How It Works
Analog Conversion is an optional feature provided by a multifunction decoder when operated on Direct Current supplied from a traditional analog controller. The DC voltage level must be sufficient to power up the multifunction decoder circuitry (usually only a few volts) so that it can operate. In the absence of a DCC signal, the multifunction decoder will default to driving the motor in the same direction as the polarity of the DC supply indicates. As the supply voltage increases the multifunction decoder will supply more power to the motor so that speed increases accordingly. When the direction is reversed on the analog controller, the multifunction decoder will correspondingly reverse the direction of the motor.
Different multifunction decoders may handle different analog controllers with varying degrees of success because many analog controllers do not simply vary the voltage to vary the speed. Some of them employ PWM or other techniques to modulate the motor speed to improve low speed performance.
Many multifunction decoders support automatic function controls in analog conversion mode. For example, only lighting the headlight in the direction of travel.
The NMRA standards dictate fail safe modes which must be present.
When a command station is initialized, two states can exist:
- It has stored the previous state of the system
- It has no information regarding the previous state of the system.
If the system has no stored state, it shall send a minimum of 20 reset packets, followed by at least 10 idle packets, before sending any command packets. The ten idle packets are required to ensure the multifunction decoders exit service mode.
When receiving power, the multifunction decoder will boot up and enter digital operations mode. If a minor power loss occurs, and the multifunction decoder has received valid instructions prior to the outage, it should resume operations. If not, the multifunction decoder shall return the locomotive to a complete stop.
Analog Conversion Notes
According to the NMRA Standard S-9.2.4, Fail Safe Operating Characteristics:
- If a multi-function (mobile) decoder has automatic conversion enabled, detects the absence of a DCC signal for more than 30 milliSeconds, it can switch to an alternate power source. If the decoder converts to an alternate power source, it shall accelerate or decelerate in the direction specified until it reaches the speed that the analog power dictates, using the programmed acceleration /deceleration rates of the decoder.
- A decoder not in digital mode detects a DCC signal, it shall switch to DCC operation and
- Continue at the same speed as it was while operating under the alternate power source
- Operate at the last known digital speed
- Stop until a proper digital instruction is received
- When converting to digital, should the new instructions cause the locomotive to reverse, the locomotive shall come to a complete stop (if needed) until:
- the direction information is the same,
- a DCC instruction packet is received that tells the decoder to stop,
- a reset packet is received, or
- track voltage drops to 0 Volts for 500 mS.
While operating in digital mode, the decoder shall have a Packet update timeout. If that value is exceeded, the decoder shall bring the locomotive or other devices controlled by it to a stop. The purpose is to ensure that all decoders receive updates from the command station which should help prevent runaway conditions. The user should be able to define the timeout value, or disable it.
Analog conversion is not required by the NMRA standard but the method of enabling it is. CV29's bit 2 must be turned on. By default, it is usually off. This bit means Enable Power Conversion. The NMRA standard allows for multiple types of power conversion and analog is only one of them. For decoders that support multiple types of conversion CV12 should be set to 1 for analog conversion.
Many users set the multifunction decoder to NMRA DCC Only, so if a multifunction decoder will not respond on a DC powered layout, check the decoder parameters are set to allow operation on analog power. This is done to prevent runaways should an unexpected condition occur on a DCC layout. As always, read the manual for your multifunction decoder.
Warning Regarding Operation of a Multifunction Decoder on an Analog Layout
Multifunction Decoders can be very demanding with regards to the signal quality on the track. Operation of a multifunction decoder on analog power does come with risks, as dirty track power can destroy an expensive multifunction decoder.
Low-cost analog power packs, and train set quality power packs can create voltage spikes, irregular waveforms and other issues as part of their design, especially those equipped with Pulse Power for better low speed operations. The amplitude of these spikes can be enough to permanently damage the multifunction decoder, rendering it useless.
See the warning from Rapido Trains regarding analog operations and multifunction decoder damage for more information.
Homebrew DCC Systems and Power Supplies
It is possible for homemade analog supplies or DCC Boosters to damage multifunction decoders. Analog DC supplies may introduce voltage spikes which can damage a decoder. Improperly designed or constructed DIY DCC Boosters can introduce a DC voltage to the track that can damage a DCC multifunction decoder.
- It is best to only use DCC systems which meet the NMRA DCC Standards to operate locomotives with DCC multifunction decoders installed, to avoid damage.
Further info: NMRA Standard S-9.2.4