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-   -   The Broken Robot eBrewery, oh me, oh my. (http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/broken-robot-ebrewery-oh-me-oh-my-365940/)

Chriso 11-06-2012 04:42 PM

The Broken Robot eBrewery, oh me, oh my.
Folks, it's time for me to climb on the Electric horse. I hate brewing outdoors using propane in a state that Has Real Seasons and with no garage to seek shelter in.

I'm going to need a bit of help as we go, for I have a deep fear of electrics, and will be battling some demons while I try to build this rig.

My current skill level? Well, I did build a 120mm fan based Stir Plate and it still works four years later, but it's far from perfect, and trying to wire it together was a test of my patience. I did also manage to wire up a light switch to a dryer motor to create my milling station ( http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f51/moto...ml#post3694871 ) which after 16 batches is still running great and has not caught fire or anything yet!

I do not have suitable electric outlets in what will eventually be my brew room. I have already talked to a local electrician/homebrewer about what it will take to upgrade my house's electric service (currently 100A, glass screw-in fuses) for at least 150A with breakers, if not 200A, and then additionally to run a new line into the brew room and set up a spa panel with GFCI. However, I am planning to wait on upgrading the electric until I have actually bought & built most of the gear (I don't want to spend a couple grand on electric service upgrade only to give up on the project!!).

So... let's talk about function. What do I want to control, and for what purpose?

1. I have a stand-alone pre-built Electric HLT from Brewmation which runs on 220V/30A. It has 2x 3000W elements, and holds 18 gallons, it has a temp probe and a liquid level safety switch, and is controlled by a Love controller. I have never used it, it is still new in box. I will need to decide if I want to have two outlets on my Spa Panel - one for the HLT and one for the Control Panel - or whether I want to plug the HLT *into* the Control Panel.

2. I plan to re-use my current Mash Tun, which is a 60qt, I think, rectangle Cooler with a stainless braid. I do not plan to add any electric components to the MLT - If I do any sort of temperature stepping, it will likely be by using a HEX coil and pumping wort through it. This is not a hard-set requirement, but I think I would eventually like to be able to step mash or mash out.

3. I plan to use a 60qt Aluminum Stockpot as my BK. I just picked up a spare. My "old" one is a Sam's Club/Thunder Group aluminum 60qt with straight edges and reasonably thin walls. I like how lightweight it is, and think I will probably keep using the "old" thin one as my Propane kettle.
My "new" kettle which is actually second-hand from a restaurant, is a Wear-Ever 60qt NSF-listed with rolled top edges and much thicker walls. I like the idea of this being my electric vessel since it's already well battle-tested and I won't be lifting it during use.

4. I have one March pump right now. In a very long-term sense I would like to get a second pump, for convenience & ability to pump ice water & wort through CFC at the same time. This is not a priority - I would see adding that upgrade after having paid off most of the electric brewery purchases that I'll need to make during this project. But I need to buy the right busses, etc. to allow adding wiring at a later date, and layout the panel with a blank spot for later upgrade.

So, in terms of individual sub-projects that I need to devise a plan for, I need to.....

A. Buy components, cut holes in the kettle, mount, and test the:
i. BK Liquid out ball valve. This, I can do on my own. I promise.
ii. BK Electric element. What type, how many watts?
iii. BK Sight glass, IF desired.
iv. BK temp probe, IF desired. I plan to chill via CFC recirculating back into the kettle. I would like to add a temp probe so that I can monitor how far down my temps have come directly on the control panel (without using a $15 Wal-Mart temp probe or similar). It would not need to be a controlling temp sensor, just a read-only. I am not sure if that makes any difference in what electronic component to order, or whether it brings the price down at all.

In theory, after completing Step A, and getting the necessary electric service run into my brew room as well as spa panel/GFCI mounted in place, I could feasibly brew beer by simply plugging the HLT and/or BK into the Spa Panel, bypassing any sort of control or monitoring. Right?

B. Make final decisions on what the Control Panel "will DO" or will have mounted on it -- and then begin buying components.
i. Main Power On switch + Main Power On indicator light.
ii. Boil Kettle On switch? Do I want a power % knob or controller?
iii. Do I want to build in a timer, even if the timer doesn't control anything? Incorporate an Alarm into the timer? No? Hm.....
iv. Pump 1 On/Off switch.
v. (space for later addition of Pump 2 On/Off switch)
vi. Temperature display for BK Temp Probe - no control, just a monitor
vii. Volts and/or Amps real time display? Just for monitoring system.
viii. Include a Power On/Off for the HLT and run both HLT+BK through Control Panel? OR, exclude HLT and simply remember (on my own) not to power on the HLT and the BK simultaneously?
ix. Do I want an eStop switch? or just use the Master Power on/off switch for this?

C. Physical accomodations... get the service upgraded, new panel installed, new spa sub-panel installed, open up the ceiling in the brew room to look at how I can mount an exhaust duct without having to go through concrete block foundation. Put up some FRP panels in the brew corner, remove the carpet, put down some concrete sealer or something. Design & mount the exhaust system. Build a brew table for the equipment to sit on. Find a location for the Control Panel and mount it. Basically, everything that makes it a real functioning brew room and not just equipment storage.

So. Uhm. That's a lot of info. I should balance it out with some pictures, shouldn't I?

Chriso 11-06-2012 04:45 PM

How I feel right now about this project, even after lots of reading others' build threads:

My pre-existing 18 Gallon HLT:

Some of the most recent threads I've been following, to try to figure out what all this magic I'm looking at is, (and also to help me find the links later at home!) are:

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/bol...-build-335868/ This guy puts me to shame!
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/ele...rewers-145019/ But, of course! :P
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/bay...ettles-363439/ inspiration & ideas...
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/my-...rewery-349777/ especially stand design ideas
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/hig...ebc-sv-357594/ easy way out, if I decide I don't care about control panel...
http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f51/maxo...tation-256435/ for general inspiration, even though not electric

BadNewsBrewery 11-06-2012 06:01 PM

So... wow... that's a lot to mull over. I understand as I'm in the same boat - I've orderd most of my parts and have about 400 diagrams on every piece of scrap paper I can find. I'll have a post soon enough...

To address some of your questions: Definitely go with a panel mount e-Stop - why worry about running over to your Spa Panel in an emergency - if there's enough need to kill power instantly, every second counts.

I would not try and run the BK or HLT directly off the spa panel without some type of control. You _COULD_ do it in theory and unplug it and plug it back in repeatedly during the boil, but most folks seem to run at about 50-65% duty cycle when it comes to maintaining boil, and those that have forgotten to dial down from 100% have experienced violent boils - unless you act as the duty cycle, you're going to have issues and be unhappy.

Regarding the timer - I had that debate but got 2 of the PID / Timer combos for 3 of my PIDs. Then I can have a timer for the BK or the HLT. The PID for the MLT is just for information and won't actually control anything. I'm using SWA-2451 (http://www.auberins.com/index.php?ma...roducts_id=239) to do it.

Regarding a temperature sensor in the BK - if you plan to have any sort of control of the boil intensity, you need a temperature probe hooked into the PID or the BCS or whatever you actually plan to use to modulate the temperature. That is, unless you go with the plug in / unplug method we discussed earlier. True, it would tell you the temp as you cool, but more importantly it would help you maintain a steady boil.

You're on the right path it seems. Start building piece by piece and you'll have it together soon enough!


Chriso 11-06-2012 06:51 PM

Thanks for the feedback Kevin, I should elaborate on one thing -- the HLT does have built in control already present - but my comment regarding plugging the BK directly into the spa panel was more for my own understanding of where I would be at, in the total process, at that point. I am definitely not thinking that plugging the element into the spa panel at 100% power is the "solution" - just sort of a "By now, you should be X far along the road" landmark, I guess?

I'm not as far along as you, as I have ordered zero parts thus far. :-) I confess, I still don't really understand how PID's work exactly, or what the difference between SSRs and Contactors are, or what alternatives there are to a PID. Some of that might just come to me as I see the project come together, I think I'm still stuck in the early concept stages and so I can't see how it will all work together yet.

I figured that an eStop "could" (but I didn't say Should!) be eliminated because if I want to kill the power, I could use the Main Power On/Off switch to do so... right? Also, I intend to mount the control box right next to the spa panel, so hopefully I would not have far to reach - but I definitely understand the logic behind your input on that - and agree that an eStop switch would be a low-cost, high-return feature to include on the panel. Especially since I don't think I will be short on panel space, since I'm 'doing so little' to control my brewery, basically just turning pumps on and off, and modulating the intensity of my boil... and I think that's all unless I start to add automation?

In fact... I guess I might be overthinking it... let's pretend I wanted to go as low-tech as possible... so correct me if I'm wrong but if I used a kitchen timer not-integrated ... and if I stuck a regular thermometer into the BK to monitor temps... as long as i had some sort of power control - a manual PWM circuit, I think?? - then theoretically I wouldn't need a PID at all. Right?

I still can't figure out whether this means I should plug the HLT into the control panel (which means buying an extra receptacle, cutting an extra hole, etc.) even though it won't really "integrate" into the panel, with having it's own discrete temp. controller built-in. I'm trying to think... if the HLT draws 30A, and the BK element is also sized for 30A, then at minimum I would need to put a three-way toggle switch in to control whether power is being routed to HLT - OFF - or to BK. But if I want to run them simultaneously, this means that the service running into the Control Panel will need to be at least 60A and thus require far more expensive components, right?

The GE-brand Spa Panel w/ GFCI that everybody recommends is rated for only 50A ... so this means I'd need a Spa Panel of a higher amperage, if I want to plug in and run both my standalone HLT + my controller and boil kettle, right?

So is it as simple as buying a 60A panel instead - like this: http://www.homedepot.com/Electrical-...1#.UJlqV8WSq3I - and then making sure that my electrician knows that I'll be running 2x 30A loads on one panel?

It's so easy for me to get lost within the whole scope of this project - when you add up every last component & consideration, it becomes far more than I can wrap my head around - which is why I needed to start breaking it down into bite-sized pieces that I can understand...... Sheesh. :)

I think I should probably sit down and figure out the details of the BK element, mounting, and wiring, as a first step.

Once I have a mostly-assembled BK, then it seems logical to start thinking about the spa panel & total power capabilities... then once that is sorted out, I should probably build the control panel around the same time I have my electrician actually perform the service upgrade... Then last, the in-room build stuff like waterproof panels, furniture, venting, etc.

(But of course what I really want to do is to work on designing the control panel because I want to pick out fancy switches and print labels and so forth. Must focus! Stay with it Chriso! Start with your kettle, you hyperactive buffoon.)

Also, when I'm back home tonight, I will take some pics of the space I am hoping to convert to dedicated brewspace. I am fortunate in that it's only about 10'-15' away from the main service panel in the house. We will have to drill a couple holes through concrete in order to run some new conduit, but it should not be too big of a deal. That's exactly why I plan to pay my electrician to do the hardest parts of the job.

kosmokramer 11-06-2012 07:17 PM

Good luck. Most of us started just where your at. Take your time and before you know it you will be able to sit back and enjoy a beer admiring all the fun/hard work that went into its perfection

Chriso 11-06-2012 07:46 PM

Okay so I'm having a HECK of a time trying to search for, specifically, JUST the kettle element instructions.

I found this but it starts after already having assembled the kettle cord & element! http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/my-...7/#post4540206

I found this one but it's only focusing on the controller, not the BK+Element. http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f51/elec...kettle-338498/

Also found this but it's 120V and goes straight to the already-assembled step. http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f51/120-...ellets-325650/

Am I not finding a DIY Thread discussing how to do this, because this step is covered in Kal's eBook which everybody bought? I know I need to buy it & read it, I just haven't yet, because I figured I'd use that in the Control Panel stage of building, not way back here in the Boil Kettle Building stage.

Actually, I think I just confirmed my own question reading here: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/ele...1/#post4242875 - "I followed Kal's element mounting plan, except I used a single gang box instead of a double gang box (either way works), and used the SS nut and o-ring from Bargain Fittings to seal things up from the inside instead of using the McMaster o-ring on the outside like Kal does."

So yes. I need to buy the damn book already. Quit being cheap, Chriso! Bad newb!

And bonus, I just answered my PID vs PWM question here: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f170/my-...ml#post4232969 and also post #48, two further down. ... I could simply use a PWM, but I'd have to build it. Since I don't know how to solder, and don't think I can do circuit-board level building, then I should just get a PID and be done with it. ... Right?

Conceptually speaking, I still think my biggest question is what to do about powering the HLT..... directly into the Spa Panel or route it through the Control Panel..... vexing. Most folks don't have a turn-key HLT to work with! I guess I shouldn't "complain" about having this issue!

Chriso 11-06-2012 08:19 PM

After a little consideration, I might go with one of Kal's pre-wired Element Kits. It looks way more nicely built than I think I can do, and is still pretty affordable. I need to crunch the numbers on trying to order the raw parts, to see how much extra I'm looking at - but at least between his pre-assembled and DIY kits, it's only $50 extra to know I have it done right the first time.


I just bought the book and am waiting for the link to show up, so I will soon have LOTS more reading material to look over. Thanks again for your help & encouragement so far, folks - Do give me any input you have, either in general, or especially pertaining to how to incorporate the pre-built HLT into the mix.

Chriso 11-06-2012 08:40 PM

Let's talk tools for a second. I have very, very few tools. But what I do have, are... a bunch of spade bits... my wife's very nice DeWalt cordless drill... a Dremel...

... and a Greenlee 39860 "standard industrial knockout punch set" which includes a 5004003 1-1/4" punch. The Electric Brewery site calls for "chassis or radio (not conduit!) punch" ... Did I just luck out in a big way, by having the punch I need on hand?

I also have an Irwin brand 1-1/8" step bit but no love there, as the instructions say I need 1-3/8" size. Oh well. If I luck out on the punch, I'm happy to buy the step bit.

I'm ashamed to say it but on both my old 7.5gal Stainless kettle and also my Thunder 60qt Aluminum kettle, I drilled my holes for my ball valves using a wood spade bit. Yeah, I know. I couldn't even be bothered to buy a metal-use bit. The aluminum worked out okay, the stainless was barely able to be saved... I had to use oversized washers & O-rings to cover up my messy work.

No soldering iron though.... I guess I'll have to bug my friends & family to see who of them knows how to solder wire. I have tried many times before and failed miserably. Usually results in a bunch of wasted solder, multiple burns, and a bunch of burnt components.

OMJ 11-06-2012 08:50 PM

Measure the punch. It could be a conduit punch which would make a hole larger than 1.25". If it is a radio chassis punch it will measure 1.25".

Im suprised you got through a stainless kettle with a spade bit. It looks like that punch set also includes a 7/8" punch. If they are infact chassis punches then that size is perfect for 1/2" npt fittings

bmick 11-06-2012 08:55 PM

I've been getting into this a little as well (really making a eHERMS of SORTS), and my only advice would be to read a LOT, the answers are there, take it slow, and don't rush to buy things. I rushed my purchases and wound up making numerous buys from ebrewsupply and bargainfittings (both are great vendors that I recommend) when I realized I was missing a switch, relay, indicator, etc etc etc. Probably spent a lot on shipping that I didn't need to.

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