Wobbly-Boot Brewery - my 2-tier electric system

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bblack7489

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I've gotten lots and lots of inspiration from this forum, so I figured that it was about time for me to post some of the shots and details about my new brewery.

First of all, I need to say that I work for a really cool company, National Instruments. I'll get to that in a few seconds though.

I've been brewing for about 10 years, and when my wife was a few months pregnant I realized that I needed to slim down my list of hobbies or make them more efficient. I really like to brew, so I went with the efficiency route. I had this grand plan of putting together a control system based on some PIC boards with little 14x2 character LCD screens that I had designed and built for controlling my electric smoker. I was talking about it at work one day, and someone pointed out that I should use our CompactRIO (cRIO) embedded control system and LabVIEW (our programming language) to do it. The hardware isn't cheap enough to make it a very viable option for a generic hobbyist (probably about $2k for the control electronics to cover the 90% use case), but with the help of some friends I was able to scrounge up hardware that we couldn't sell. It had failed manufacturing test or been an R&D prototype. It wasn't pretty hardware, but it worked for what I needed.

My dad had some scrap steel lying around from a fence project that he did a few years ago, so after some welding and grinding, the first generation of my more efficient brewery was born.



Well, I brewed on that structure for about a year and a half. I got rid of the propane burner to make it all electric, and I tidied up the panel on the electronics box, but I was pretty happy with everything.

Then my phone rang in late spring, and one of the marketing guys at our company had heard about my cRIO controlled brewery and thought it would make a really great demo for our NI Week expo floor. NI Week is our yearly customer conference, and the expo floor is what you would expect from a conference or expo, lots of flashy demos and booths everywhere.

Originally the plan was to have me provide direction and consultation as they built a brewery-like demo that would look nice but not necessarily be functional. However, with the timeframe, we quickly realized that cannibalizing my existing brewery would be about the only way to get us done in time, but the only way that was going to work would be that I got to take the brewery home when we were done. Like I said, I work for a really cool company.

So after a lot of work put in by a lot of really talented people, here's what I got to come home with:



Even reusing a lot of my existing parts, it was a fast timeline. I had 3 days to rebuild the frame from scratch while working full days and chasing a 2-year old around at night. I had help laying out the electronics box and mounting the pieces in it. I think wiring it up took most of the time. I got to reuse a lot of the code from my first brewery, but I had help programming the touch screen LCD. It was a group effort, but it definitely came off looking good on the expo floor.

I'm not sure how to link embed the video, but here's a link to it on the show floor.

For the expo, we had it set up to run in an automated mode. The pumps were not temp-rated or food grade, but they were self-priming. I had cheap solenoid valves on each of the vessels, and it whirred away pumping water around all day. It had most of the hallmarks of a good show demo: flashing lights, noisy, shiny and beer.

However, once the show was over, I wanted to quickly get it back up and running as a real brewing rig. I had given up 2 full months of brewing, so the pipeline was running dry. Fear not, though! A few evenings of work and we were back in action.





So let me give a brief overview of the features of the system. Since the company put so much time and money into the system, I'm happily posting technical details about it on our Community Pages. I hate to link to an external page, but I'm also not going to have the time or energy to post everything in multiple places in the same detail. However, I'll obviously keep up with this thread, so please ask if you want me to elaborate on something specific.

Anyway, here are the cool features of the system:
  • 2-tier, 2-pump all electric brewery
  • new powder-coated frame
  • fully self-contained
    • one water hookup
    • one electrical plug - 50A 240VAC circuit in garage
  • single-board RIO controller
    • field programmable gate array (FPGA)
    • real-time controller
    • custom-built mezzanine board for brewing-related IO
    • IO list designed based on my experience and the brewtroller list
  • new electronics box
    • Reach Touch LCD for GUI
    • potentiometers knobs for setting HLT temp and boil kettle PWM duty cycle
    • switches for 240V elements (turn relays ON - OFF - Auto)
    • LEDs for 120VAC and 240VAC circuits
    • splash proof or weatherproof connectors on everything
    • built-in wireless router bridged to home network
  • water filter
  • electric hot liquor tank
    • closed loop temp control (on/off, not PID)
    • hookups for coil to make HERMS system - not using them though
    • aquarium pump to stir HLT to prevent stratification
    • pressure sensor on air line to measure HLT volume
    • soldered 1/2" fittings
  • cube cooler mash tun
    • copper pipe manifold
    • simple copper sparge arm
  • electric boil kettle
    • PWM-controlled heating element
    • sight glass
    • analog and digital thermometers
    • built-in immersion chiller
    • recirculation connections for 5 or 10 gallon batches
    • soldered fittings
  • quick disconnects for all pump-related connections
  • e-stop and GFCI / 50A breaker for protection
  • 12.1" touch panel PC for brewing app
    • timer
    • recipe manager
    • brewing calculations - specific gravity temp compensation and alcohol content calc
    • alarms

When we brewed on it the first time, all of the guys that I've brewed with forever were giving me a hard time. The general consensus was that it looked way too nice for me to be a homebrewer anymore, but I know from this forum that you guys have some beautiful rigs. I'm just really happy that it came out as well as it did and that I got to take it home with me. I keep feeling like I stole something.

Here are a few shots of the electronics box. Don't judge the spaghetti wire in the last shot.











And for the sake of completion, I'll post the electrical layout of the system as well.



Alright, like I said, let me know if you're interested my elaborating on any parts of the system or if you have any things that you think I should tweak or add to it.
 

RichBenn

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So are you in Austin? I used to go there quite often as one of National Instrument's marketing guys was hosting the OPC (OLE for Process Control) standards committee meetings there. Nice company, nice town.
 

Psych

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Holy crap that's pretty...in a manly beer brewing kinda way of course! You're a lucky man, sir :)
 

ThatGeekGuy

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Freaking geektastic, you're a lucky dude. Maybe next time I'm in Austin (every 3-6 months) I could come by and fondle it.... :)
 

huntb

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That is amazing! LabVIEW is awesome hardware/software to use, but yeah, definitely expensive. My senior project group spent nearly $4K on just a few Analog and Digital I/O modules for our dyno
 
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bblack7489

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Oh, me too! If I could just touch it, for a minute, I'd be so happy. :rockin:
Ha, I'm not sure how I'd preface that to my wife. I can kinda hear the conversation in my head right now...

"Oh, so honey...a couple of guys who I know from this online brewing forum are going to come by to touch my brewery today."

Seriously though, I appreciate the kind feedback. It was a hectic rebuild process to get it ready for NI Week, but after brewing on it again last night, I'm really really happy with how it turned out. Last night was possibly the smoothest brewing session I've ever had.
 
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bblack7489

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That is amazing! LabVIEW is awesome hardware/software to use, but yeah, definitely expensive. My senior project group spent nearly $4K on just a few Analog and Digital I/O modules for our dyno
Yah, it's definitely not priced for the typical hobby market, but it's also not the typical hobbyist hardware. I'm going to say that I probably could have done everything with a brewtroller or even with lower-level PIC-based tools, but it would have taken me a whole lot longer to get everything up and running. I mean, unless I was using an arduino library, I'd probably still be fighting with the 1-wire digital protocol. There's something to be said about COTs hardware.

At the end of the day though, a brewery (even a home brewery) is a pretty legitimate industrial system, so it's not too over the top to use a legitimate industrial-grade control system. However, if I didn't have a serious hookup, I'd probably be using some frankenstein, PIC-based control system with a Microchip ethernet driver board and a character LCD.
 
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bblack7489

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That is one of the cooler rigs I have seen. Well done sir.
I've been an occasional poster and a long time lurker on this forum, so that compliment carries a lot of weight coming from you (and from Yooper as well).

Thanks guys.
 
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bblack7489

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You've been featured on Hack-A-Day :)
Yah, I was excited to see that yesterday afternoon. Their commenters have been pretty brutal on my wiring technique though!

I know that it's ugly, and I'm aware that I had to mix power and signal level wiring (no choice since I wanted the actual AC circuits represented in the LEDs on the front), but other than that the wiring is actually color coded, sized properly, terminated properly and grounded properly. It's just ugly, but that's what happens when you're struggling to hit a deadline. Hidden cosmetics are the first corners that get cut. It got covered up by a box, nobody ever saw it until now, and most importantly it works. I have between little and no desire to go back and clean it up.

It's funny that the wiring and the lack of labels have been the two points of criticism. Oh well, you can't expect all of the interwebs to be as supportive or rational as HBT.

I brewed on it again on Thurs night. It went really smoothly, probably the best brewing session I've ever had. I got a few more good shots of it that I'll post on Monday.
 

Yooper

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Ha, I'm not sure how I'd preface that to my wife. I can kinda hear the conversation in my head right now...

"Oh, so honey...a couple of guys who I know from this online brewing forum are going to come by to touch my brewery today."
If you think that might not fly, wait until you tell you that I'm a girl!

:D
 
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bblack7489

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If you think that might not fly, wait until you tell you that I'm a girl!
Ha! I didn't intend to imply or presume gender. I meant "guys" more generally...but yes, even more difficult to explain the ladies that I've met on the internet coming by the house randomly.
 
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bblack7489

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Kirch, I was going for a mix between Blue Steel and stainless steel with this one. I think I nailed it.

Seriously though, I'll post some of the pictures from the brewing last week and from the GUI for the touch PC tomorrow and link them here. I'm really happy with how I'm using the touch PC now. I was worried that it would be kinda useless (like it is in this shot above where it's showing he demo "here's how the brewing process works" app).
 
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bblack7489

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Wow, so I looked through the pictures that my brewing buddy took last week, and really only one of them turned out very well. I like how shiny the kegs look at night though.



I also posted the source code and a built executable for the app that I am currently running on the touch panel PC.



I integrated in my recipe database with a really flexible timer and some of my most commonly used brewing calculations. That and an old version of Winamp really made the touch panel PC highly useful.

Any other software widgets that people use on brew day? I tried to come up with other things to work into the app, and they were all more complex.
  • recipe / timer integration - parse the recipe and auto-populate timing
  • advanced timer functions - pre-program hops schedule
  • alarms - audible alarms for both the timer and for temperature
  • integration with embedded controller data
 

Yooper

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So, when can I come for a brewday? :cross:

There are some other brewers in the Pflugerville/Austin area and we could just do a field trip to your house. That way, your wife won't be freaked out by random strangers trickling by- we'll bring a carload. :rockin:

(I live in S. Texas for a couple of months in the winter).

Seriously, awesome set up. A cool youtube video on your next brewday would really be appreciate by us, who have to live vicariously through you.
 
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bblack7489

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A cool youtube video on your next brewday would really be appreciate by us, who have to live vicariously through you.
The word on the street is that we're going to have someone from our media team come take video of a brewing session sometime soon. I owe a lot of beer to a lot of people who helped out with the project. I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and shoot video while making a giant batch, but I wanted to get a couple brew days under my belt before I went crazy with it.
 

BrothOfVigor

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I really like your first setup. It's like a rowdy goblin made it and pawned it to you. I love it!

The new one is fantastic to. Just to keep the theme going, its like a gnome with a monocle designed it. I of course love it too!
 

hopsalot

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I really like your first setup. It's like a rowdy goblin made it and pawned it to you. I love it!

The new one is fantastic to. Just to keep the theme going, its like a gnome with a monocle designed it. I of course love it too!
an interesting perspective :drunk:
 
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