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Power Flip-Flop Using A Triac

Modern electronics is indispensable for every large model railroad system, and it provides a solution to almost every problem. Although ready-made products are exorbitantly expensive, clever electronics hobbyists try to use a minimum number of components to achieve optimum results together with low costs. This approach can be demonstrated using the rather unusual semiconductor power flip-flop described here. A flip-flop is a toggling circuit with two stable switching states (bistable multivibrator). It maintains its output state even in the absence of an input pulse.

Flip-flops can easily be implemented using triacs if no DC voltage is available. Triacs are also so inexpensive that they are often used by model railway builders as semiconductor power switches. The decisive advantage of triacs is that they are bi-directional, which means they can be triggered during both the positive and the negative half-cycle by applying an AC voltage to the gate electrode (G). The polarity of the trigger voltage is thus irrelevant. Triggering with a DC current is also possible. Figure 1 shows the circuit diagram of such a power flop-flop. A permanent magnet is fitted to the model train, and when it travels from left to right, the magnet switches the flip-flop on and off via reed switches S1 and S2.

Circuit diagram:
Power Flip-Flop Using a Triac circuit schematic

In order for this to work in both directions of travel, another pair of reed switches (S3 and S4) is connected in parallel with S1 and S2. Briefly closing S1 or S3 triggers the triac. The RC network C1/R2, which acts as a phase shifter, maintains the trigger current. The current through R2, C1 and the gate electrode (G) reaches its maximum value when the voltage across the load passes through zero. This causes the triac to be triggered anew for each half-cycle, even though no pulse is present at the gate. It remains triggered until S2 or S4 is closed, which causes it to return to the blocking state.The load can be incandescent lamps in the station area (platform lighting) or a

solenoid-operated device, such as a crossing gate. The LED connected across the output (with a rectifier diode) indicates the state of the flip-flop. The circuit shown here is designed for use in a model railway system, but there is no reason why it could not be used for other applications. The reed switches can also be replaced by normal pushbutton switches. For the commonly used TIC206D triac, which has a maximum current rating of 4 A, no heat sink is necessary in this application unless a load current exceeding 1 A must be supplied continuously or for an extended period of time. If the switch-on or switch-off pulse proves to be inadequate, the value of electrolytic capacitor C1 must be increased slightly.
Author: R. Edlinger - Copyright: Elektor July-August 2004