Monday, August 15, 2011

SoundBytes XXXIX

It’s been a really busy summer here. We have been getting the new sounds out to the dealers, getting SurroundTraxx packaged and shipped, attending the National Train Show in Sacramento, CA and last, hosting our annual Dealer Training here in Durango last week. It seems as though it was just the first of the year here! Time flies when you’re having fun, right!
In this edition, we will hear from Jeff Johnson from Blackstone Models in the first of 3 installments about the model selection processes we employ to select projects for Blackstone Models. Also, we will take a sneak peek at the Dealer Training seminar we held here last week. Last, for our Tech Tip, we will give some wiring advice to help with your decoder installations.

Dealer Training.
This is an annual Seminar we conduct in which we invite our dealers from around the globe. We spend 4 days helping them become more familiar with our products, SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models. This year, it was held at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, CO. During the week, we share the many features of our products, share the details of our product line, give them an overview of decoder installation, do a decoder installation, and program and set up the decoders for their in-store demo units! We also take a day to have a good time and ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Everybody has a good time, learns a lot and leaves with confidence in our products seeing the factory and seeing our commitment to producing a great product.

This year was especially fun. There was a rockslide on the railroad up in the mountains that caused our trip to be postponed a day. The biggest problem was we could not go all the way to Silverton, but we had a good time anyway! Some photos of the rockslide and its cleanup can be seen here:
This year was our biggest class ever with over 40 attendees from all across the continent. To see if your dealer has attended, look up their listing on our dealer page from our website. They will be designated with a large gold star!
We want to issue a big Thank You to all who attended this year, Ft. Lewis College, The Bar D Wranglers, The Durango and Silverton Railroad and all who made this past week a success for us and for all attendees.

Blackstone Models:
Product Development Primer
Written by Jeff Johnson
Blackstone Models has existed as a division of SoundTraxx since the announcement of our K-27 locomotive development in 2004. To date, Blackstone Models has released two distinct classes of HOn3 locomotives and eleven types of HOn3 rolling stock pieces.
Many of our customers have inquired about our development process (i.e. ‘how do you select a project, develop it, and decide how to release it to the market’). While certainly not exhaustive, this three-part presentation of our development process may help answer some basic questions you may have concerning Blackstone Models product releases.

With the release of the very first K-27s, boxcars, and stock cars, we felt assured that these staples of narrow gauge railroading would be well received by our core audience/potential customers. The unanswered question was how we needed to continue building a successful business while creating the quality of product that would continue to appeal to existing HOn3 modelers. The added goal was to introduce this wonderful corner of the hobby to budding modelers. First, let’s take a look back at the principals that we used to guide us in the quest to get rolling. Some salient points were agreed upon at the inception of our new division:
· Locomotives must be designed with reliable and consistent electrical pick-up
· Locomotives would be offered with state-of-the art sound systems that accurately capture various prototype sounds
· Each offering would be created “Ready-to Run”
· All models would be extensively tested during the development stage
· All of our models should be consistent with details that mirror the unique variations found on the prototype
· Thoughtful historical research would be key to satisfying the requirement of producing a model that accurately represents the era intended
· Customer service and support must be key to ensuring that our products are well received and that they will stand the test of time in realistic operating scenarios
While following these guidelines during the release of our first few products, lessons have been learned and new innovations have been created to ensure consistent quality.
As we find ourselves seven years down the road and a dozen or so releases behind us, the question is often begged: ”What’s next?”

Obviously, choosing a successful product release results from exploratory research that will ensure a reasonable return on the investment that will keep us afloat and able to expand for the future. This means that many departments of our organization must come together and review the viability of product proposals in order to ensure success. Key components to this process include:
· Customer Surveys (trade shows, online data collection, customer comment cards)
· Competitive Products Survey (we ask “what are we offering that is unique?”)
· Online Modeler Forum Feedback
· Manufacturing Limitations and Costs (How do we satisfy our customer requirements and work within our means for long term success?)
· Available Prototype Data (Do we have access to the prototypes and/or reliable historical data that ensures we may produce an accurate model?
Manufacturing requirements reach far beyond the obvious of how we can make a part or assembly. Minimum order quantities (MOQs), additional costs for producing unique version details, and potential delivery schedules are all figured into the decision of product viability. Today’s manufacturing costs are steadily rising, therefore the balance between additional investment for unique model versions must be very carefully weighed with the ability to produce and move a quantity that will constitute a successful release.
Considerable preliminary research of the model prototype and design must be conducted prior to our selection of the next release. Occasionally, it may take weeks or even months to find and gather enough information to simply determine the viability of a project as viewed from the design phase. This process is especially laborious when creating a model such as the C-19 considering the many detail and varying assembly requirements.

After satisfying the above-mentioned considerations, the excitement begins! We are ready to make our announcement to our customers and dealer network. During this time we are able to gather pre-orders that will help us determine the quantity we will want to produce. Immediately following this, the Blackstone Models design team is off to work finalizing the necessary research and pre-production drawings to submit to our manufacturer.
In our next installment of the development process we will give you a window to view the steps involved in bringing together the research prior to releasing our next model to the manufacturer. Stay tuned!

Tech Tip:
For our Tech Tip, We will share with you a few secrets regarding wiring in decoders and the wiring inside the models to help lead to a better install.
When cracking open a model to install a decoder, you may notice that the wires are not always the colors that you expect them to be. Sometimes, the two track pick-up wires from each side of the lead truck of a diesel, for example, may both be black. This can lead to potential issues when wiring up a drop-in style decoder. The color of the wire is irrelevant to its ultimate purpose, sending power from point A to point B. The colors are usually there to help in troubleshooting or following wiring diagrams. The inside of many models are assembled with the thought that the model will not be re-wired, so they may use whatever wire colors they have, or use black wires where they may be visible from outside the model.

Ultimately, do not always assume the wires are color coded correctly. We have seen instances where the red wire off an LED was attached to the negative lead while the black wire was attached to the positive lead!
The secret is not to panic. Take your time and use a multi-meter to test the model to be sure the wires go where you expect them to. For example, lets look at the track pick-up wires on the diesel. To start, set your multi-meter to Ohms, or if available, set it for use as a continuity tester. Take the exposed end of the wire and touch one lead of the meter to it. Take the other lead to the meter and touch wheels on one side of the truck assembly. If the meter reads 0 Ohms or in use as a continuity tester, it beeps, then this wire goes to that side of the truck, and label it as such. If you do not see any conductivity, then conduct the same test, but touch the wheels on the other side of the truck.
When conducting this test for lighting, be sure your meter does not send out too much voltage that could potentially burn out any small voltage lamps. Most wires to lights could be more easily traced.

Another tip to share is many of the factory-installed circuit boards have the wires held in place using small black plastic clips. (We call them snoods to reduce confusion with other board mounting clips). Our drop-in decoders are designed so that you can re-use these if you desire. Other boards have small plugs and do not come with these snoods.
In both cases, we suggest soldering the wires to the decoder for a more reliable and trouble-free connection.
When working on a model, be sure to take your time to ensure the decoder is installed properly and without any problems. Using these tips, you should be able to confidently peer into a model knowing that you will be able to figure out the wiring and wire in the decoder properly the first time. Also for more information and techniques, be sure to look at our decoder selector for installation documents showing step-by-step installs into specific locomotives.