News for 2022, P40 Switches and New Stock
It has been a busy year and we're long overdue to update you on our new products, our progress, and what is to come, particularly for the P40 switch. We look forward to sharing future posts about other products such as our track power feeders, Power Station speed controller, the PFx Brick, Motors, and much more.
We were really excited to finally get out and join in-person events this year. In April we attended the På Kloss Hold (PKH) LEGO fan event in Trondheim, Norway organized by the Brikkelauget LEGO User Group. We presented a workshop session on modular layout design using the MILS standard and another workshop called "Inside Fx Bricks".
In June, we attended Brickworld Chicago both in person as well as an unplanned virtual session due to a positive COVID result! We had a great opportunity to show some pre-production products and get some valuable feedback.
In August, we attended the BSBT LEGO train fan event in Leipzig, Germany. I wrote a BrickNerd article giving my in depth reflections on this amazing fan event with a special focus on LEGO trains.
Lastly, we're looking forward to attending Schwabenstein 2x4 event in Stuttgart, Germany November 17-20, 2022. We will have a demo layout, new pre-production product demos, as well as some new train MOCs!
Not a day goes by without questions about when our new 9V compatible metal track switch will be ready! This is of course understandable and we know many train fans are very eagerly awaiting its release. We are sorry that it is taking longer than planned and each delay must be frustrating especially when the product looks agonizingly close to finished.
However, we are not comfortable releasing such an important product until we are convinced that it is ready and meets our standards of performance and quality. When we attended BSBT in August, we brought 10x of our most recent P40 switch revisions. The goal was not only to get feedback from fans, but for us to thoroughly road test the switch under heavy continuous use at an exhibition. This testing revealed three design issues which required a remedy and therefore a delay to release.
1. Missing Walls
It is amazing how you can look at something repeatedly and be completely blind to an obvious mistake! Even after two batches of P40 switch base molds, we did not detect this missing "wall" on the underside tie plates of the switch diverging route. Shown below is the "missing wall" and the recently corrected mold version. Fortunately, this mistake was not ours, but our manufacturers. The walls are present on our CAD models and the manufacturer has corrected the mold.
2. Crossing Vee Isolation
The P40 switch was electrically designed in the same way as a modern model train switch. That is, each rail in both routes is electrically live at all times. This eliminates any complicated and potentially troublesome electrical switching linked to the switch mechanical position. This is fine for many track configurations and is very desirable in layouts that use DCC (digital command control); however we neglected to consider a situation with a crossover between two separate electrical control zones.
This situation became very apparent when we inserted crossovers into the BSBT layout which had two independently controlled lines. We fixed the situation temporarily at the show by disconnecting the electrical links under the crossing Vee. However, we realized that this required a permanent solution and therefore a design change. The situation is illustrated in the diagram below:
We are happy to report that we have successfully designed a solution which involves the use of special printed circuit board (PCB) designed to fit under the cavity of the crossing vee. This PCB not only provides secure electrical connections between the rails, but also allows the mode of the switch to be changed with a convenient jumper selection. This jumper can either connect or isolate the diverging route rail so that it can be used safely in a crossover without electrical circuit conflicts.
Revised P40 switch crossing "vee" PCB with mode selection
3. Switch Bar
The P40 switch is unique compared to other L-Gauge compatible track switches in that it uses 2x switch rails rather than one switch rail. This not only looks better, but also offers superior functional performance with smooth wheel guidance through each route of the switch. Furthermore, since the metal rails are critical to supplying power to passing trains, minimizing the electrical gaps along the length of the switch is key. Using two identical switch rails maintains the longest region of continuous contact between the metal rail and wheel.
Having 2x switch rails requires a switch bar to physically move each rail precisely into each route position. Other L-Gauge track switches with one switch rail typically allow trains to "run through" a conflicting route from the trailing direction. This is not very prototypical and violates the fundamental role of the switch of setting definite routes. The P40 switch uses a "locking" switch bar to set each route (straight or diverging). The switch bar has an over-centre spring mechanism to latch each route position. This keeps the switch rails in the correct geometry for the route and prevents potential electrical short circuits between metal wheels which stray between unlocked switch rails.
If a train attempts to "run through" a conflicting route as before, it will derail. The P40 switch rails remain locked into position and will not deflect out of the way of an opposing movement. This issue caused a lot of discussion (and debate!) among train fans at BSBT! Despite some complaints about our switch behaviour, we are going to stick to our decision to make the P40 switch work like a real switch! Trust us, its for your own good!
There is one item of feedback from train fans about our switch bar which we are going to change: the spring tension. During several days of continuous switching, it was found that the over-centre spring tension was too strong for gentle manual operation. We agree. And therefore, we have committed a revised mold design for the switch bar as shown below.
Making changes to the P40 switch does delay the release. We hope you agree that the delay will be worth it. The P40 switch is a complicated product and making mistakes at scale is a much bigger problem. The remaining design issues discussed above are in progress and we hope to test the revisions very soon. Based on what our manufacturers are forecasting, we hope to make pre-orders for the P40 switch available in Jan 2023, with forecasted deliveries starting in March 2023. The P40 switch will be sold in 3x different SKU variants:
- 1x Left + 1x Right
- 2x Left
- 2x Right
Lastly, you can also look forward to the simultaneous release of 3x other supporting track products:
- R64P curve track
- S1.6 straight track
- S3.2 straight track
These new elements allow the P40 switch to built into a variety of useful track layouts including parallel sidings, yard ladders, S-bends, and much more. Consult our usage guide in our track catalog for more details.
Many folks have noticed that our friends at JB Spielwaren have run out of several Fx Track products and our Canadian shop has run out of S8 straight tracks and is close to running out of a few other Fx Track products.
The good news is that we have received new production batches of Fx Track at our inventory location in Hong Kong. We are currently sorting out the logistics and consignment quantities to Canada and Germany and should have new stock available soon. As you know, the global shipping situation is still volatile and inflationary pressures continue to make shipping both expensive and unpredictable.