BruControl Uniflex: Automation For All

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RonBurgundy10

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Hey Everyone!

Wanted to start a thread about my journey from gas brewing to electric/automated brewing (with loads of help from BrunDog). This is really for all of you out there wanting to get into automated brewing but have little to no electrical experience to build your own controller.

I was a longtime lingerer in the automated brewing forum just casually drooling over everyone’s setups they were posting in there. I would research all the buildouts that people were posting trying to teach myself how to do them. The issue is my electrical experience begins and ends at plugging in a power cord to an outlet (not an understatement). I was completely intimidated by the wiring maps and equipment needed. Everyone kept talking about how simple it was but the last thing I wanted to do was attempt to build something then it doesn’t work (or blows up) and wastes all the money and time invested.

In comes BrunDog. He had hinted at the new pre-built BruControl controller that they were planning on releasing. I tried to be patient but had to email him every couple of weeks to see where they were at in the process. I think I finally annoyed him enough to be offered a chance at buying their final prototype in exchange for testing it out in real life environments and providing feedback and results. I had two shiny new electric Spike kettles that were waiting on me to use them so it was something I could not pass up.

Once I received the Uniflex controller, BrunDog emailed me the initial configuration files to install on my computer. This took all the work out of the initial setup because all the inputs and ports were already programmed and lined up. I was worried I would mess up that portion, but everything was already there for me. It was really plug-and-play which was exactly what I wanted to do.

I did a quick water test to familiarize myself with how everything worked. I was amazed how easy it was. I set the PID to reach what would be my strike temp and the element ramped itself up with ease and turned itself off at the set-point as expected.

I switch it over to Duty Control (manual mode) and had it roll to a boil. I turned down the % output to the element for a slow rolling boil and we ran into an issue that it wasn’t communicating the change in output. BrunDog had a patch over to me the next day which fixed that issue. It just shows how awesome his customer service has been throughout this process. Haven't had an issue with it since.

So far everything seems typical when it comes to electric brewing right? But what about AUTOMATION? That is why people are drawn to BruControl but all you’ve talked about is typical electric setup …. Ok ok on to that. After initial tests and my first brew went well BrunDog challenged me to teach myself scripting. That is what separates the Uniflex from its competitors is that its smart enough to take manual steps out of the process. Now I do not have automatic valves yet (wife would kill me if I spent more money on that right now) so baby steps. He sent me his script for his process that I was able to review. Between that and the BruControl manual I was able to write scripts for Striking, Mashing, and Boiling within a day. As a disclaimer, I AM NOT A PROGRAMMER. I am comfortable with computers, but I learn by seeing what others do and tweak things to fit what I am trying to do. I think that is like most people that brew. We pick up bits and pieces from others and make them our own. This process was really easy once you get the hang of it, not to mention how fun it is to get it right.

So here comes my first water test with the new scripts. What I wanted to see was if what I had typed in actually worked in real life. I tried to automate every step I could that I did manually the first time I brewed. Scripting basically reads out as follows….

STRIKE

Start Script, Turn on element, set PID to 162, turn pump 1 on (water recirc for HLT), once that temp is hit alert me, Turn PID down to mash temp, turn pump off. Now I dough in and move my tubes around.

So far so good. Once button press got me from cold hose water to strike temp.

MASH

Start Script, PID to mash temp, turn pump 1 & 2 on (water recirc and HERMS coil), start timer for 1 hour, after 1 hour turn on alarm and turn PID to mashout (170). Turn both pumps off.

Now I manually move hoses to drain my Mash Tun to Boil Kettle and sparge in from my HLT that is warming up to 170 while I do this. So far through Mash with two button clicks. Here I manually turn pumps on to drain/sparge but I could automate this pretty easily just haven’t done it yet.


BOIL

Start Script, Turn manual element to 100%, once it hits 210 turn element to 75% power, once it hits 212 turn element down to 50% power, start timer for 1 hour, after 1 hour alert me and turn off the element.

From there I manually chill the wort and put it in the fermentation chamber.


There are a few more steps I can work out to save me a few buttons clicks but I am honestly amazed how well it works. Compared to my first brew where I was adjusting temps on the digital platform for every step and messing with the pump buttons. I now have scripts that do that all for me. I look forward to having more and more consistent brew days.

I know this was already a small book but let me know if you have any other questions. I have had so much help at this point it would be wrong not to offer to help as well!

Huge thanks again to BrunDog!
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RonBurgundy10

RonBurgundy10

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@BrunDog is changing the game in this department. Great to read an independent thread with such high regards for the new system. I’ve never done small circuitry before, so it was a daunting task to build my own setup.
That's exactly where I was at. As much as I wanted to get into automation, the barrier of entry with skills needed to build a controller was too high for me. This really opens up more opportunity.
 

erikhild59

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Hey all, curious about the programming used..is that a ladder logic program similar to plc/pac control? I'd love to build one of these myself and am taking plc programming classes now. I was wondering if there is another type of programming used for this or if I should attempt to use ladder. The system looks sweet btw, a bit envious here..
 

UncleD

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This is definitely on my "someday" list. As an active homebrewer and a professional PLC/SCADA application developer it seems that it only a matter of time.

Nice setup!
 
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@RonBurgundy10 can give you his specific experiences since this is his thread, but BruControl doesn't use ladder logic (no offense to PLC's but in my opinion, that's an outdated programming technology). BruControl doesn't require programming, though it uses a "script" language to automate any of the brewery processes you like. You wire in a device, create the control ("Device Element") in software, then control it manually as you like. If you want its changes to be made automatically in response to other events (timers, temperatures, etc.), then you can layer the script on top.
 
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RonBurgundy10

RonBurgundy10

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Hey all, curious about the programming used..is that a ladder logic program similar to plc/pac control? I'd love to build one of these myself and am taking plc programming classes now. I was wondering if there is another type of programming used for this or if I should attempt to use ladder. The system looks sweet btw, a bit envious here..
Programming is next to nothing. Upon arrival all I needed to do was install the included config file which set up ports for all the devices I was using. I just needed to plug each in and do a test so I could label which probe was responding to line them up correctly. Same with the elements. Everything you see on my screen was already programmed upon installation (besides the mash tun temp probe which I added later)

1594648658039.png


When it comes to the script it looks like this below. Again I have no programming experience but I was able to see other scripts and make my own that read out similarly. This is my boil script which just turns the coil to 100% output until 204 degrees, then turns it down to 75% until 206 then down to 50%. This gets me to a nice easy boil without running to fast and getting a boil over. After it goes to 50% it starts my timer and when that hits an hour it turns off the element and pings the alarm to let me know in case I wasn't staring at it.
1594648952177.png
 
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RonBurgundy10

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I had my first brew with three probes (instead of 2) this weekend. I wanted a probe directly on the wort that was heading into my mash tun. I am new to HERMS so I wanted to get an exact on the difference between the HLT water temp and the actual wort passing through the coil and going back on top of the grain bed. I added a T fitting with a compression fitting on the side. The probe goes in the side while the wort comes in from the top.
1594649682639.png


You can see a big spike swing on the graph below. That is from me stopping the pump to stir the bed in. I was happy to find out that it stayed almost exactly 2 degrees different. I had it set at 156 at first but once everything was warmed up and level I ended up turning the HLT down to 154 to keep the mash between 152-152.5 for the remaining 45 minutes. Pretty awesome!

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UncleD

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@RonBurgundy10 can give you his specific experiences since this is his thread, but BruControl doesn't use ladder logic (no offense to PLC's but in my opinion, that's an outdated programming technology). BruControl doesn't require programming, though it uses a "script" language to automate any of the brewery processes you like. You wire in a device, create the control ("Device Element") in software, then control it manually as you like. If you want its changes to be made automatically in response to other events (timers, temperatures, etc.), then you can layer the script on top.
Definitely overkill, I just happen to have a spare PLC lying around and access to HMI software so it wouldn't cost anything. Ladder is definitely dated, and more importantly, a PLC is way overkill for a home-based system. This looks like a great solution for automation, and especially for anyone who doesn't have a programming background and have to build something totally custom.
 
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RonBurgundy10

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Did my first step mash this weekend. Added the steps into the script to have them automatically ramp up. Set the temp I wanted +2 degrees to account for the difference in HLT water temp and the wort flowing back into the Mash Tun. It follows the timer to ramp up. Took about 5-8 minutes to ramp up from one step to the next.

Went on smoothly from start to finish!

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RonBurgundy10

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Started figuring out how to use this on the cold side of my setup. I used a Johnson Controls A41 controller with a FermWrap to hold my temps. I purchased a Tilt Hydrometer and what I was seeing was swings of 3-3.5 degrees on average. The Controller would kick on at 67 and turn off at 68 but I would see a large lag that made it shoot over temp.

So I have this fancy UniFlex sitting idle while not brewing and I knew it could help with fermentation. So I took a few hours to play with it and see what I could get it to do to help with better temp accuracy during fermentation with my heating wrap. I was shocked how much better it did once I got it all running. I went from 3 degree swings to keeping it within 0.2 degrees of my target. I created a script to hold temps and slowly ramp up towards the end of fermentation for a diacetyl rest.

Below are some screenshots of the chart and my script. You will see a spike that I was playing with to see how fast it could ramp to the next degree. I was talking with @BrunDog and he told me how to attach my new tilt to the application which was insanely simple. Now I have a full dashboard for the cold side of my brewery where the beer is actually made!

1607963200676.png


Script that reads the timer and moves it along. The numbers you are seeing are days on the timer not hours. So day 8, 9, 12 it ramps up. Day 14 it ends and lets it cool to room temp. I do not have any chilling capabilities yet but that will come in the future and be easily added to the script.

1607963337088.png
 

GParkins

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@RonBurgundy10 Really glad to see you are having success. I have been a BC advocate since I went through my Mega build a couple of years ago, and have appreciated the comprehensive support from @BrunDog along the way. He's built some awesome tools, and I'm hoping that the UniFlex and some other cool stuff coming down the pike really opens the floodgates and the BC approach takes off. I'm hoping that the pioneering work by guys like @TexasWine and @Die_Beerery can be the spark for an active, helpful community of BC nerds.

It goes without saying that if you get stuck, those of us who have been using BC for a while are available for advice (I'm happy to accept a PM). Caveat: advice is limited to BC rig-related questions. We are not going to give you advice on burying motor-operated valves in the family checkbook. I continue to pray that the Detroit police never find that damn shovel.

Good luck with your rig, and welcome aboard!
 
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RonBurgundy10

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So my Black IPA is in the fermenter and this is the first beer that I will be temp controlling with the actual Uniflex for the duration it is in there. Already looking at the temp chart from my Tilt the consistency is insane. The temp has now ramped up due to very active fermentation but seeing the smooth temp line (blue) while waiting for US-05 to rocket off compared to what it looked like with the Johnson Controls unit is amazing. The heating unit is the same as well as the setup, only difference is the controller.

Sour beer (switched controller halfway through on the 15th, easy to see).
1608730037667.png


Black IPA (so far 1.5 days in)
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Granted my Black IPA doesn't have the full data chart yet and I will upload that when its done, but I don't see those intraday swings like I did with the old controller. No bouncing and overshooting and bouncing again.
 

RenaudP

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I'm building a herms and BruControl - Uniflex, Brew Commander by Blichmann and Brew Buddy II are on my radar as controllers.

I like the evolutionary nature of BruControl and I'm tempted by starting small and learning as I go.
That being said, a computer for me is something you buy in a box that comes with a keyboard and a screen. I see an Arduino in picture and I go livid. Wouldn't know what to do with it.

I know Uniflex is the «no skills» version of BruControl, but even then I feel overwhelm.

Are there ressources out there I haven't seen that could help me? I've looked at the BC website, the manuals and all, but I'm looking for something in the lines of «Uniflex for dummies.»

I don't mind the learning curve, but I don't want to be looking at my herms setup and wonder when will I be able to use it because I've been trying to figure out how to add my herms out temp probe or something like that.

Thanks
 

Deric

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I went BrewBuddy II before the Uniflex was available. I bought the kit so that by the time it was up and running I knew exactly how it works.

Had the Uniflex been available…. I sure would have been tempted. I definitely wasn’t up for a scratch BruControl build. After using my BrewBuddy I’m not sure I’d really be interested in a BruControl build.

That said, from reading here over the past few years, the amount of support available appears to be much higher for BruControl than any other system.

If I thought I’d use the far superior functionality of BruControl I wouldn’t hesitate to change.
 
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RonBurgundy10

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@RenaudP Trust me we were in the same boat. the "brucontrol for dummies" guides made me feel even dumber because I didnt understand what they were talking about on a basic level. Luckily with the Uniflex you get a nice starting file out of the box so you have your main elements already set up. I can always send you my script that I run. I copied how @BrunDog had his working and then peeled back layers until it was basic enough for me to understand and control.

As always there are a ton of people in the main Brucontrol chat as well as here that can help you with the script and making it work the way you want it to. Once you start feeling more comfortable you start to venture out and add things here and there that you wanted. For me that was more fine tuned temp control in fermentation. My Johnson controller was swinging 2 degrees above and below my set point. Once I set up a fermentation script using the same elements that I would use for my normal brew day, my heat jacket was keeping my wort within 0.2 degrees of what I wanted. I just substituted the pump for my heat jacket and pointed it to turn on or off based on a temp reading. Again all of that was already programmed I just needed to make sure everything shook hands then it was good to go.

I have since added ABV calculations thanks to @RiverCityBrewer and will work my way towards automated valves to get rid of hose changes. That is the beauty of Brucontrol, the more you want to do the more value this thing brings. Even if you keep it at its most basic levels, it still controls things better (and for less money from what I am seeing out there) than these other controllers.

Plus it looks cool as **** when it all is running.... so thats a plus
 

RenaudP

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I saw a Uniflex V2 this week on IG.
Anybody know what’s change?
 
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We made a few changes... The biggest change is the integrated I/O connector. Previously, it was a 20 pin circular connector that, while compact, is very difficult for users to use. It requires very good soldering skills and appropriate equipment. The power connector was also separate, and needed soldering as well, with significant power to get an appropriate sized wire in it. The new one is solder-less... and the user can add wires to the connector as they build up and integrate their I/O.

Another minor change was did eliminate the dongle needed for network setup. Now you just leave the primary probe unplugged, and it will go into setup on power-up. Once a probe is placed there, it starts normally. The other changes we made are internal to improve the build process and constrain costs. These changes also facilitate the path to an eventual 50A version of the unit.
 

RenaudP

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Thanks a lot.

I’m still debating with myself over 30-50a system.
I plan to have it running sometimes around fall 2022.

Should I hang tight for a Uniflex 50A or it’S still just an idea?
 
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If you’re not looking for something immediate, we’ve starting to prototype a 50A model. It’s definitely a few months away… it’s not that easy to get 6 AWG cable and 2 pole circuit breakers in that small a package!
 

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