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Old 01-18-2011, 12:30 PM   #1
Bru
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Default Control Panel VS Computer

Ive recently completed my control panel. It controls the gas solenoid on my HLT, RIMS tube, pump (autosparge + on/off), swamp cooler fan/heater etc. But Im starting to think BCS (or 'troller) would have been a better option and probably cheaper.
I can think of a few reasons why "computer" based brewing is better :
Automation using solenoid/motorized ball valves
Remote control / monitoring
Temp logging

Can anyone think of reasons why a control panel maybe better ?
Has anyone used both ?

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Old 01-18-2011, 12:59 PM   #2
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Right off the bat "PRICE" comes to my mind. An analog system should be cheaper to build and have a few less things to "go wrong".

Manual toggles may be good if you want total control and fear losing that control. I agree that, in the end, a BCS would be the thing to build. You can always have a manual override.

I have neither because my budget is not there yet.

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Old 01-18-2011, 01:02 PM   #3
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Im not sure a control panel is cheaper. Two temp controllers plus all the switches gets expensive. On my system most switches are illuminated. That means switch, switch body, bulb holder and bulb. It all adds up quickly.

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Old 01-18-2011, 01:16 PM   #4
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It is easy enough to put in a BCS after the system is up and running. Then you can sell your current controllers and recoup some of the cash. Even with a computer control system you will probably want switches for manual control. Although they would be three way (Manual/Off/Auto) so the switches may work depends on what you have now.

You can upgrade as money allows and still be brewing.

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Old 01-18-2011, 02:17 PM   #5
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I was asked by Bru to post my comments here as I've build what would be considered an 'analog' control panel.

To quote my FAQ:

Quote:
Why didn't you build a completely automated brewing setup using BCS-460 or similar?

At the end of the day, we don't see any added benefit.

Complete automation is actually something we never wanted for our Electric Brewery. Some people have asked if it's because we didn't know how to do it or because we didn't want to spend the extra money, but neither is the case. We wanted to keep things 'simple' with what can best be described as manual dials and controls. We still want to feel like we're doing something on brew day. It's a hobby and we want to be part of it. If it was completely automated such that you press a button and wort comes out, to us it just wouldn't be the same.

We do use automation however: The PIDs we use are, in a way, completely automated in that the brewer dials in the temperature and is it automatically maintained. That sort of automation makes sense to us. We let some parts maintain certain control aspects of system, but for actually controlling the process steps, we want to be pressing the buttons ourselves.

We also feel that the time required to program the automated steps at the start of the brew day could or would likely take just as long as 'manually' changing certain settings when needed. With today's highly modified malts, most times home brewers (including ourselves) are only brewing with single infusion mashes (a single mash temperature is used) so no special process steps are needed. On our setup we simply set the mash temp and then an hour or two later when mash is done we press the "up temp" button a few times to go up to mash-out temperature. An automated system could automatically do this after the one or two hour period but what exactly is that saving?

Every other operation in a brewery requires disconnecting/re-connecting hoses so we have to go into our brewery for a few minutes regardless. Even this could be automated with valves and all sorts of fancy logic controllers but in our opinion that's hundreds of hours of design/implementation/testing (plus added costs) to save a total of 5-10 minutes of work on brew day. It just doesn't make any sense to us and results in a very complex setup which means it's just more things that may cause problems or break.
Of course, to each their own. Everyone has to build what makes sense to them. My requirements will not be the same as someone elses so there's no "right" or "wrong" answer here.

So before Bru can answer "would it be better?" he needs to decide what his requirements are. Again, no right or wrong answer here.

For what it's worth, here are my requirements:

Quote:
What was your main criteria in designing The Electric Brewery?

Our all-grain brewery had to meet the following criteria:

- 100% electric for indoor brewing
- Safe, easy, and enjoyable to use
- Not limit the brewer in any way
- Provide for extremely repeatable and consistent results
- Use industrial quality parts that last (all stainless steel, limit the use of plastics)

Note that price is not listed. When we weighed price vs. performance vs. safety, price was considered as the least important factor. That is the complete opposite of what most home brewers do when they put together a brewing setup. For most, price is always the overriding priority and sacrifices have to be made. That's completely acceptable of course as everyone has different needs.

While cost savings was not the primary criteria in designing our Electric Brewery, we didn't (in our opinion) spend money for no reason. Every expenditure was a conscious decision of price vs. quality/performance. The Blichmann kettles are a great example of this as many consider them overpriced. We don't agree. Even if you could buy bare kettles and add on all the options to get to the same quality product, it would likely cost you the same amount in the end. Problem is you can't even do that. For example, I've yet to see any sight glasses as well designed and protected and easy to clean as the ones Blichmann uses. Had I used different kettles with unprotected sight glass added on later, I would have broken then ten times over by now banging around the kettles as I clean them. Kettles are heavy, brewers are clumsy.

There's an old saying "Only the rich can afford to buy cheap things" (because you end up buying them over and over again). In designing our brewery we did not want to continually replace components because we were not happy with the performance or because the parts were cheap and breaking. Buy once, use it a lifetime.

It's been nearly 2 years since we designed and built the Electric Brewery. We're happy to report that there's absolutely nothing we'd change if we had to do this all over again. Having brewed with it over two dozen times (as of this writing in Fall 2010), there's nothing we look at and think "We should have done that differently". We waited this long before publishing our build information as we wanted to make sure we were 100% happy with the setup, thus ensuring that others would be as well.

Our setup may not be for everyone, but for those that do follow our instructions to build their own Electric Brewery, I think they will be suitably impressed with the outcome.
Note that I do not have anything like "make the brewing process as automated as possible".

If that's a requirement for you Bru, then by all means consider more automation.

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Old 01-18-2011, 02:34 PM   #6
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It's really up to you. I was going to go the way that Kal went, and for the most part will still be taking a lot of his ideas. But I do like the ability to monitor and track my stuff remotely.

I'll be adding two stage temperature (heat/cool) control to my kegerator and will be doing the same with a fermentation chamber. Right there I would have spent between 140-180 on ranco/johnson controllers. Add to that the costs for a PID setup on an all-grain electric system, it adds up pretty quick.

I was able to justify the BCS because the probes tend to be less expensive than a lot of the analog thermometers that people use, the thermocouples are cheaper than RTD probes (depending on where you buy of course) making it a lot easier for me to add more digital measurement points (up to 8 with the BCS-462) without having to add another PID.

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Old 01-18-2011, 03:34 PM   #7
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I've been torn between a PID control panel and going with a BCS system... Right now I'm strongly leaning going the Auber PID route. I like the idea of a PID based control panel... having the ability to go turn it on, set my temp and go.

I love the ability of remote monitoring and that is my main draw to the BCS-460. I can brew in the garage and keep an eye on the process from the house. Ability to expand into a full automation later on is another bonus. However I am a little intimidated by the actual operation and setup of the BCS. Maybe I'm over thinking the BCS, but I don't want to have to worry about writing PID algorithms or writing State programs or crap like that just to brew. Can the BCS be used in a semi manual mode? Reading through the BCS forums on the ECC site makes it seem like actually setting up the brew day in the BCS will be more work than the brewing itself...Maybe a BCS user can ease my concerns or set me straight here...

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Old 01-18-2011, 04:36 PM   #8
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I can only comment from my own experience FWIW. While the BCS-460 is a very nice remote control tool the one thing I did not like is that you are tied to an external computer. To some this is not a big deal but it was to me. The other thing I didn't like was the lack of volume measurements. I went with the brewtroller. The brewtroller already has a local display via an an alphanumeric LCD and will have web control very, very soon via BTnic. I like having many ways to control the brewery. I can control via switches, the local display and soon the web. The brewtroller principals will be working on something called Opentroller soon which will use a Mini2440 ARM9 SBC with will use a 3.5" or 7" graphical display. Go to the website and check it out.

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Old 01-18-2011, 06:24 PM   #9
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I was "analog" but wanted the remote monitoring, plus since everyone has a computer (or I do it from my iPhone), it can be more cost effective to go BCS. 3 PIDs from Auber and you're over $150 with shipping.

I went with the BCS over the Brewtroller because I'm tired of being in project mode and want to actually brew someday soon. Between work, business planning on the side, and training for some mountaineering, I don't have the DIY time to devote to the Brewtroller.

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Old 01-18-2011, 08:27 PM   #10
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I went with the BCS-460 because I can do remote monitoring with my iPad and iPhone. I like brewing with the iPad because it also contains my recipes and notes, and I can also save profiles for each beer to make my life easier. I'm still a very hands on brewer, and I keep the automation to a minimum.

I iPad also controls all the tunes in the brewery, so it's nice to have everything handy in one convenient and concise control panel.

Using the BCS-460 eliminates a ton of extra work when wiring the control panel, and it's nice to have all the alarms and timers at hand to help keep the brew day organized.

The manual control panels sure do look sexy, though. On the other hand, the iPad brings a certain amount of bling to the project as well. To each their own.

Note: If you lack experience with networking, you may be frustrated when working with IP Addresses and logging into the system. It's not hard, but having some experience in these matters makes things a whole lot easier. The forums at ECC are also very helpful.

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