Friday, September 9, 2011

SoundBytes XLI

Wow, this is the 41st edition of SoundBytes! We hope this is informative for all who read. If you would like to see something noted here or a Tech Tip about a specific subject, please e-mail George at
This is a quick turn for the next edition of SoundBytes to gear everyone up for the National Narrow Gauge Convention this week in Hickory, NC. In this edition, we will meet the newest face at SoundTraxx, Jaime Ferry. We will also have the last installment from Jeff at Blackstone Models about model selection and production. Our Dealer Spotlight will fall on Spring Creek Model Trains in Deshler, Nebraska.

Intro to Jaime Ferry
Jaime joined our team in July as an administrative assistant. She grew up in Massachusetts and relocated to Durango to work with SoundTraxx.

She grew up admiring layouts of her close family friends, Bob and Cheri Payson now of Santa Fe New Mexico. Bob modeled the Boston area centered on his scratch built Boston Harbor scene. While Jaime has not (yet) modeled herself she always admired the hard work and detail put into his layout.
Since moving to Durango, Jaime and her fiancé have started the preparations for building their own layout. They plan to model their home, the Boston Area, and may throw in a tourist narrow gauge railroad so they can model the Blackstone Models. Outside of work and planning their layout, Jaime is an avid horseback rider and owns a Quarter Horse named Awesome.
Jaime has worked for the Ritz Carlton as a concierge and several other customer service oriented companies. If there is anything she can help you with, “It would be her pleasure.”

Blackstone Models
Product Development Primer
Part 3
By Jeff Johnson
In our second installment of the Blackstone Models development process, we discussed the research phase up to the 3D model preparation of the prototype.

Now the drawings are off to our manufacturer! Depending on the project and development schedule, we may see a first offering of 3D model designs within 6 to 8 weeks for us to review and begin the model design and review phase.
We will often make certain specific requests concerning the construction and ask our manufacturer to work within certain guidelines. That said, it is important for us to give some leeway with our design partners in order that they may create a model that they can effectively deliver to the production floor with few worries. Some of the salient points that are considered in this important step include:
· Ensuring the accuracy of the prototype specific detailing.
· Accepting certain limitations that the molding and assembly process may require.
· Reviewing the proposed assembly process/hardware and identifying any constraints that may arise in the assembly phase.
· Assuring that the proposed parts and assembly are compatible with previous designs to ensure product consistency.
· Reviewing the cost effectiveness of the assembly process to avoid needless “design creep” that may challenge our ability to keep the model affordably priced for the future.
· Signing off on the various Bill of Materials for each version to ensure the detailing differences are understood.

Locomotive creation adds considerable time to the above process as we determine the sound system constraints and motor/gearing assembly, as well as the electrical pick up design. Before we can sign off for the next step, the SoundTraxx engineering team is hard at work determining the Tsunami decoder layout and wiring that the locomotive will utilize. As an example, the C-19 required a reduction in physical wires running between the loco and tender as well as the sound system PCB (Printed Circuit Board) size when compared to our K-27 design.


After many weeks of detailed study and revisions, we make that decision to head to the tooling department. The 3D model goes through a final sign off from the tooling department to determine the feasibility of each part and any limitations that may need final study, than it’s off to cut hard tooling.
For locomotives, it may easily take three or more months before we see the first test shots and/or running samples. This break in the model design phase means it is time to gather final information and create the decoration liveries, box artwork, insert documentation, and labeling. During this time we will also receive box and protective blister proposals from the manufacturer for approval.
All the while, the engineering team in Durango has created prototype sound systems for the locomotives. These decoder samples will need to be in the hands of the manufacturer when the first loco parts are coming out of the molds.

The first engineering samples arrive! Now it’s off to test….and test. We spend considerable time sending our samples through the paces to see how they will work in the real world. Locomotives add considerable time to this process. A small team of beta-testers will join us in this phase as we try to find any weakness in the first sample that could spell difficulty ahead.
Using our own “risk management” type of processes gleaned from experience, we endeavor to identify roadblocks or missed opportunities that may play out in the final production phase. Once we review these samples, we will usually make a few tooling updates and await the second samples. These second samples will take many weeks to prepare, and we will usually couple the paint and decoration approval phase to coincide with their arrival. For livery and decoration, we keep a critical eye out for adherence to our artwork that we created to match each prototype.
Our product testing will continue through this phase as we attempt to ensure that no stone has been left unturned. All the while, the manufacturer has spent weeks designing and preparing the final assembly tools and jigs that will assist in consistent assembly of the products.

The samples have been approved and our final purchase order was prepared weeks in advance of production so our manufacturer has had time to order consigned parts from their vendors. For locomotive production, the sound systems are completed and sent off so their arrival will coincide with the first models headed for assembly. Scheduled months prior, our manufacturer goes to work shooting the zinc and plastic molds and sending them off to the assembly floor. Within a few weeks, we will receive at least two samples of each production piece/version to check for the success of the quality control process. If we identify any issue, this is our last chance to make adjustments prior to shipment. Our manufacturer is eager to please and they studiously review any feedback and make any revisions to assembly if the need arises.

The excitement has been building for us, and finally we receive the shipping documents that verify our latest release is on the way. We can now start to contact dealers and confirm the ship dates. It will be 3 to 5 weeks before the cartons arrive at our door. Once received, the models are subjected to final testing and inspection before we send them your way.
After all is said and done, one final critical eye is the most important, yours! We will always value our customer feedback and sincerely hope you will take a moment to tell us of your experience with your latest Blackstone Models purchase. If you haven’t already done so, please log onto the Blackstone Models website and partake in our surveys so we may continue to work in filling your product desires.

Thanks for following this development primer. We hope that you have gleaned a little understanding into the process, one that we enjoy each step of the way!

Dealer Spotlight: Spring Creek Model Trains

David Zucker along with his wife Debby, started their hobby store business in 2000. It has been a lifelong dream to own a model railroad hobby store.
Through dedication and catering to their customers, they have grown from a 5’ x 10’ x 6’ trailer to a store and a website. David actually began a manufacturing venture in the hobby several years ago. His weights were specialized for several different cars that did not come with a weight from the manufacturers. Current stock is designed to accommodate the contemporary HO and N scale modeler, including a full range of SoundTraxx and Blackstone Models Products. They still love doing the weekend "train shows" and travel throughout the Midwest.
You can find out more about Spring Creek Model Trains by calling 402-365-7628, visiting them at 304 East Bryson Avenue in Deshler, NE, or visit their website: You may also find them at a train show near you. Be sure to tell them you heard about them here!