Why are brewing controllers so expensive?

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clientsoup

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Especially 240v controllers.

Take for example:

* Inkbird's IPB-26 (which I'd expect to have smaller margins than other brands) is $600
* SS Brewtech's is also $600.
* Clawhammer's 120v is $199. The 240v is a whopping $500 more at $700

A 40a SSR is ~$15. An ITC-100VH for controller the SSR is ~$25 (I know that SS Brewtech use a much more expensive Omron PID controller)

Throw in a case, a couple buttons, a temp prob... what am I missing?
 

doug293cz

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There's a lot more to a safe control panel design than an SSR and a PID. Components that add cost:
  • Plugs, receptacles, connectors
  • Switches
  • Temperature sensors
  • Lamps
  • Fuses & breakers
  • Contactors
  • Heatsinks
  • Terminal strips, mounting hardware, etc.
  • Enclosure
  • Labels
Then you have the labor to assemble. These are not high volume items assembled on automated lines - they are all hand assembled.

The manufacturer has to cover the following costs as well:
  • Fixed factory costs: rent, heat, light, water, sewer, taxes, etc.
  • Inventory costs
  • Amortize design costs over limited production volumes
  • Warranty costs
  • Product liability insurance
  • etc.
And, they still have to make a profit if they want to stay in business.

If you assemble the panel yourself, you only have to pay for the components, but that still usually adds up to a few hundred dollars (unless you are really good at bargain hunting directly from Asian suppliers.)

Brew on :mug:
 
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Agree with @doug293cz. There are even more costs when you get honest and include everything like tools, equipment, prototypes, mistakes, and all the other little things often overlooked.

Also, sorry, but “you get what you pay for” has some applicability - that $15 SSR is just that and often becomes much more expensive when it fails or damages other items in your enclosure.
 

Argyll Gargoyle

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In several of the controllers I’ve seen, the switches and indicators all seem to operate from the 120v (or 240v). That makes a lot of sense if you are controlling a relay or contractor. But if you are driving a SSR using low voltage signals, why can’t all of the user interface also be low voltage? Reducing the amount of “stuff” that needs to be rated for mains voltage should reduce cost.
Yes, you would need to ensure that the SSR couldn’t “run away” if the controller hangs, etc. Some thinking about safety would be good, but I think this could be cheaper and better in ways
 

Dland

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Especially 240v controllers.
Throw in a case, a couple buttons, a temp prob... what am I missing?
If you are already knowledgeable in subject and have the place tools and supplies, they are likely easy to build.

If you're interested in doing your own project, and willing to pay for the learning curve in time, tools and dollars, building your own is also a good way to go. If you build it, you will understand the process and be able to repair and upgrade as you learn.

If you're focused on learning or perfecting your brews, and want to spend time brewing, a well purchased controller is not a bad way to go.

If this post is annoying, I appologize, I've been drinking 6.? homebrew.
 
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clientsoup

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I appreciate the comments & insight here! I understand there are obviously significant overheads when running a business, paying for skillz etc.

What's the deal with the huge price hike between 120 & 240 systems?

The same question re. going from 1v - 2v -3v. Surely the fixed costs outlined above would be amortized and spread across the product lines? It doesn't make sense why the jump per vessel would be _way_ more than tthe incremental cost of the components (vs 1v)
 

Argyll Gargoyle

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I’m wondering if I can cannibalize a cheap 12vdc to 120v inverter for the aluminum case/heat sink, fan, and outlets. They make 240v versions too, but not as many
 

doug293cz

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In several of the controllers I’ve seen, the switches and indicators all seem to operate from the 120v (or 240v). That makes a lot of sense if you are controlling a relay or contractor. But if you are driving a SSR using low voltage signals, why can’t all of the user interface also be low voltage? Reducing the amount of “stuff” that needs to be rated for mains voltage should reduce cost.
Yes, you would need to ensure that the SSR couldn’t “run away” if the controller hangs, etc. Some thinking about safety would be good, but I think this could be cheaper and better in ways
I’m wondering if I can cannibalize a cheap 12vdc to 120v inverter for the aluminum case/heat sink, fan, and outlets. They make 240v versions too, but not as many
You're not really going to save any money by running the "user interface" at less than 120V. You'll need to add a 12V - 24V power supply to all the other components.

Unless you are familiar with basic circuit theory, and have experience with electrical systems, you shouldn't try to design your own control panel. 240V can kill you, or start a fire, pretty easily.

Brew on :mug:
 

doug293cz

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...

What's the deal with the huge price hike between 120 & 240 systems?

The same question re. going from 1v - 2v -3v. Surely the fixed costs outlined above would be amortized and spread across the product lines? It doesn't make sense why the jump per vessel would be _way_ more than tthe incremental cost of the components (vs 1v)
When going to 240V, you usually go with currents in 30A - 60A range, rather than 15A - 20A. Higher current rated components are more expensive. Also, the multi-vessel panels often require additional switching (to prevent turning too many things on at once) and circuit protection (breakers). And finally, the 240V panels may contain more safety features requiring extra components.

For the more complex panels, the cost of assembly will go up a little faster than the number of components increases. Fixed costs, etc. are often spread proportional to product cost, not equally for all products (you wouldn't want to add $1.50 of overhead to a $2.00 product and only $1.50 overhead to a $300 product.

Brew on :mug:
 
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Argyll Gargoyle

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Doug - good point about the safety issues with DIY electrical work. Definitely nothing to play with. My day job happens to deal with stuff like this, but I wouldn’t encourage folks to take on this kind of build without the right experience
 
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clientsoup

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Thanks all for your helpful replies! For now, I'll just keep brewing on my 6,000 BTU kitchen stovetop... *cries*
 

Brewbuzzard

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I designed and built my control panel. It has 240 vac, 4 40amp SSRs, contactors, 2 ezboils, selector switches, switches, wire, cable, connecters, breakers, rails, receptacles, plugs, sensors, lights, and a hell of a lot of work. I have about $600 in it using top of the line materials at retail. It works great. A 60 amp GFCI breaker is $60 and the box cost $82.
IMG_20180526_102726990.jpg
 

Beer666

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This channel has guides on building your own YouTube
Mine cost me about £80. Not as nice and complex as the one above but it works.
 

sibelman

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Attached is some wisdom from a bloke named CD Pritchard at an earlier time in electric homebrewing -- it helped me to build a basic controller for the boil kettle. Later I added an Auber PID in its own enclosure for temperature control during mash recirculation. Like Beer666's, these controls are more basic than the lovely control panels, but I only want limited automation in my brewing.
ebrew.jpg
 

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sibelman

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Lalo_uy, I agree that one should not skimp, especially on this critical component. E-bay/China deals like this (SSR & PID! delivered to USA for ~$15!) seem rather seductive, but it may be wiser to pony up for recognized brand-name components that could burn your house down.

fwiw, my $25 40A 240V SSR (not including heat sink) has been going strong for 14 years -- more than 150 brews. In the intervening years, Magnecraft/Schnieder has upgraded the product -- and the price, now ~$60.

Clientsoup, I agree that it seems odd for the price to jump so high for the increase in power/voltage, but upping a circuit to handle double the power means fatter wire, bigger heat sink, tougher switch(es), and somewhat more expensive connectors. That stuff adds up...somewhat. Best of luck.
 

augiedoggy

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You're not really going to save any money by running the "user interface" at less than 120V. You'll need to add a 12V - 24V power supply to all the other components.

Unless you are familiar with basic circuit theory, and have experience with electrical systems, you shouldn't try to design your own control panel. 240V can kill you, or start a fire, pretty easily.

Brew on :mug:
I agree but but its interesting to know most pids (and timers and such we use) actually run on 12-32v dc... They have little ac to dc power supplies built in. this is also why they usually can be powered by a wide ac voltage like 100-250v ac.

As far as the $15 SSR... you can get a damn good one for that.. even half that really. In fact the majority of the systems used or sold here use ssrs from auberins or electric brew supply or mager/ mgr branded versions (like this MGR-1 SSR 10A/25A/40A/60A DA DD AA DC-AC AC-AC Single Phase Solid State Relay | eBay or Solid State Relay Module SSR-40AA 40A 70-280V AC Input 24-480VAC Output A4840 | eBay) which are all the same ssrs sold on ebay for as little as $6 shipped with a different brand stickers on them (like Berme). In all honesty SSR failure on any other SSRs besides the white "fotek" clones is fairly rare from what Ive seen. The failures reported are more often from being miswired, faulty or loose wiring connections too and from the ssrs than the ssr itself and even then most ssr failures are a result of improper cooling design. I use crydoms in my current panel I bought for like $4 each used in a large lot right now because I had to have ALL UL listed components. To add to Brundogs point there are better quality zero crossing SSRs which have less electrical leakage but in 95% of the applications they are used for here most would never appreciate the difference nor would it be justified really IMO. and while we are on that subject most of the relays and contactors used in these panels are inexpensive non UL listed variants that you would find on ebay for $6 too.. For example, this 2P 25A 220V/230V 50/60HZ Din Rail Household AC Contactor Module 1NO 1NC 1NO+1NC | eBay or AC 240V 25A 2 Reed AC Contactor 2P Closed Domestic 35 mm DIN Rail Y9I5 190268216463 | eBay is the exact same component as this DIN Rail Mounted Contactor [DRCN] - $15.99 : Auber Instruments, Inc., Temperature control solutions for home and industry only without the 90% markup). Likewise this CT1-25 63A 2P 2NO Din rail Household AC Contactor Starter | eBay for under $13 shipped or for sure this AC Contactor HC1-63 110V 63A 2 Pole Universal Circuit Control DIN Rail Mount 711811420832 | eBay is the same exact relay as this 2 Pole 63a, 220v Coil, DIN Rail Contactor for $25 + shipping. Not saying they are junk because ive used and never had an issue with them either, but just because your paying much more from a reputable supply company doesnt make the same component any better than if you bought it on amazon or ebay direct either. Do your research is all im saying before spending $400+ on $200 worth of the same exact components elsewhere. likewise when you buy a control panel built by someone here who buys all the stuff at these higher markups you are going to pay another 100% markup on the roughly 100% they already paid so you see how things can escalate? Anyone who works as a technician can tell you this sort of markup game is common.

I'm a very frugal guy I used to be more so 6 years ago or so when I built the 3 element 3 pump speed controlled brew panel in my avatar for $300 because money was tighter back then. I took some shortcuts I wouldnt now like the element power connectors with were designed for high voltage speaker connections and gave me lots of issues once I upgraded from 4500w to 5500w elements. (the properly rated plugs and outlets as well as heavier wiring are the #1 cost increase as far as hardware.)
Theres lots a ways to build a panel and some are really nice but expensive and some are really cheap and not so pretty. You might have issues but theres a LOT of in between and a lot or room to save money. MOST of the commercially avaliable panels cost is in the labor as many of them dont pay for the safety testing that normally commercial electronic devices require like UL listing or ETL certification... This is why some sellers make the end user attach the power cords so they are technically considered "homemade" and they are not liable if they do not have the insurance. I actually cant think of any homebrewing panels that do carry the normal electrical certifications pretty much any other electronics you have above 50v dc normally require and im surprised it hasnt been more of an issue but luckily these things are rarely used non supervised so.. and the cost passed down to you doesn not necessarily mean better design and components used... for much of this the marketing budget seems to trump the product quality. Take a look at all the controller failures on many of the the all in one hot water urn based systems due to being designed for half the amp load at 220v and repurposed for 120v and highter current loads... There are other common weaknesses various panels have had and most of them get addressed with "upgrades" or new revision parts if the distributor does a decent job of supporting them (which in the end raises prices more).

The markups are much worse when you step up to the larger commercial panels which are often much simpler and limited in design and functionality where reliability and ease of use is the goal compared to homebrewing where bling is the #1 selling point. I could not find anything the control my electric 3bbl system for under 7k for the panel and even that was a super basic hysteresis controller based setup I ended up building my own Brucontrol control panels (one for controling glycol and fermenter heat/temps and one for brewing) for under 2 grand in "real industrial grade" hardware such as allen bradley contactors and UL listed din breakers and the like since theres a lot of this used online fairly cheap but it was a lot of work to design and build. Luckily I enjoyed that process. when I built the first panel in the avater I didnt even know much about what a pid was. I did have experience working with electrical as a field engineer who worked on electromechanical on machinery though..
 
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augiedoggy

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Lalo_uy, I agree that one should not skimp, especially on this critical component. E-bay/China deals like this (SSR & PID! delivered to USA for ~$15!) seem rather seductive, but it may be wiser to pony up for recognized brand-name components that could burn your house down.

fwiw, my $25 40A 240V SSR (not including heat sink) has been going strong for 14 years -- more than 150 brews. In the intervening years, Magnecraft/Schnieder has upgraded the product -- and the price, now ~$60.

Clientsoup, I agree that it seems odd for the price to jump so high for the increase in power/voltage, but upping a circuit to handle double the power means fatter wire, bigger heat sink, tougher switch(es), and somewhat more expensive connectors. That stuff adds up...somewhat. Best of luck.
Those white ssrs are the single worst commonly faked clone component Ive seen commonly used and I started out using them myself (with no failures but I got lucky) the second most commonly faked thing I've seen are the "rex" pids that ship from china with a made in japan label on the box..
 

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There's a lot of stuff in there! And it all needs to be laid out and connected by hand.
 

augiedoggy

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I appreciate the comments & insight here! I understand there are obviously significant overheads when running a business, paying for skillz etc.

What's the deal with the huge price hike between 120 & 240 systems?

The same question re. going from 1v - 2v -3v. Surely the fixed costs outlined above would be amortized and spread across the product lines? It doesn't make sense why the jump per vessel would be _way_ more than tthe incremental cost of the components (vs 1v)
rule of thumb is commonly to double actual costs of everything when selling a product unfortunately sometimes much more than that... for example according to discussions at the probrewer forum the average cost of a pint of non adjunct real beer in a nanobrewery is usually between .75cents and $1.50 which covers overhead... Anything beyond that is usually considered profit or covers other losses...This is of course after paying for the equipment. Look at how much a pint of beer goes for in a brewery these days.. If its a well run business often much of this gets poured back in for better equipment , growth or marketing.
 

bleme

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Thanks all for your helpful replies! For now, I'll just keep brewing on my 6,000 BTU kitchen stovetop... *cries*
I'm in the same position. My stovetop gets the job done but it takes an hour to get to mash temp and another hour to get to boil. I wouldn't mind the long brew day if it didn't limit how often I can brew and tie up the stove for so long. I've considered adding a heat stick, which should chop about an hour off the session, but I'd really like to go for the Anvil Foundry so I can free the stove entirely.
 

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No bells or whistles, but Blichman sells these for $149
 

doug293cz

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No bells or whistles, but Blichman sells these for $149
That controller is nothing but a high current dimmer switch. It will not control temperatures. It will allow you to control boil intensity.

Brew on :mug:
 

bjlesm

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I found this, which is why I went for it, worst, Im out the $150, havent gotten to try it yet, but I find his videos to be helpful and pretty well through out:
 

Argyll Gargoyle

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Back to the idea of a low voltage interface.. Buy the Blichman power controller for $150 and add an Arduino to implement PID + user interface...
Granted, that’s what the Brew Commander gives you, but you could probably save money by rolling your own this way
 

doug293cz

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Back to the idea of a low voltage interface.. Buy the Blichman power controller for $150 and add an Arduino to implement PID + user interface...
Granted, that’s what the Brew Commander gives you, but you could probably save money by rolling your own this way
You'd have to add a stepper or servo motor to turn the knob to interface that controller with any type of computer control. Much easier ways to get the functionality than doing this.

Brew on :mug:
 

Argyll Gargoyle

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I haven’t looked at that product too closely, but they allow up to 4 extra SSRs to be connected to that unit. I am guessing that the control wire that runs between housings is just the low voltage DC input to the SSR — if so, you would replace that connection with a control line from the Arduino controller.
 

Jayjay1976

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If you've got the skill, you can save money by building one yourself. Not knocking the full professional-level panel jobs that others here like to build, they are definitely better for the added investment, but a lot of these guys are engineers in their day jobs and revel in the details.
 

doug293cz

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I found this, which is why I went for it, worst, Im out the $150, havent gotten to try it yet, but I find his videos to be helpful and pretty well through out:
I disagree with Brian about its suitability for controlling a mash temp. PID's and EZBoils (other than the DSPR1) automatically adjust power output to maintain temperature. They will work without having to fine tune them for different volumes. This Blichmann controller will have to be manually tuned for each volume you use it with, and you will have to babysit it - making fine adjustments manually - in order to keep a relatively constant temperature. The setting required will be different for different mash volumes.

If you want to use it just to bring water up to temp, mash in, insulate, and then live with any temp drop over the mash time, it will work fine. It's the electric equivalent of a gas burner. It really offers no automation/automatic control at all.

Brew on :mug:
 

doug293cz

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I haven’t looked at that product too closely, but they allow up to 4 extra SSRs to be connected to that unit. I am guessing that the control wire that runs between housings is just the low voltage DC input to the SSR — if so, you would replace that connection with a control line from the Arduino controller.
In that case, you are using the Arduino, etc. to actually do the PWM. You would be pretty much bypassing the PWM provided by the controller itself. And, if you are willing to do that level of hack, might as well just DIY something.

The expandability of this is only useful for controlling multiple elements in a single vessel, since you cannot independently set the power level for the different elements being controlled.

Brew on :mug:
 

Tobor_8thMan

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When going to 240V, you usually go with currents in 30A - 60A range, rather than 15A - 20A.
Brew on :mug:
And there are local electrical codes determining how much load a 240V circuit can load.

Unless a licensed electrician, I'd recommend consulting one. AC and and will kill. DC gives a h*ll of a jolt, but AC will grab and not let go (due to switching between + and -)

With electricity a second chance is normally not an option. Be careful!

Properly done, electricity is safe. Think about our stoves, our dryers, etc. However, do something dumb and even the safest electrical product can become dangerous. Drop a plugged in toaster or radio into a tub or water. NO! I'm not recommending one do, I'm asking the reader to visualize.

Perhaps the following is useful?

www.theelectricbrewery.com
 
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Everyone has a different definition of cost and expense. If you place a value on your time, then designing, building, testing, and modifying your own build doesn't really make economic sense. If you value the learning and enjoy the process, or don't value the opportunity cost of your time, then it makes sense to build your own. I would suggest always building for the future though - nothing worse than a dead-end path where you have to dump your old stuff and invest again from zero (for example, transitioning from BIAB to multi-vessel).
 

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I’ve asked myself the same question. I understand labor safety More expensive parts etc etc. I dont see how that justifies a 3.5x price increase from 120 to 240. I built a 120V controller. I’ve explored upgrading it to 240V and the extra components I need to buy totaled less than $75 from Auber. Need an extra contactor, bigger SSR bigger wires and and different Inlets/outlets. I don’t see where the extra $500 in the clawhammer example is coming from.
 

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Especially 240v controllers.

Take for example:

* Inkbird's IPB-26 (which I'd expect to have smaller margins than other brands) is $600
* SS Brewtech's is also $600.
* Clawhammer's 120v is $199. The 240v is a whopping $500 more at $700

A 40a SSR is ~$15. An ITC-100VH for controller the SSR is ~$25 (I know that SS Brewtech use a much more expensive Omron PID controller)

Throw in a case, a couple buttons, a temp prob... what am I missing?
For starters, profit margin after overhead. As a business owner, it is very obvious.

The components get more expensive when you go to 240v becaude the amperage also goes up to 30 amps. Heat sinks are no longer optional. Wire gauge goes up. Just the input and output wires and plugs are 3x the cost of 120v units. For units that pull 120v off the 240v input, such as for pump outputs, now require fuses or a circuit breaker.

Your list does leave off two very capable units in the moderate price point. The BrewCommander and the Auber Cube.

Controllers in that area are about $170 in parts. At my typical labor rate, I would have to charge about $200 to build it.
 
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