Automated home brewing system has an insanely professional controller

So you know how on Breaking Bad, the chemist [Gale Boetticher] sets up an impressive rig to brew the best cup of coffee? Well what do you think of a group of engineers taking on beer as their side project? This rig, which we do think is pretty insane, is the result of embedded system engineers developing an automated brewing system.

[Ben_B] started from humble beginnings. He built a PID controlled smoker much like the one we saw last Monday. From there he ground out several iterations of brewing hardware, adding a bit of automation at each step along the way. But things really took off when the events department at his company, National Instruments, took notice. They put the team on the task of assembling professional grade control hardware for the unit. And of course while we’re spending the company dime why not chrome those boiling vessels at the same time. The finished project was shown off at a trade show to help promote the company.

The post thread linked at the top has shots of the complicated mounting and wiring that went into the controller. We’re not sure how much intervention is actually necessary during a session. But with all the sensors, pumps, valves, filters, and whatnot we wouldn’t be surprised if all you need to do is pitch some yeast into what comes out of it.

Comments

  1. mewse says:

    no fermenter? lame

    (i kid, i kid)

  2. Ben_B says:

    Ha, if the garage would have been open, you could have seen the temp controlled fermenter and the kegerator. However, if the garage were open, you also would have seen the clutter, disarray and general disorganization, and I subsequently would have gotten in trouble with the wifey.

    Also, before there are any comments about the use of chromed components in the brewing process, I’d like to point out that the kegs are just polished stainless steel (no chrome). There’s nothing fancy about them other than a little elbow grease and some quality time with a buffing wheel.

  3. fireSzczys says:

    “And of course while we’re spending the company dime why not chrome those boiling vessels at the same time.”

    they’re not chromed. they’re polished.
    derp

  4. Phil says:

    I would say it is insanely UNprofessional controller. They clearly didn’t know how industrial process control systems should be designed. But compared to what projects I see everyday on hackaday – arduino, breadboard and bunch of wires going in all directions – then this is really professionally made control box.

    • M4CGYV3R says:

      As it is National Instruments who makes these controllers professionally, as a business, in the real world, it is really up to them what is ‘professional’ grade.

    • beakmyn says:

      This is what happens when you let the software guys design a panel. Nothing is labeled. None of the colors are to the standard. You’ve got low voltage control wires next to high voltage. It’s a mess. While I applaud your effort of making a home-brew out of NI equipment you really need to get some wrench time and learn how to wire a panel.

  5. Leithoa says:

    Those keggles aren’t chromed, just sanded and polished. It’s all Stainless so there’s not much need for anti-corrosion such as chrome.
    Despite all of the processing power and pumps, there’s still a large amount of human intervention on this type of system. Such as setting the proper temperatures, ensuring the correct valves are open at the correct times, and of course adding ingredients. Which realistically is 60% of the brewing process.
    The fermenter is in his temperature controlled fermentation chamber.

  6. torcue says:

    I do a fair bit of brewing, and usually my iwn malting and roasting. Everytime i ser one of these, all i can think is: Raw barley and hops to a bucket is under 12 hours and doesn’t need any fancy from there…
    I know its cool to have, and definately nice set ups, but, in that time to build it, you could have made more beer!

    • Ben_B says:

      You have a really good point, and I definitely don’t make any better beer with a fancy brewing stand and electronics box than I did with a propane burner and an 8 gallon pot. However, there were two main motivations for building a brew stand and moving to an all-electric system.

      The first motivation was that I wanted to be able to do 10 gallon batches by myself without having to lift an 80+lbs pot of hot wort onto a burner. That meant either that I had a REALLY tall gravity-fed setup, or I needed some pumps. If I put pumps in, I wanted to make sure that the electronics were all controlled, and had both mechanical and software safety interlocks in place.

      The second motivation was that my wife and I had a child and I needed to make my brewing more hands-off if it needed to be. For instance, I didn’t want to have to be continually watching a thermometer to get water to the right temp. Now when I get home in the afternoon, my 2 year old can help me hook up the water, set the temp of the hot liquor tank and then I can walk away until I’m ready to start the brewing process after he goes to sleep.

      If you look through the blog that’s linked from the article, you’ll see a little more of my motivation. The big reason that I spent so much time on it was that my company was cool enough to fund a significant portion of the project as a show demo. I couldn’t pass up an offer like that!

      @Leithoa, you’re completely right that this only “automates” a small part of the brewing process (if you can really call it automation…closed loop control, PWM generation and safety interlock might be a better but wordier explanation), but that was completely by design. I could add solenoid valves, auto-primers on my pumps and more sensors so that I could make it even more automated, but if I did that I would feel too removed from the brewing session. I didn’t want to engineer myself out of feeling like I was still part of the cooking process. Don’t get me wrong, though. I designed the IO board and the electronics box so that I could do all of that in the future if my inner-engineer vetoed my inner-cook.

    • Leithoa says:

      As someone who’s got plans for a 2.5 tier brewstand in the near future I obviously disagree.
      Can you make amazing, possibly ribbon worthy, beer on your stove top with a couple towels and a 5 gallon bucket? Absolutely.
      It becomes much easier to get consistent results with a temperature controlled mash tun though.

      Besides stainless looks a lot nicer than an orange igloo. Not a whole lot more functional, but with this amount of time sunk into it the brewstand is as much a work of art as the beer you make with it.

    • anomdebus says:

      torcue,

      I’d be interesting in seeing how you are doing home malting.
      Thanks.

    • Zizzle says:

      I disagree.

      Automation can help improve consistency. Mundane things like measuring temperatures from the same position with the same device every batch.

      Not only that, but after a few hundred batches, it can be hard to work up the motivation for the boring manual labor you have done so many times before. Automation can help with that.

      http://hackaday.com/2011/03/28/automated-home-beer-brewery-best-laundry-room-add-on-ever/

  7. Brasser says:

    Brass fittings have no place in a professional food or drink production machine.

    This could have all been accomplished with an Arduino Mega just as easily and far cheaper. Touch TFT, relay board, etc.

  8. Promethius326 says:

    Really enjoying all of the home-brew content lately, keep it up!

  9. CB4 says:

    wow nice setup ,how does the beer taste :)

  10. Ben_B says:

    @CB4 – I brewed my first batch 4-ish weeks ago and my second batch last week. The first one I split up and fermented as 6 gallons of kolsch and 6 gallons of California Common. I put the kolsch on tap for my brew day last week, and it turned out really well!

    I don’t think that the new brewery makes much difference in the end product, but it has definitely streamlined the brewing process. Last week’s brewing session was by far the smoothest I’ve ever had.

  11. Jason Newton says:

    Nice system :)

    I built a similar but smaller automated all grain system (7 gallon max boil) system using an Arduino Mega controller.

    Some of the cool projects I had to develop / implemented were:

    -A pressure based “bubbler style” liquid level
    measuring system,
    -A hop dropping carousel for automated hop
    additions and
    -An inexpensive breadmaker motor based mash mixer
    system.
    -Full menu system with a 128×64 pixel LCD
    interface
    -Compact location (live in an apartment)

    Website only been up a few weeks, but Im documenting all this at:

    http://www.brewbot.ca

    Would love to know how you guys went about this to better design the next revision of my brewbot :)

    • Ben_B says:

      @Jason

      I’m trying to slowly write up the process I went through and the engineering decisions that I made in building my brewery. The day job has been swamping me lately, but I’m trying to keep writing about the brewery when I can work it in. If there’s something you want to know specifically, either drop me an email or leave a comment on my blog.

      By the way, I really like the hops carousel idea. I’ve seen versions of this in a few places, and I think yours might be one of the cooler implementations. Of all of the things that I forget to do during brewing, the hops and Irish moss additions are high on the list. My next improvement will be a PWM control algorithm to prevent boil-over, but after that I’m looking at how to automate the hops additions. Any chance you can post a little more on your site about how you’re doing that? I’ve seen similar rigs that had issues with losing hops between the rotating plates as well as issues with humidity. Any thoughts on how to best handle those problems?

      • Jason Newton says:

        Hey Ben;

        As an engineer myself (mech) I understand the trying the time bit as well :)

        The way I get around the moisture problem with the hop carousel is threefold.

        First I use a boosterfan to suck the steam from the top of the boil and push it out of my laundry vent duct. This keeps a negative pressure inside the kettle which significantly lowers the steam escaping through the hop carousel.

        Secondly I built my hop carousel as a 4 tube carousel with 8 stops (8 nuts bolted to the carousel push a limit switch to signal the microcontroller to stop moving). 4 of the stops the tubes are over the kettle and can then drop their contents into the kettle; the other 4 are spaces in between the hop tubes. This essentially closes the hole and discourages any steam from entering.

        Thirdly I’ve begun using canning lids with rings upside down as mini-hop baskets (could use most anything that can be boiled and is food safe) so the hops do not directly touch the carousel. This way there is nothing to stick to the rotating parts of the hop carousel. The baskets just sit in the beer as its boiling and are pulled out later after the kettle is drained

  12. Irving Shunt says:

    Not cheap, very expensive to implement Labview.

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