Bespoke model railway mimic panels are an essential feature of any model railway layout. These panels enable operators to control and monitor train movements by providing a visual representation of the track layout, signaling, and train locations. Mimic panels can be made to any size or shape and can be tailored to match the specific needs of a particular layout. In this article, we will explore the manufacturing methods and electronics used to create bespoke model railway mimic panels.
The first step in manufacturing a bespoke model railway mimic panel is to design the layout of the panel. This is usually done using computer-aided design (CAD) software, which allows the designer to create a 3D model of the panel and the track layout. The CAD software can also be used to generate a 2D layout plan, which can be used to guide the manufacturing process. At flexxgenix we have designed panels from sketches, layout photographs, CAD packages (eg AnyRail) and drawings in applications such as MSword.
Once the design has been finalized, the next step is to choose the materials for the panel. The most common materials used for mimic panels are MDF (medium-density fibreboard), plywood, and acrylic sheet. MDF and plywood are popular because they are easy to work with and can be cut to any size or shape using standard woodworking tools. Acrylic sheet is a popular choice for illuminated mimic panels because it can be easily engraved and backlit with LED lighting. Many of our bespoke panels use Acrylic with the design engraved in the back and infilled in different colours.
The manufacturing process typically involves cutting the material to size using a saw or laser cutter. At flexxgenix we use a Industry Standard laser cutter. The panel is then sanded to a smooth finish and painted or laminated with a decorative finish. The track plan is then transferred onto the panel using a stencil or by drawing it freehand. The tracks are usually marked out using a pencil or marker pen and then painted using acrylic or enamel paint.
Once the track layout has been painted, the next step is to add the signaling and control electronics. This typically involves drilling holes in the panel for LED lights, switches, and wiring. The electronics are then installed and connected to the track and control system.
The electronics used in bespoke model railway mimic panels vary depending on the specific requirements of the layout. However, there are some common components that are used in most mimic panels:
- LED lights – LED lights are used to indicate the position of trains on the track. They can be mounted directly on the panel or on a separate control panel.
- Switches – Switches are used to control the track power, signals, and turnouts. They can be mounted directly on the panel or on a separate control panel.
- Decoders – Decoders are used to control and determibe the functions of lights and switches, For instance instead of controlling indvidual lights you could use a single switch to set a route or array of turnouts, a SOD or start of day setting and communicate with a digital control system.
- Wiring – Wiring is used to connect the various components of the mimic panel, including the track, switches, and LED lights. The wiring has to be carefully thought about while indivdual wires to each turnout or accessory may seem simple this can soon become very daunting as a layout bgrows in complexity. Modern two wire systems s usually overcome this but require a bit more palnning at the beginning of a project, costs a bit more but in the long run improves enjoyment in layout operation.
One of the most popular control systems used in bespoke model railway mimic panels is Digital Command Control (DCC). DCC allows operators to control multiple locomotives independently and to program their functions using a computer or handheld controller. DCC also enables sound effects, lighting, and other special effects to be synchronized with the train movements, adding to the realism of the layout. There are a number of systems out there that let you directly link in with your DCC system such as JMRI.
Bespoke model railway mimic panels are an essential component of any model railway layout. They provide operators with a visual representation of the track layout, signaling, and train movements, making it easier to control and monitor the layout. The manufacturing methods and electronics used to create bespoke mimic panels vary depending on the specific requirements of the layout, but typically involve computer-aided design, woodworking or laser cutting, painting, and the installation of LED lights, switches, and wiring. Why not speak to us about your own panel? or join or facebook group where you can talk about your experience with model railway electronics.