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Unread 05/12/2010, 12:23 AM   #1
Daimyo68
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DIY Apex Breakout Box Instructions/Parts List

I've seen lots of pictures, both inside and out, of DIY Breakout Boxes for the Neptune Apex, but no "how to", so I thought I would write this up for those interested. I built mine with all 6 inputs on 1 side of the project box. This leaves me room to expand at a later date, without having to screw another item/box to the stand.

I've included images, some not that clear (crappy cell camera). Read through the project and make sure you know whats involved if you are unsure you can do it. (If I've missed anything, I'll PM a Moderator for an edit).

It's pretty straight forward and simple, but no reason to get burned by the soldering iron, or make a mistake when soldering the colored wires.

Parts Needed:
1 Project Box - http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...ductId=2062280
2 x 1/8" Mono Panel-Mount Audio Jack (3 per pack) - http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...ductId=2103453
20 Gauge Wire - (This is more wire then you will ever need. Ask your friends or neighbors, I'm sure they have some laying around, and you only need 6" for this build) - http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...ductId=2049743
8 Pin MiniDin Cable - http://www.amazon.com/Belkin-Din8M-S.../dp/B00004Z59N
1 small Zip-Tie

When it comes time to add float switches or another type of open/closed circuit, you can wire/solder them to these:
1/8" Shielded Cable - http://www.radioshack.com/product/in...ductId=2103854

Tools Needed:
Drill
1/4" Drill Bit
Dremel or Razor Blade
Low Wattage Pencil Tip Soldering Gun (you don't need a blowtorch here! A low wattage gun will work fine, and the pencil tip is more precise)
Solder (I used Electronics Solder)
Sandpaper (optional if needed)
Liquid Black Tape (Not needed, but it makes me feel better)

Extra's
Six Pack of beer (or your favorite whiskey)
Your favorite music or a game playing in the background on the radio


When you first open the Project Box, you will notice that it has 3 "slots" on each side. These slots need to be removed. This can be done with a Dremel, or a razor blade (carefully, don't need to go to the hospital, you have a breakout box to build). Once you get the bulk of the slots out, sand it down smooth with the sandpaper or Dremel.





Once you've got the slots taken down, you can now drill your 6 holes for the Audio Jacks. Make sure to leave enough room between each hole for wiring later. If you want to get precise with the spacing, I spaced mine 9/16" from center to center on each hole. This leaves enough room for wiring while being at the max that you can be inside the box without hitting the screw towers. (I didn't smooth out all the slots at this point, but you get the idea). Now would also be a good time to drill a hole on one end for the cable to go through. Drill the hole to the right side of the box (looking at the next image) so that you follow along with what I did.



You can put in the audio jacks to make sure they fit, but they will need to come back out to do some soldering of the ground circuit. Look at it, it's clean looking.

Mental Note Here***
The jacks are numbered 1-6, starting at the left in the following image. And your hole for your cable should be on the left side now. Remember this, you will need it later.



Ok, so as mentioned, the next step is to solder our ground circuit. All 6 inputs use a common ground circuit, so what we are going to do here is to create a "bridge" from the first jack to the 6th. To do this, mount all 6 audio jacks from the outside in. Yes, mount them backwards. This will make soldering them easy. (The following image is my sad attempt to show you the general idea, since I forgot to take pics of this step, I had to photoshop the jacks in there)



On the jack, there are 2 "ears". Each one is a separate circuit on the jack. To make things easy for the ground circuit, what I did was line up the ears in a horizontal position. Once they are pretty straight, cut a piece of 20gauge wire, 7" long. Strip 3" of the plastic sleeve off one end and loosely twist the wire, creating a "cable". You will be laying this cable across all 6 ears, hence making a bridge sort of say for the ground circuit of your DIY Breakout Box.

Plug in your Soldering Iron and let it heat up. While your waiting, lets have a look at what we are going to solder the wire to. In the 1st image below, I have the Red Arrows pointing to the "ears" that you will lay your wire across. In the 2nd image, I have a Green Line representing where the wire/cable should be laying and soldered to when finished with this step.

So now your soldering gun is warmed up, go ahead and solder your "bridge" together, leaving the plastic sleeve on the one end of the wire.





Ok, pop open that first beer and let things cool down.

Now that the ground circuit is soldered to the jacks, remove them all and put them in correctly. The "Bridge" should be at the bottom of the box, not facing up. This keeps it out of the way. They should fit perfectly into the holes if you measurements were dead on. If not, a little "umphff" will get them in there. Secure them from the outside with the provided nuts and lock them down. They won't be coming back out. This is where I used the Liquid Black Tape. "Paint" it onto the "bridge". It's not necessary being that the ground is at the bottom of the box, but it's added insurance.

Set the box to the side and grab your 8 pin MiniDin cable. Cut it to your desired length. (I bought a 10' cable Belking Cable from Staples, and cut it in half). Strip back a few inches of the outer sheath, exposing the wires. If your using the Belkin Cable that I linked to, then you use the following colored wires. I've also listed below which circuit/input they correspond to on the APEX. If your not using the Belkin Cable, then you will need to figure out the color/pin on your own.

Red - Pin 1 - Input #1
Brown - Pin 2 - Input #2
Green - Pin 3 - Input #3
Yellow - Pin 4 - Input #4
Orange - Pin 5 - Input #5
Grey - Pin 6 - Input #6
Purple - not used
Blue - Pin 8 - Ground

Ok, remember that hole that you drilled on the one end of the box? Put your cable through it, and leave it loose at this point so you have some slack to play with. This is the toughest part of the project. You will need to solder each wire to its corresponding jack. Remember earlier, I mentioned the "Mental Note"? Ok scroll back up and and read it then come back here.

Using the Wire Colors listed above, start at Jack 1 and solder the Red wire to the 2nd ear on the jack, then the brown to jack 2, etc etc. The last wire to solder will be your Blue wire. Solder it to the wire that was left hanging from your "bridge". I mentioned this is the toughest part. This is because if your not steady with the soldering iron, you will melt plastic in the box (As can be seen in the following images...Yeah I finished the 6pack before I got to this step).

Another alternative to this possible problem, would be to solder the colored wired to their respective jacks before putting the jacks into the box. (ha ha were putting Jack in the Box... get it? Jack in the Box? ok I thought it was funny) If your doing it this way, just make sure you have everything laid out properly, and that your cable goes through the box before soldering.

Once done soldering, pull your slack cable back out until almost at the end, grab that Zip-Tie and secure it on the inside of the box.

Either way, when your done, you should now have a box that looks like this:



Grab the 4 screws, put the cover on and your done. Here's the completed box:




This DIY Breakout Box works exactly the same as the one from Neptune. They make a great product, and theirs can be had at many online retailers. I just wanted to make one myself.

Now go grab another 6pack and get that DIY ATO put together!

Enjoy,
/D


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Last edited by Daimyo68; 05/12/2010 at 12:37 AM.
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Unread 05/12/2010, 09:43 AM   #2
ddwbeagles
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Well done and thanks for the detailed write up! Have to ask, is this in use yet and were there any issues encountered?


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Unread 05/12/2010, 10:01 AM   #3
USF Nealio
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Great write-up!


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Unread 05/12/2010, 10:59 AM   #4
Daimyo68
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I started using it right after I finished building and tested it. It controls my DIY ATO (dual float switches and aqualifter pump). I also added a Wet Floor Sensor, just in case, on input 3. If it detects water on the floor of my stand, it will shut off the return pump and email me.

So I've got 3 jacks unused at this point. I can connect these to anything that uses an open/closed switch, and connect it to a totally separate system/tank if desired, all with 1 Apex unit. (Multiple systems on 1 Apex is already being done by many. Man I love my Apex!)

The only issue I came across was melting some of the box, as you can see in the pictures.


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Unread 05/12/2010, 07:01 PM   #5
CJO
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I did almost exactly the same build a couple of weeks ago except that I put the 1/8" minijacks in the lid rather than the side. If you put them in the lid, you don't have to cut out the slots and you have more room to put the jacks (2 rows of 3).

CJ


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Unread 06/18/2010, 12:07 AM   #6
gweston
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I just built one. Very simple to put together. The mDin8 cable I got was branded CablesToGo. The wire colors were nearly identical.. the only difference being pin6, which was black instead of gray. Simple enough to verify with a multimeter.

If you are trying to build one of these to save money... price out what you need first before jumping in and compare vs the neptune box.

A few points:

miniDin8 cables aren't usually 'off the shelf' anymore. Most stores no longer seem to stock them since USB took over. I was lucky to find one at a small local electronics store. The guy said the few he had were on the shelf for a number of years. A 6' cable ran $10, which was cheaper than what I saw online. My local office supply and common computer stores did not stock it. I cut this cable in half. So I could make another breakout box if I wanted to. 3' was plenty long enough for me.

I already had the wire, solder gun, dremel, and tools on hand. So it didn't cost me extra there. If you had to buy any of those, you'd easily end up spending more than buying the neptune box.

Parts alone came up to maybe a bit over $25 + the time required to construct. Took maybe an hour in labor. That doesn't include tools (solder gun, dremel etc) & ground wire. It may cost less if you source electronic parts online. Radio Shack isn't cheap.


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Unread 06/18/2010, 04:53 AM   #7
SPCLMANAGE
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I'm looking forward to attempting this project in the near future. Great write up


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Unread 07/27/2010, 08:11 PM   #8
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Breakout Box complete

Thank you for one of the best DIY post I have ever seen. Just completed the build and working on another this weekend when the Radio Shack gets more parts in. Here is mine.




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Unread 11/04/2010, 11:12 AM   #9
apjohnson
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Thanks for the great build write up. Especially helpful was the links to all of the necessary parts and prices.

If I did this again, I would follow CJ's advice of putting the jacks on the lid vs on the bottom. I had a hard time soldering the connections on the surface mount jacks. I'm not good at soldering to begin with, but to try to do so in a very confined space made it very difficult. The negative point about doing them on the lid is that they stick out from the wall if you mount the box to the wall. Another option may be to mount 3 on top and 3 on bottom. I think I would also solder 6 individual wires to the ground wire and then I would have more room to solder each surface mount connector individually while not mounted to the box. This would make the soldering easier for a soldering challenged person like myself.

Overall, excellent build thread. I really appreciate people like yourself that take the time to document and photograph builds like what you have done. The reefing community is better off for it. Thank you so much!

--AJ


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Unread 12/29/2010, 04:00 PM   #10
jrpark22000
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Reviving an older post. I have completed a similar DIY build idea but used Ethernet connectors and keystone jacks which plug into premade plastic boxes/faceplates. The only tools I needed were a soldering iron for the mini 8 pin connector and a crimp tool for the rj45s.

If there is any interest I can drop pictures.

http://www.frys.com/product/5354158 keystone jacks
http://www.frys.com/product/5357138 faceplate
http://www.frys.com/product/6301731 plastic box
http://www.frys.com/product/47353 mini din 8 pin

http://www.frys.com/product/2289858 rj45 connectors

some short pieces of cat5 or other twisted pair Ethernet cable.
http://www.frys.com/product/4894440


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Unread 12/29/2010, 04:07 PM   #11
CJO
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I'd like to see it!

CJ


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Unread 12/29/2010, 05:21 PM   #12
1st timer
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i'd like to see it as well. Curious how you soldered wires to din connector.


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Unread 12/29/2010, 07:19 PM   #13
jrpark22000
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The finished product along with my display tank overflow float.
2010-12-29 18.34.16.jpg

I used pins 1 and 8 for visual ease
2010-12-29 18.34.47.jpg

A side view of the assembeled box, it is the same size as a traditional outlet box in your home.
2010-12-29 18.35.19.jpg


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Unread 12/29/2010, 07:23 PM   #14
jrpark22000
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The keystone jacks
2010-12-29 18.36.00.jpg

And the wiring for pins 1 and 8. I actually bridged a couple of pins instead of just 1 and 8 for ease of wire install. I just used a single wire to bridge all of the ground pins.
2010-12-29 18.36.29.jpg

A view of the single hole in the box for the cat5 cable
2010-12-29 18.37.30.jpg


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Unread 12/29/2010, 07:28 PM   #15
jrpark22000
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Here is the completed mini din. I tried to disassemble but it would not come apart without too much force, I really dont want to redo it tonight.
2010-12-29 18.38.44.jpg

The mini din has solder cups on the end of each pin. With a larger soldering iron I just heated and pushed each pin out, soldered each wire and inserted the pin back into the plastic alignment block.
If you try and solder while in the alignment block you may melt it. Once the pins were reinstalled, just assemble the 6 connector peices and your done.

Easy Peasy.

Total about 30 minutes for the first and after you get the first done, it could be done in 15 minutes.


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Unread 12/29/2010, 07:34 PM   #16
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Lastly if you build a few extra rj45 connectors with a short from 1to8 you now have some test tools. I used them while verifying my inital wiring as well as if I ever move, disconnet or have a failure just replace the float with one of these.

2010-12-29 19.29.15.jpg


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Unread 12/29/2010, 07:39 PM   #17
jrpark22000
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And don't forget the beer or whiskey. It adds a burn or two from the iron but it makes for a greater challange.

Cheers.


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Unread 12/30/2010, 03:04 PM   #18
Daimyo68
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Quote:
Originally Posted by apjohnson View Post

If I did this again, I would follow CJ's advice of putting the jacks on the lid vs on the bottom. I had a hard time soldering the connections on the surface mount jacks. I'm not good at soldering to begin with, but to try to do so in a very confined space made it very difficult. Another option may be to mount 3 on top and 3 on bottom. I think I would also solder 6 individual wires to the ground wire and then I would have more room to solder each surface mount connector individually while not mounted to the box. This would make the soldering easier for a soldering challenged person like myself.

Overall, excellent build thread. I really appreciate people like yourself that take the time to document and photograph builds like what you have done. The reefing community is better off for it. Thank you so much!

--AJ
Forgot all about this thread until I got a notice with the latest post.

What I did to solder, and I should have added in the original post was to install the jacks as I did, and solder the ground circuit. I then removed the jacks and set them into the drilled holes from the outside of the box temporarily. (make sure that you have your cable pulled through or you'll end up doing it twice.

Being that everything was outside the box, it made soldering much easier. Once done just pop them back in and your done with soldering.


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Unread 01/06/2011, 07:21 AM   #19
jrpark22000
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Ok, I made a second breakout box and took photos as I was assembling the mini-din 8 connector.

Tools/supplies you'll need;

cat5e cable
cutters
needlenose plyers
mini-din 8 connector
solder iron
solder
possibly solder sipper or wick

2011-01-05 21.00.01.jpg

2011-01-05 21.02.36.jpg


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Unread 01/06/2011, 07:27 AM   #20
jrpark22000
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Here is the disassembly of the mini-din

2011-01-05 21.00.53.jpg

2011-01-05 21.01.08.jpg


Now if you have a common soldering iron or even a bit better one like in the photo, you are going to want to remove the pins from the slug before attempting to solder. This will prevent the plastic from deforming due to the heat and also create a better solder joint.

Use the needle nose and grasp the pin close to the slug as in the photo

2011-01-05 21.16.14.jpg

Take your time and push the pin and attathced solder cup out of the slug. If you have a very stubborn pin you can use the solder iron to heat the pin and soften the plastic.


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Unread 01/06/2011, 07:33 AM   #21
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Next strip the cat5e cable and measure to ensure the gray sheilding will still be witihn the completed mini-din.

Then color code can be your choice. An industry standard for telecom is;
blue, bl/w, green, g/w, orange, o/w, brown, br/w.

As the Apex only uses 7 pins I cut the brown/white wire off. Then strip an ever so small amount of the shielding from each wire.

2011-01-05 21.18.50.jpg

Your ready to solder, just be careful not to leave and solder buggers on the pins as they may short out once assembeled in the slug.

2011-01-05 21.23.43.jpg


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Unread 01/06/2011, 07:41 AM   #22
jrpark22000
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Finally you are ready for assembly.

Using the color code of your choice, align and insert all of the pins into the slug according to the Apex new user guide page 84.

Once the pins are inserted, using the needle nose slowly and carefully seat each pin a little. Then make a second seating round and firmly seat each pin.

2011-01-05 21.33.21.jpg

Once done just reassemble the connector housing and slide the outer mini-din casing over the barrel.

2011-01-05 21.34.20.jpg

Your done.

A note: once the outer connector housing is slide over the barrel it is difficult to remove, you may want to check for shorts between pins before assembly.


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Unread 01/06/2011, 10:11 AM   #23
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jrpark thanks for photos, just what i needed to see, I couldn't visualize the connector. Picture is worth at least a thousand words at times.
I too really appreciate the folks that do step by step instructions with photos and mention any issues that can make it easier for us to decide whether to undertake various projects. Sometimes we jump in and realize its not that easy for us and then have to buy instead. frustrating it can be..
So far I have only DIYed 2 items, PVC skimmer, and a small sump, and working on my pvc overflow. All ideas from this forum. Thanks again folks.


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Unread 01/06/2011, 11:33 AM   #24
gweston
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I built one, though I may have screwed something up. Doesn't seem to work for me

I need to find some time to troubleshoot it.. been too busy with a house/addition project.


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Unread 01/13/2011, 07:24 AM   #25
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@ jrpark Did you need a punch down tool for the female end of the RJ45 jack? and I'm still trying to understand the use of the 1 and 8 pin? I see it for the RJ45 male jack but a lil unsure of the connection for the keystone.


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