Hands-on with PanelPilotACE and Design Studio
Using a PanelPilotACE to measure voltage, update a custom display and control fan speed.
The PanelPilotACE SDG-43A (800-6712) from Lascar Electronics is a 4.3” capacitive touch display designed for the rapid development of advanced user interfaces and panel meters. It features:
- 4x 16-bit bipolar analogue inputs (to a maximum of ±40V d.c.)
- 8x digital input/output pins, two alarm outputs
- 4x 8-bit PWM outputs
- PID Control
- Multi-channel data logging and trend graphs
- Serial RS232 connection
There are also accessories available for RS485 communication and four-channel thermistor temperature measurement. Together this means you can easily integrate custom touch screen based control that features all the buttons, switches and dials you might need, as well as indicators, meters and counters to provide all the necessary feedback.
The PanelPilotACE is configured using Lascar’s free to download Design Studio software and next we’ll take a look at getting up and running with this.
Installing and getting to know the Design Studio
My first step was to install the Design Studio software. This only comes in a Windows version and it installed on my Windows 7 machine with no problems.
Design Studio comes with a load of ready-made templates and a handy emulator, so you can test your design before loading onto the PanelPilotACE. As the software is free this also means you can try it out to see if it is suitable for your purposes, before actually having to buy any hardware.
The software opens with a Home Page that links to the Lascar Electronics Youtube channel, which features tutorials for the PanelPilotACE and tabs along the bottom for Templates and Recent Projects.
I decided to make a simple meter, nominally to measure temperature, but it could be anything.
I started a new project by going to the Designer window, clicking on New Project in the File menu and saving it, then proceeding to create the graphic elements. There are tools to create and edit simple geometric shapes and images can be imported by simply dragging and dropping. JPEG, PNG, GIF and animated GIF files are supported.
The Design studio library contains some ready-made elements – dials, clocks, battery indicator, meters etc. – hover over the name of the element in the Meter section and you get a preview and a description.
To add a simple shape to the screen you just drag it from the Visual section of the Project Manager to the Visual Elements section of the Function Builder.
Clicking on an element in the Visual Elements section shows the associated Property editor on the right-hand side, where you can alter the size, position and colour of your shape. It is all very clearly laid out and easy to get the hang of. I had quickly made a screen with a border and a contrasting text box that was going to display the temperature.
The next stage was to add Hardware Integration and Function Elements. This is just a matter of dragging and dropping again; this time an Analogue Input from the Hardware Integration section gets dragged to Hardware Elements and a Digital Display to the Function Elements section. Clicking on the newly added elements brings up its properties on the right-hand side allowing you to change its name if you want, as well as to select which channel it will use and set its Resolution (voltage range).
All this is covered clearly and in detail in the YouTube tutorials and I found the Did You Know? one in the advanced series particularly useful.
Then once you are happy with the configuration, you can try out your project in the emulator; to do this just click on “Preview in Emulator” in the File menu. You can then add some more elements either from the selection in the Meter bit of the Library, or make your own. I added an alarm and used a simple animated GIF to simulate a red light flashing on and off.
Connecting and Controlling a Fan
For fan control, I needed to use a general purpose transistor between the PWM output of the PanelPilot and the fan control wire input. I used a 2N3904BU (843-1575) that I had left over from building a guitar fuzz box. I connected it up as follows:
- PWM pin on the PanelPilot through a 1k resistor to the base
- Collector to the PWM speed control wire on the fan
- Emitter to a common ground on the PanelPilotACE and fan
When connecting things to the PanelPilotACE the Port schematic is invaluable – this can be found under the File menu by clicking Port Schematic. It gives a clear illustration of all the connections on the rear of PanelPilot and highlights the active ones.
I added a PWM Output Controller to the Function Elements and a PWM Output to the Hardware in Design Studio, then edited the settings of each. For the Output Controller:
For PWM Output:
The fan was connected to a 12V supply and its speed was controlled by the voltage sent to the Analogue input of the PanelPilotACE. I set it so that it would switch on when the input reached 6.5V and the speed increased as the voltage did.
The Design Studio software makes it easy to build your own projects and if you are impatient to get started there are a range of useful example templates. I can see the potential for the PanelPilotACE in all sorts of applications and have started thinking about how it might be used to control audio, and tried importing some of my own graphics to give it a distinctive look and feel.