GNS 530 Unit Prototype Ready

So, my first prototype of the X-plane 11 GNS 530 unit is ready for testing. So far, everything works as expected and I am very excited to begin using it in X-plane 11. This is my first such project of this kind, including my first foray into Arduino and electronics.

The initial case design was created in 3D Studio Max using the real Garmin GNS 530 as inspiration. This is the unit that is features in many of the General Aviation aircraft within X-Plane 11. It is a very popular model within the real work in its own right.

Initial 3D Design in 3DS Max

At the same time, the Printed Circuit Board needed to be designed to fit inside the case, hold buttons where they were supposed to be, route power around Encoder knobs, and allow external access to header pins for an eventual contention with an Arduino board.

The program I ended up using is called Dip Trace (love that name). Not only did it allow me to design the shape and layout of a 2-layer PCB, but it exported a 3D model of it in a format that could be imported into 3D Studio Max. This was critical in allowing me to design a precision case that would align with the buttons and encoders.

Two possible design choices in 3DS Max, Unit on the left won.

Once everything was fully assembled in 3DS Max, I sent out for the prototype PCB to be made and ordered the requisite electronics. This included a 5" 16:9 screen from Amazon. I know the original GNS530 features a 4:3 ratio screen. However, the prices for 5" screens with a 4:3 ratio was almost three times the cost of the one I purchased on Amazon. At the time, I just couldn't justify the cost for a part on a project that I honestly had no idea how successful I would be in creating. Once the parts and the PCB arrives, early testing of the components sans case was very promising.

Switch Mounting and Screen placement testing with the new PCB prototype


With that, it was time to move into 3D printing the case assets.  Again, another thing that I am new at, but this time I had help. A friend of mine at work, Mike Clavan, owned a 3D Robo printer and had been using it for some time with various types of projects. After explaining what I was about, he agreed to share his toys. More importantly, he shared his experience which was absolutely invaluable.  Using a program named Simplify 3D, which set about printing the first iteration of the case using black PLA at a print resolution of up to 100 microns.

Backplate , PCB, and Encoder Fit Testing

Mike warned me about this, but can I just say that manufacturing sucks! I mean, it's a ton of fun, but extremely iterative and when each printed part can take hours to can really test your patience. Various issues arose during fit testing, the base for the encoder was too thick for the button next to it. Things like that needed to be iterated out of the design. But after a month or two (many working gaps during that time), the results are totally worth it!

Printed assets, PCB and Encoders Assembled.

Now came the integration and testing of the electronics components, the Arduino Mega 256 Board, and the Display screen. Note that this unit will be mounted into the cockpit panel from the rear, meaning the mess of wires will not be seen from within the cockpit. This Arduino Board still has enough connections for host the Audio Panel's buttons and LED's.


Electronics Mounted and Wired


There is still work to be done. Each button has engraved lettering appropriate for its function, but the letters are a bit difficult to see. I have ordered a Prusa MK2S (Mike got one during our work and so far, it's pretty nice) and will try printing refined parts once I have it up and running. The Prusa can print up to 50 micros, but I am not certain if that will help in this case. If it does, all writing will be engraved and white painted added via a zero brush or toothpick tip.

I would also like to take a crack at Printing actual knobs that replicate the ones on the real GPS unit. But this is a secondary desire to having proper markings on the unit. For now, I am focusing on creating assets for other elements of the cockpit. Next up will be the Audio Panel and the Throttle Assembly! Thanks for ready and feel free to ask any questions about this process!

Finished Prototype Assembly in Testing