[Notes: This article is incomplete; I want to add more insights from the assembly process]
The OpenDCC web site states: “If you are not used to soldering, this is not the project to get started with” – no kidding.
Picture: The kit – case, stickers for front and back, PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and electronic parts, and a CD with software and assembly instructions.
My first computer, way back in the last millennium, was a Elector Junior Computer kit. It required maybe 200 soldering connections, but those had generous spacing between pins.
Since I ordered the OpenDCC command station with an USB interface, it came with a few SMDs which is short for Surface Mounted Devices. Or Small Mean Devils.
SMDs are tiny plastic bits with metal ends that become airborne when you inhale too deeply. One of them is an IC that has less pins than a centipede has legs, but a centipede has a wider stance.
When I took a closer look with my glasses pushed up on my forehead, an immediate sweaty outbreak ensued. Can I do this without converting the circuit in a blob of molten lead?
You need a really find tip on your soldering iron, thin solder, and likely some desoldering braid to remove lead when you connected pins accidentally.
Picture: The kit unpacked – PCB (three parts), and many tiny components (and Pollux checking them out).
The official OpenDCC web page jokingly remarks that soldering irons with more than 300W heating power and lead for Tiffany lamps are not adequate.
What they mean is if your iron has more than 20W, no pointy tip, and the lead is thicker than 0.5mm, you better don’t get started. I found that especially a very slender tip is the key to success.
Picture: Before any soldering takes place the PCBs need to be separated. I saw would have been nice, but some sharp wire cutter did the job as well.
Now, the official assembly instructions suggest to connect you lab power supply to the command station, and limit the current to 50mA.
I have no lab, and my power supply is a 12V wall wart that has no qualms about frying anything connected. So after one more inspection of the OpenDCC board I connected it to the power supply and immediately checked if anything was getting unduly warm, or producing smoke signals. Everything stayed calm.
Next step, disconnect power supply, plunk in ICs, re-connect. Tadaa! The LEDs came to life, which I took for a good sign. Then I connected the USB cable with my computer which recognized the USB to serial chip right away. First hurdle taken: The SMD-bug obviously likes his new environment.