The TORTOISE™ vs. The Cobalt

The Cobalt is a slow motion switch machine from DCC Concepts in Australia.  The company has recently relocated to the UK.  The Cobalt is manufactured in China and appears to be a slightly “downsized” TORTOISE™ that was molded in the wrong color.   It is claimed by the manufacturer that the Cobalt is “Re-Defining Turnout Control”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.


The Cobalt is nearly an exact COPY of the proven TORTOISE Slow Motion Switch Machine technology.  There is really NOTHING original in their design and a few things that are definite steps backward.  We should be flattered by this imitation, but we are not.  They have copied the SAME gear train layout, the SAME moving output arm design with the SAME slot in the case, the SAME wire and fulcrum design, the SAME wire capture design, the SAME internal contact configuration, the SAME method of staking the moving contacts onto the arm, the SAME numbering and connections and on and on.  They even added the SAME internal case bracing ribs that we designed into the TORTOISE™.   Basically, they copied nearly everything except the most important features.  Here is how the two machines differ.


CLAIM:  The Cobalt is 45% of the volume of the TORTOISE™.


REALITY:  Volume??  Who cares about volume?  The CLEARANCE UNDER THE LAYOUT is the only important factor. If you have more than 4 inches of clearance, it won’t matter if the Cobalt is 10% the volume of the TORTOISE™.

Fact is, the Cobalt is only slightly shorter than the TORTOISE.  Barely 1/2” less height below the layout surface.  And…..DCC Concepts provides a factory installed terminal block so no soldering is necessary.  Problem is, that terminal block will only accept small gauge wires and they MUST enter from the BOTTOM, thus defeating most of the height advantage.  You still need room and access to get those wires into the terminal block and you cannot enter from the side in tight locations as you can with the TORTOISE™.   The terminal block is quite close in spacing making it somewhat difficult to tell which hole you are inserting the wires into especially if you cannot see them in limited access locations.   So the volume comparison is really not very valid.  Except in VERY rare cases where the clearance under the subroadbed is severely limited, the slightly smaller size of the Cobalt provides no real advantages and, in fact, may actually make it more difficult to hold onto, manipulate and install.


SHORTCOMING 1:  The Cobalt uses an inexpensive, relatively high speed Chinese motor which is NOT designed to be stalled like the one in the TORTOISE™.  As a result, the Cobalt requires an extra step of gear reduction to reduce the speed.  This extra gear reduction makes it impossible to move the output arm by hand like you can do with the TORTOISE.  This makes initial adjustments more difficult since you MUST provide power to the unit to get it to move at all.


SHORTCOMING 2:  The Cobalt’s motor cannot be stalled by itself, so additional electronic components are added to the internal circuit board to limit the current and allow stalling under power.  However the current draw of the Cobalt is still nearly TWICE that of the TORTOISE™ thereby requiring twice the power supply capacity for the same number of machines.  And if any of these components should fail, the machine will be inoperable or may draw excessive current.


SHORTCOMING 3:  The Cobalt’s 30 ma current draw is too high to safely wire LEDs in series with the motor for panel indications.  This is one of the GREAT features of the TORTOISE™ with its 16 ma stall current.  Thus panel lamps with the Cobalt will need to use the internal switches and at least 2 additional wires will need to be run from the panel to the machine.  This makes typical panel wiring MUCH more involved, time-consuming and costly.


SHORTCOMING 4:  Because of the reduced size of the Cobalt, the traces on the internal printed circuit board must be made smaller and finer than those on the TORTOISE™.  Thus the current carrying capacity of these contacts will be similarly reduced.


SHORTCOMING 5:  The TORTOISE™ uses only the finest quality high spring temper phosphor bronze contacts.  On samples we have examined, The Cobalt does not.


SHORTCOMING 6:  The terminal block on the Cobalt accepts a maximum 20 gauge wire according to their instructions.  If you already have 18 gauge installed, you’re out of luck.


SHORTCOMING 7:  The Cobalt warranty is really only one year compared to the TORTOISE’s 9 YEARS .  After the first 12 months, if your Cobalt fails, you will need to contact DCC Concepts and they will, at their discretion, decide whether they will repair it or SEND YOU THE PARTS so that you can repair it yourself.


SHORTCOMING 8:  If you DO have to return the Cobalt for warranty claims, you will have to mail it to AUSTRALIA, a somewhat costly and time-consuming endeavor.  The TORTOISE™ parts are molded and assembled in Romeoville, IL and all (RARE!) warranty claims are handled through the Circuitron factory there.  For the record, after 30+ years of manufacturing the TORTOISE™ and with about a million units in service on layouts all over the world, Circuitron receives on the average less than 10 pieces for repair A YEAR!  This is a return rate of only 1 machine out of every 100,000 that are performing flawlessly.  And most of the units returned here are not defective, they have been damaged during ballasting, or have simply worn out from old age and many, many years of reliable track switching.  The TORTOISE™ is one of the most reliable products on the planet.


SHORTCOMING 9:  The Cobalt does not have the incredible reliability track record of the TORTOISE™.  See 8 above.  It is possible, that in 10 years or so, they MAY be able to claim similar reliability numbers.  But then again, they may not.  Do you want to install 20 or 50 switch machines and then have to take them back out for service a few years down the road?  You KNOW with the TORTOISE™ this will be extremely unlikely.


SHORTCOMING 10:  Some aftermarket stationary decoders such as the HARE™ and the WABBIT™ are designed to plug directly onto the TORTOISEs™ printed circuit board.  They cannot be used with the Cobalt.


SHORTCOMING 11FINALLY…..The Cobalt is manufactured in China and then imported to the UK and then imported AGAIN into the USA.  Wouldn’t you just rather buy a product made completely by American labor?  WE WOULD and that’s why we intend to keep ALL parts of TORTOISE™ production, packaging and shipping right here in Romeoville, Illinois.