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LEGO train automation and custom parts - 3D printed!

LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
As discussed in the thread 'We're bringing back the Monorail', I am creating a new conversation that can be dedicated to trains. Just like with the monorail we (4DBrix) are looking at making 3D printed accessories, switch motors, sensors, etc. that can complement train layouts. I welcome all suggestions! So far I have heard that we should make custom track sizes and straight narrow gauge track sections.

We are now finalizing our track switch motor - which will be available once we have our custom filament in the dark bluish gray.


We are also working on a beta version of a train / monorail layout automation software (called nControl) - it contains a track planner which automatically gives you an inventory of the segments you used. It is a bit different from a traditional track planner as it allows you to simulate the automation on screen without having the actual components. The ultimate goal is to use it as a control center to control every aspect of your train layout.
Here is a screenshot: on top you have the track layout, at the bottom you have the tiles to control the track.  It can handle both train and monorail layouts.



If you are interested in testing the beta version (for now Windows only), let me know and I'll send you a link. Eventually the software will be downloadable for free on 4dbrix.com
SprinkleOtterstluxdougtsgmonkey76madforLEGOkiki180703josekalel
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Comments

  • MrShinyAndNewMrShinyAndNew Member Posts: 208
    This is pretty cool stuff. While you're making this, it would also be cool if the track control motor could be controlled without a PC. Maybe with the train/technic IR remotes? 

    Another could thing, while I'm asking for the moon: the opposite feature, where the train-control software can emit IR signals to the trains to make them start/stop. (Or better, a replacement for the IR sensor that can receive some other kind of signal that is controlled by the PC).
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    Technically it's possible to emit IR signals from the software to the trains but legally we're not allowed to do that.  LEGO released the IR protocol for non-commercial use only.  However, we are going to create a system that allows to control the trains, but it cannot be based on the LEGO IR protocol...

    The same thing for the switch motors, we cannot use the IR protocol.  Initially it will be with PC/MAC, eventually we'll try to migrate the software to phones and tablets.  Another option is to create our own remotes.  Remote controlled sounds good, but keep in mind that you will need a battery box next to each device.  From that perspective cables do have an advantage.
  • stluxstlux LuxembourgMember Posts: 1,377
    I had an 80's 12V train layout (currently boxed up), and whilst I love all the remote control possibilities of it, there's a *lot* of cables involved you have to try to hide somehow. So I can also see the advantages of the remote control option, even if it would involve a lot of battery boxes.

    What do others think?
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 971
    @Lowa
    Would it be possible to integrate bluetooth support for S-Brick?
    Bosstone100
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @Lowa
    Would it be possible to integrate bluetooth support for S-Brick?
    My first thoughts:
    1) I don't know whether s-brick has disclosed their transmission protocol and if they have, it might be for non-commercial use only.
    2) We could maybe do this as a plug in eventually - for which you may have to get a license...
    3) We have done successful experiments with bluetooth control so we are working on a wireless solution as well
    MattDawsonstluxkiki180703
  • MrShinyAndNewMrShinyAndNew Member Posts: 208
    Lowa said:
    Technically it's possible to emit IR signals from the software to the trains but legally we're not allowed to do that.  LEGO released the IR protocol for non-commercial use only.  However, we are going to create a system that allows to control the trains, but it cannot be based on the LEGO IR protocol...

    The same thing for the switch motors, we cannot use the IR protocol.  Initially it will be with PC/MAC, eventually we'll try to migrate the software to phones and tablets.  Another option is to create our own remotes.  Remote controlled sounds good, but keep in mind that you will need a battery box next to each device.  From that perspective cables do have an advantage.
    I'm not sure Lego has a legal leg to stand on to disallow you from imitating their IR protocol, unless they have a particular patent on some unique invention for it. Granted, you're probably wanting to avoid any fight with them at all, but still. You might have to reverse-engineer it in a clean room though.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    There's actually no need to reverse engineering as LEGO has fully disclosed their protocol but, as mentioned before, they explicitly state you can only use it for 'non-commercial' applications.  It's indeed not clear whether they have a solid legal ground to prevent third parties to use it for commercial applications, but it's clear they would not be happy with it and we want to respect that.

    We did implement it to run a couple of tests and discovered that IR is not be best way to automate train layouts.  The main problem is that IR remotes are very 'directional' meaning that you really need to point the remote at the receiver.  That's not such a big issue when you have a hand held remote and a small layout (that's the situation when you buy a standard LEGO train set) but it doesn't work well when the remote is 'static', i.e. in a fixed position and controlled by a computer/tablet.  It can only control the devices that are directly in the line of sight.  IR doesn't go trough objects either, so if you have large structures in your layout they will block the signals.  The range of IR is also limited and the reliability goes down with the range.  

    IR is a cheap solution for remote controls but it only works fine for certain applications.  It's a great solution for what LEGO intended it for but it's not really suitable for automating advanced/AFOL LEGO train layouts...  Radio wave based control is much better: it's omnidirectional, it has a larger range, it can go through certain objects and it has become pretty affordable too.  So we're working on a solution based on that...





    MattDawsondougtscatwranglerkiki180703
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 971
    @lowa
    My wallet is whimpering already...
    SprinkleOttergmonkey76kiki180703
  • sid3windrsid3windr BelgiumMember Posts: 782
    S-Brick data is on their forums, even including example Python code and Linux thingies.. so should be OK there. So you'd be able to use up to 4 functions per S-Brick, but you'd also need to power every S-brick... Still, would be the most open way to have things work :)
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    edited November 2016
    sid3windr said:
    S-Brick data is on their forums, even including example Python code and Linux thingies.. so should be OK there. So you'd be able to use up to 4 functions per S-Brick, but you'd also need to power every S-brick... Still, would be the most open way to have things work :)
    Thanks.  We'll check to see how we can use this to make an add-on / plug-in.  However, our main focus at this point is to get the first BETA version out!
    MattDawson
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    The first BETA version of nControl is out!  If you want to give it a try, you can download it using the link below :

    https://www.4dbrix.com/downloads

    The first version has a track planner for both trains and monorail. It also has a simulation mode that allows you to explore the automation on your own layout. The current version supports tiles for track switch automation, train traffic lights and sound effects.  

    dougtsMattDawsonkiki180703
  • CCCCCC UKMember Posts: 14,871
    sid3windr said:
    S-Brick data is on their forums, even including example Python code and Linux thingies.. so should be OK there. So you'd be able to use up to 4 functions per S-Brick, but you'd also need to power every S-brick... Still, would be the most open way to have things work :)
    It is also (reasonably) straightforward to use - I have made an arduino based bluetooth controller which works with an S-brick. I have also made a receiver with an arduino mini, which means the S-brick can be done away with although its volume is a bit larger than the S-brick, although as it is not encased it does mean I can make it long and slim to hide it inside a train chassis.

  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    CCC said:
    sid3windr said:
    S-Brick data is on their forums, even including example Python code and Linux thingies.. so should be OK there. So you'd be able to use up to 4 functions per S-Brick, but you'd also need to power every S-brick... Still, would be the most open way to have things work :)
    It is also (reasonably) straightforward to use - I have made an arduino based bluetooth controller which works with an S-brick. I have also made a receiver with an arduino mini, which means the S-brick can be done away with although its volume is a bit larger than the S-brick, although as it is not encased it does mean I can make it long and slim to hide it inside a train chassis.

    Sounds like a nice project.  Do you have some pictures or a video ?  We're working on an add-on so you can connect you own Arduino to our nControl software and integrate it into you layout automation system.  That will eventually allow you to make you train respond based on sensor feedback, etc.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @Bumblepants , @dougts , @Tkatt , or any other narrow gauge track enthusiast:

    I have finalized my straight narrow gauge track design and I'm currently printing the first batch of tracks in black and dark bluish gray (the picture is a bit over-exposed). 

    I also designed a narrow gauge cross track so you could build layouts that go beyond a simple loop.  But I was wondering which types of wheel you're using for narrow gauge trains?  The reason I'm asking is the following.  Cross tracks need a little gap in their tracks, otherwise the trains can't pass.  This gives a little bump when the train goes over it.  In my standard gauge cross track I added a raised section (see below) like LEGO does in their switches to prevent this 'bump'.  The height of the raised section depends on the shape of the wheels.  I would like to do the same for the narrow gauge cross track but I also want to be sure I'm not creating a problem for a certain type of wheel that is used for some narrow gauge trains.  I don't think there is a standard wheel like for the standard gauge trains, right ? Please let me know which wheels you use or any other thoughts / suggestions you might have.  Thank you!




    Mynattkiki180703madforLEGO
  • SprinkleOtterSprinkleOtter Member Posts: 2,395
    I have never tried using the 4-wide track outside of the Temple Of Doom, and I am surprised by the limited number of train wheels out there!

    For all those that want to use the 4-wide track, what were you thinking of to power it?
  • BumblepantsBumblepants Sofia BG/Dallas TXMember Posts: 3,950
    I was thinking of building a narrow track for the orange tram from the city square set. Haven't yet built either the tram or thought it through yet so it might not work well at all.
    madforLEGOstlux
  • gmonkey76gmonkey76 ChicagoMember Posts: 814
    I would be using this http://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=50254#T=C to build a  wild west gold mine. I would also like to have a narrow gage line running up the side of a mountain for a logging operation, and that would probably use the bigger wheels. I just have to figure out how to power the engine. 
  • dougtsdougts Oregon, USAMember Posts: 4,093
    I would think you would want to design the "bump reducer" to accommodate the first wheel, linked by @MattDawson, but testing it also on the smaller wheel @gmonkey76 linked. Hopefully both could work

    honestly, doubt I would use a cross track for anything I'd be making with narrow gauge.  A switch would be more useful
    gmonkey76
  • madforLEGOmadforLEGO USMember Posts: 8,070
    gmonkey76 said:
    I would be using this http://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=50254#T=C to build a  wild west gold mine. I would also like to have a narrow gage line running up the side of a mountain for a logging operation, and that would probably use the bigger wheels. I just have to figure out how to power the engine. 
    Agree, I think this is the wheel used for most of the 'small gauge' track sets LEGO has made. Why LEGO never made straights for this scale is a bit beyond me. I get you can use 'old fashioned' 4.5V rails, but would have much rather seen straight track (not 'going up or down' that is) made by LEGO.

    Nice track and something I would consider buying (when I can get around to building my MOC that is)
    gmonkey76
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    I was thinking of building a narrow track for the orange tram from the city square set. Haven't yet built either the tram or thought it through yet so it might not work well at all.
    There seem to be a few people that modified the orange tram for monorail track.  Both monorail and narrow gauge have 4 stud wide track so I would try to figure out how they did it.  It might a good starting point...
    SprinkleOtterkiki180703
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    gmonkey76 said:
    I would be using this http://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=50254#T=C to build a  wild west gold mine. I would also like to have a narrow gage line running up the side of a mountain for a logging operation, and that would probably use the bigger wheels. I just have to figure out how to power the engine. 
    This might give you some inspiration for powering it:

    dutchlegofan50
  • madforLEGOmadforLEGO USMember Posts: 8,070
    edited December 2016
    Seems like someone over at EB did it: http://www.eurobricks.com/forum/index.php?/forums/topic/111401-lego-60097-tram-converted-to-monorail/

    Just as I thought, it seems like they moved it over to a standard monorail base with motor and just hid the bat box in one of the cars.


  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @MattDawson , @gmonkey76 , @dougts
    Thanks for the feedback!  Both wheels have a 3.2 mm flange (= one plate thickness).  It thus seems that LEGO standardized its train (like) wheels and we can consider a 3.2 mm flange as 'standard'.  That means can make a 'bump reducer' that works for both types of wheel.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    dougts said:

    honestly, doubt I would use a cross track for anything I'd be making with narrow gauge.  A switch would be more useful
    I can see that, but still a cross allows to run more track in a small area.  But I'll certainly make narrow gauge switches too; it's just a matter of finding to time to design them.  We can start thinking about other types of useful track as well, I have a couple of ideas...  The only thing I'm not thinking of is a narrow gauge 'flex track' ;-)
    MattDawsonkiki180703dutchlegofan50
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    Seems like someone over at EB did it: http://www.eurobricks.com/forum/index.php?/forums/topic/111401-lego-60097-tram-converted-to-monorail/

    Just as I thought, it seems like they moved it over to a standard monorail base with motor and just hid the bat box in one of the cars.


    That's indeed what I was talking about.  I saw a couple of them on YouTube when I was designing the monorail cross switch.  They look very wide and they are one of the reasons I moved the motor connection point of the cross switch 1 extra stud outwards.
    MattDawsonsid3windrkiki180703
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    Someone asked me whether it's possible to make the small trains wheels with a technic axle connection.  I created the model and printed a few.  I also made a wheel that is in between the standard and small train wheel.  You can see the wheel compared to the LEGO train wheels below.  Any thoughts or comments ?
    gmonkey76kiki180703Mynatt
  • gmonkey76gmonkey76 ChicagoMember Posts: 814
    Only thing I would worry about is the grooves on the flange catching on something. I can see the middle size wheel being very useful.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    edited December 2016
    gmonkey76 said:
    Only thing I would worry about is the grooves on the flange catching on something. I can see the middle size wheel being very useful.
    That's an interesting point although I don't think that would be an issue.  The flanges are conical and the 'grooves' are the layer thickness which is 0.2mm/0.008" in this print.  It's possible to reduce that to 0.1mm/0.004"; that should make the 'grooves' less visible.  Reducing the layer thickness gives a significant increase of the print time but that shouldn't be an issue for these small wheels.  I'll give it a try and see what it gives.  
    Thanks for the feedback!
    gmonkey76
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    FYI, I started producing narrow gauge half and quarter straights today.  Tomorrow I'm going to make the first prints of the standard gauge half and quarter straights in the final dark bluish gray filament.

    gmonkey76kiki180703
  • gmonkey76gmonkey76 ChicagoMember Posts: 814
    @Lowa was just wondering if it would be possible in the future if you could make the rolling garage door (https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=4218&name=Garage Roller Door Section without Handle&category=[Garage]#T=C) wider? I believe it's 8 wide now, but with some of the new wider vehicles it would be nice to see it at least ten wide.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    gmonkey76 said:
    @Lowa was just wondering if it would be possible in the future if you could make the rolling garage door (https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=4218&name=Garage Roller Door Section without Handle&category=[Garage]#T=C) wider? I believe it's 8 wide now, but with some of the new wider vehicles it would be nice to see it at least ten wide.
    It hard to say without trying it first.  The most critical part would be the connection between the sections.  But it can be printed in-plane; that's where the printer have the highest resolution, so it might be possible.  It would certainly be a nice custom part for larger hangers.  I'll look into it for sure but I cannot promise anything...
    gmonkey76MattDawson
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114

    I got some 'traction tires' and updated my medium-sized train wheels for the narrow gauge trains.  The pictures below show them in comparison to the LEGO train wheels.  Both 3D printed wheels are identical, but the one on the left has a traction tire and the other one not.

    This is what I modified compared to the previous version:

    • I printed them at maximal resolution, so the 'groves' on the flange are thinner and thus less visible.
    • I added a groove for the traction tire
    • I added a traction tire.  
    • I tweaked the dimensions.  With the traction tire the tread diameter is now 13mm so slightly larger than the 12T bevel gear
    • I made them in black

    Any thoughts or comments ?

    gmonkey76dougtsdutchlegofan50kiki180703
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 971
    It looks weird to have the massive lip - I would hazard a guess that it's to reinforce where the traction tyre goes.

    I take it the thickness where the axle fits is 1/2 a technic beam?
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    It looks weird to have the massive lip - I would hazard a guess that it's to reinforce where the traction tyre goes.

    I take it the thickness where the axle fits is 1/2 a technic beam?
    Sorry for the late reply, I have had a very busy period with getting the track switch motors out...

    The wheels are 4mm thick.  What do you mean with 'massive lip'; do you mean the part in red on the image below ?  I took roughly the same 'lip width' as the standard train wheel.  The central part is lowered with the same amount as in case of the small LEGO wheel.  Do you think it would look better if I raised the central part, the part with the axle connection ?



    I'm also going to change the traction tire, some EB members had concerns about the durability of the elastic band and suggested a rubber o-ring.
    MattDawsonkiki180703
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    I finally found the time to finalize the design of the level crossing motor.  The main goal was to have a small motor, especially designed to make level crossings.  I managed to get a tiny digital servo motor in a 2x4x3 brick.   The final motors would be printed in black.

    This is not a final product, so all suggestions, questions and feedback are highly appreciated !


    davetheoxygenmanstluxdutchlegofan50kiki180703josekalel
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 971
    @Lowa
    Indeed, it just looks weird to me. While I can understand it on the smallest lego wheel, I think the thinner lip as seen on the 'standard' train wheel looks more appropriate. 

    The other reason for my concern is those converting the wheels with 'cranked' drive gear using this part as it won't clear the lip: http://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=2854#T=S&O={} 
  • ecmo47ecmo47 North CarolinaMember Posts: 1,873
    On the level crossing motor, does the wire have to come out of the top of it? It would be nice if came out the bottom or at least lower down so it could be hidden as much as possible. Lovely little creation! Hope to have a few on my layout some day.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    @MattDawson
    Ok, thanks for the feedback!

    I just checked it again and the lip thickness is actually the same as for the standard train wheel.  I guess it shows less there because of the spokes.  I cannot do the same with this wheel because there's no space for it.

    I got some o-rings that work, but I'm going to look for slightly thicker ones.  When I adapt the model for the o-ring I'm going to reduce the lip thickness so we can see what that gives.
    MattDawsonkiki180703
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    ecmo47 said:
    "does the wire have to come out of the top of it?"
    No, the wire actually comes out at the bottom.  Internally the wire comes out of the servo motor at the top, but I managed to find the space inside the brick to run the cable down to the bottom.

    In the video, the wire of the light comes out at the side, but that's because this is a 'traffic light' on its side.  I'm planning to make a variant with cable coming out at the side; so if you put the light on its side like in the video the cable comes out at the bottom.  
    MattDawson
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    The picture above shows a prototype without studs, the final motor will have 8 studs on the top surface.
    gmonkey76MattDawsonkiki180703
  • wunztwicewunztwice Oregon, USAMember Posts: 25
    These show promise, I especially like the idea of a narrow-gauge switch (point).  However, my narrow-gauge would actually be between this size track & the standard LEGO size, with 3 studs between.  But I suppose a switch for that wouldn't be too overly complicated if this one were figured out.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    wunztwice said:
     However, my narrow-gauge would actually be between this size track & the standard LEGO size, with 3 studs between.  But I suppose a switch for that wouldn't be too overly complicated if this one were figured out.
    Yes, once we have a good base design for a track switch it shouldn't be that complicated to change dimensions, however it can still be a considerable design effort as the radius of the curves (at least one) would change.  However, it's feasible.

    One question: how are you planning to make the curves for you 3-stud wide track ?   Is that possible with standard LEGO parts ?   Have you built anything or is it just conceptual at this point ?
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
  • MattDawsonMattDawson Solihull, UKMember Posts: 971
    @Lowa

    When will the EU store get their stock? 
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    We're planning on sending a resupply of monorail tracks/cars and the new train tracks next week!  If you want something specific, you can let us know and they can keep it aside for you.
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    The track switch automation in action on a layout...


    ClutchPowercatwranglersid3windrAllBrickBumblepantsJudgeChuckkiki180703
  • PaperballparkPaperballpark UKMember Posts: 2,684
    16 normal narrow gauge straight tracks is very good for $5!
  • LowaLowa FloridaMember Posts: 114
    16 normal narrow gauge straight tracks is very good for $5!
    I'm afraid you misunderstood the post; that's a screenshot from our Bricklink store: we have  currently 16 pieces in stock, it's $4.95 / piece...
    SprinkleOtterMattDawsonkiki180703
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