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First off, everything mentioned on this page is in reference to the Bally AS-2518-22 model solenoid driver board, found in most Bally pins from 1977 through 1985. Since it is very silmilar to the AS-2518-16 board and is identical as far as the operation of the solenoid driver circuits, you can assume it is applicable for these boards as well.

Second, if you're new at this, I STRONGLY recommend you read everything Here that has to do with the solenoid board FIRST. This is an excellent document and I learned quite a bit by reading it. The author recommends a few board upgrades that you can do to make your solenoid board better, and I recommend them too.

Thirdly, this model of solenoid driver board actually has three functions: The first obviously is to drive the solenoid and relay coils of your pin, the second is a 5-volt regulator which provides a nice and steady 5 VDC to the other boards for their various logic circuits, and third is the high voltage regulator (190 VDC) for the display driver boards. I won't be discussing the voltage regulator stuff here, just the solenoid driver parts.

Finally, if all this is still Greek to you and you have no idea how Decoder ICs work, or what a Transistor is, take a look here first to learn the basics of how this stuff works.

Don't forget that the Solenoid Driver board contains the high voltage circuitry for the displays. There is 190 volts DC here and if you're not careful, you'll get knocked on your ass. A shock from 190 volts DC will hurt. If you don't know what you're doing, then keep away from it and have a professional fix it instead. In addition to high voltages, there are static sensitive parts on this board, so if you're going to work on it, be sure to properly ground yourself before touching the board, and always work in a static-free workspace.


We'll be discussing things from two circuit boards: The MPU board (AS-2517-17 or -35) and the Solenoid Driver board (AS-2518-22 or -16). The solenoid driver gets signals from the MPU board. These signals tell the solenoid driver which solenoid to fire. Up to 15 momentary and 4 continuous solenoids can be controlled by the solenoid driver. The flipper solenoids are enabled or disabled from the solenoid driver too, but are not controlled like the other solenoids.

How the Solenoid Driver Works

The solenoid driver is responsible for energizing the solenoid coils of your pinball machine. Four signals from the U11 PIA integrated circuit on the MPU board travel out from the J4 to the J4 connector on the Solenoid Driver board. These four signals tell the Solenoid Driver which solenoid to fire. This is accomplished by using a decoder chip that takes the binary pattern of the four signals (16 different patterns) and decodes (or demultiplexes) them into one of sixteen different outputs. The four signals are applied to the decoder then the decoder is strobed. Normally, all sixteen of the decoder output lines are held high (+5 vdc). When strobed, the decoder lowers one of it's sixteen output lines, depending on the pattern of the four input signals. You can learn more about the 74LS154 decoder chip from the Fairchild web pages.

Take a look at the schematic below, which shows one typical output line and the associated circuitry to drive a single solenoid coil:

With no input supplied (strobe is high), the output lines of the decoder are high (+5 vdc). This puts a voltage at the base of Q1 (this transistor is one of 7 in the CA3081 chip). This turns Q1 "on" and the voltage supplied to it's collector via resistor R1 passes through the transistor to ground. At this point, little or no voltage is present at the base of Q2, and Q2 is "off". With Q2 off, the 40 vdc at the coil has no place to go, and the coil remains deenergized.

When the MPU board supplies the proper input signals (A-B-C-D) to the decoder, and the decoder is strobed (signal drops to low), the proper output signal will go low, which turns Q1 "off" (notice one of the two strobe lines goes to ground, so it's always low). This allows the +5 vdc at Q1's collector to flow through the diode instead of Q1 on it's way to ground via resistor R3. This also puts a voltage at the base of Q2 and turns this transistor "on". When Q2 turns on, the 40 vdc at the solenoid now has a path to ground through Q1 and current flows through the coil, thereby energizing it. Then the strobe to the decoder is released, the decoder output goes high again, Q1 turns on, Q2 turns off, and everything is back to normal.

Diode D1, resistor R3 and capacitor C1 work to slow the speed at which Q2 and the solenoid are able to turn off. This is important to prevent the "inductive kick" voltage that builds up when you try to turn off a solenoid quickly. A solenoid coil can build up hundreds of volts if it is switched off too quickly. For example, the spark in the sparkplug of a car is generated from this inductive kick when the ignition coil is turned off quickly. In this case, D1 allows Q2 and the solenoid to turn ON quickly (which is OK) because the current that used to be flowing through Q1 can now flow forward through D1 and turn on Q2 quickly. However, when the decoder output goes back to high and Q1 turns back on, D1 prevents the charge from the base of Q2 from being sucked down Q1. The charge on C1 must drain off (slowly) through R3 and the base of Q2. This takes awhile and slows the turn-off of Q2 and the solenoid COIL, thus reducing the kick. Also, as the solenoid turns off and the voltage on the collector of Q2 starts to rise, this voltage is "fed back" by C1 to the base of Q2 and tends to keep Q2 on a little longer, slowing the turn-off of the solenoid even more. The OTHER diode (D2, across the solenoid) works to absorb the solenoid's turn-off kick by conducting when the voltage on the collector of Q2 is greater than about 40 volts.
Thanks to Mark Shell for that last paragraph.

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Created 2/28/01 - Last Modified 1/20/07 - Steve Kulpa Mail Icon Nolensville, TN
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