Introduction

This page describes most things about using cars on belts for transportation in Factorio.
This is kind of a geek thing but there are also other reasons:
  • Cars are available before trains
  • If done correctly you have no signaling issues
  • Cars are much safer than trains (at least in factorio)
  • It's cool
I started thinking about using cars for real after gotten killed (again) by a train in a deathworld marathon game. Actually in the end I was much more often killed by trains than by anything else. So here it is. Cars

Motivation

Fully loaded car 80 x 50 iron ore, that's 4k of iron ore for your factory.

Belts are quite inexpensive (you get two belts for just some iron) but their throughput is really limited. 15 items per second is not really much once the factory grows some more and upgrading the belts get's quite expensive quite fast with a meager 3x throughput improvement for a huge amount of resource consumption for blue belts.

Simple car loading This is also how a car can be used. Just let it run for a while and then come back and drive the car away to your factory.
What is needed is some kind of container holding items.
In comes the car. With the big amount of storage slots (80) it's able to hold an enormous amout of resources. It is moved by belts and it can be loaded and unloaded by inserters. This means that in principle we should be able to use cars as moving containers on the belt. The practice might be a little difficult though.

Basics

A car is moved if it is placed on a belt.
It's movement is quite unlike items on a belt even though it might look lie. The movement of the car is independent from the content of the belt and it moves different. Rather think about the car being displaced by the belt underneath. If the movement of the car is blocked (e.g. by the player, some items next to the belt or another car) it will stop without anyone taking damage. Also the car will never be rotated by this movement. Let's go into some specifics...

Movement

Cars will be moved by the belt into the belt direction. Faster belts move the car faster Stopped belts (by a circuit network condition) will also stop the car. The car will also follow curves in the belt and will not by itself leave the belt except in two conditions:

  1. It seems like a second car can push the first one off the belt in some conditions
  2. On a curve, if the car cannot follow the curve in one direction it still will move into the other one (more about this later
Cars on a splitter will always drive straight, so splitters don't split cars at all (more about this later).

Car size

Factorio car size Demonstration of the car size. Don't be mislead, the walls don't completely fill their tiles, so the car is slightly larger than 1x2.

The car is a little bigger than the normal tile size, something like 1.2 by 1.7. So a car that is perfectly centered will be able to move in between two walls next to the belt when rotated parallel to the belt, but will need a slightly bigger gap if moved sideways.

Position on belt and centering

T-Intersection A T-Intersection with cars. Note the offset after the intersection
The car has a pretty large margin regarding the placement on the belt. A centered car has a pretty small foot print and can slip through surprisingly small gaps. However an off-center car can be stopped by items next to the belt like trees, power poles or other stuff. The car can be centered most easily by driving it up to a wall in a curve and then doing the same thing on the other side. The following picture shows such a construct. If cars are moved onto a belt from the side (T-intersection) they will always end off in the most off-center position. This can be used in some cases since sometimes you only need a defined position and not neccessarily a centered one.

Curves and junctions

Curves seem to be safe but (as mentioned before) it seems like cars can be pushed out of the curve by following cars.

Factorio Cars locked on belt Cars in a deadlock on in the curve
Factorio Cars locked on belt Another case of cars getting locked on a belt.
Being pushed out of the curve can be prevented by placing a wall or some other entity directly after the curve or at the outside of the curve. Through tests I noticed that this does not seem to be sufficient for some reason, so I tend to put a red belt in the curve as well as this seems to prevent cars from being stuck. This is how the safe curve design looks like:
Safe curve design This seems to be a safe curve design. The red belt helps the cars around the curve and the wall prevents them from being pushed off.

Inserters and cars

Factorio cars getting unloaded Cars getting unloaded from the small side.
Factorio cars getting unloaded Cars getting unloaded from the longer side.

Inserters will interact with cars unless there is a belt there. So in order to insert into or out of a car on a belt the inserters need to end up inserting next to the car. So naturally there is nothing to pull out of until the car comes by. Inserters might try to put two items on the ground unless there is something else there like a wall or a power pole. Two inserters per side can unload a car sideways and four inserters per side can unload a car sitting straight on a belt. This is quite some amount an comparable with a railway car.


Advanced topics

Detecting cars

Factorio car detector Car detector with just one inserter.

Cars are quite hard to detect with normal means. They leave no foot print with circuit networks and they also don't trigger gates unless they have a passenger. However they interact with inserters
So an inserter that is suddenly able to insert something is an indication that there is currently a not completely full car about. Similary, an inserter that can suddenly pull something out of the ground is an indication that there is a not completely empty car there.
A smart way to detect cars is to ensure that at least one item is inside the car at all times and put it back immediately after detection. Note that items in the fuel and ammo storage locations of the car cannot be pulled out by an inserter but they can be put in there.

Splitters

As said before: a car will move straight on a splitter so there seems to be no way to steer cars. You can still increase the capacity of a belt by a couple of hundred times but without the ability to steer cars it's hard to build up a logistic network.
However there is a case where the car leaves the belt and moves onto another. On a curve the car will try to follow the curve, however if it's blocked from doing so in one direction it will still move the other direction, off the curve (and possibly onto another belt). There are a number of ways to block this movement.

  • Wall or better gate
  • Other cars
  • Train
There are videos out there who show cars being diverted by trains or other cars, however this is unneccessarily complex. A gate at the correct position will do the trick and can be controlled by the circuit network. It doesn't even have to be two gates.
Car junction right
Blueprint for a splitter to the right
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Car junction left
Blueprint for a splitter to the left
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The images show my optimized splitters selecting by car content. This splitter is optimized in many ways:
  • Unwanted cars don't slip through even if preceeding or following directly
  • There is no comparator or arithmetric thingy needed
  • The splitters work with horizontal and vertical oriented cars.
  • Items on the belt will still follow it (so you can e.g. distribute artillery shells on the belt)

Loaders and unloaders

Factorio car loading station horizontal
Blueprint for the horizontal loading station
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Factorio car loading station vertical
Blueprint for the vertical loading station
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With all the basics in place we can now create car loaders and unloaders pulling with eight (stack) inserters at the same time. For a loader I created a design that allows four cars in a queue at the same time. The central piece is an upward counting timer that will be reset on the following conditions:

  • Pulse from an inserter
  • Input belt empty
  • External signal too high
The loading station can be mostly taken as it is, however the left combinator will determine the blocking via external signal. I propose to set a variation on these signals or else every loader station will spit out cars once a limit is reached. Staggering them will result in a smoother overall behaviour.

The loading and unloading stations cannot be rotated. The cars have to be oriented horizontally or it won't work.


Factorio car unloading station
Blueprint for the unloading station
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The unloader is a little bit more complicated. I need to filter on the car content and I also want to count the number of cars waiting for two reasons:

  • The waiting queue has a limited number of places. Allowing too many cars in would block the gate.
  • I want to disable loaders in case the unloader queue is too long.
A car arriving the unloader will only be allowed to enter if the inserter is able to pull an item out of it and the number of items on the belt is not too high. Before entering the actual unloading the item will be put back, so that the number of items on the belt is a representation of the number of cars on the belt. The unloader also has a counter. This one will only run in case the inserters are empty.

Putting it all together

Now we finally have all the pieces in place. Cars on the belts will always be completely full or completely empty. The belt is running a great circle though all the loader stations but full cars can be allowed short cuts directly to the unloading stations. There should be enough cars on the belt to fill all waiting queues for all loaders plus some additional running cars.
In case the consumption is not balanced to the number of loading stations then the input queues of some of the unloading stations will reach it's limits in which case the relevant loader stations will not longer allow cars with the resources to leave. The number of waiting cars is transmitted via green wires to all loading stations.


Last updated March 17 2019

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