the users as well as the manufacturers, so as to control the sale of kits for self-assembly. This is an international security matter over which the model hobby has little influence - at least for the time being.
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