Brewery and Fermentation Controller, Electronics updates!

So, over the last week I’ve been giving the savings account a hiding. Motivated to get a nice consistant semi-automated brewery happening i’ve put a bit of time and effort into this.

Before I go on, this will probably be something of a ‘meta’ post, there will likely be very little ‘brewing’ content, but it will have a lot of ‘geek’ content!

Firstly, I picked up a 48L Stainless Steel pot from a local on Brew Adelaide. It’s a nice wide bottom pot, that was previously used as a mash tun. As it’s been used by another brewer recently, it’s had a couple of fittings welded to it, one which will make a nice outlet, and a second one which I may use for a temp sensor, or perhaps for the recirculation of the liquor (water). As I will have an electric element in it which will only protrude half into the pot, I want to avoid the water being heated more on one side than the other. So, the plan is to pick up a “little brown pump” for the job, and in short, recirculate the water when ever the heater is active. More on that later.

I’ve also received a number of items for both builds. I ordered some HD44780 4×40 LCD displays before I discovered the BeagleBone as I thought I would probably end up using an Arduino Mega for the brewery. They were on the slow boat from China though and I recieved them late last week. They’re an impressive display!

Here’s a comparison of the 2×16 and the 4 x 40:
40x4 vs 16x2

Double Up!
4x40 LCDs

These displays present a problem, however. Sparkfun provide a ‘backpack’ to solder to these boards which allows you to communicate with them via I2C/TWI; well, I thought they did when I ordered the LCDs. I actually mis-read the Sparkfun page, where it said it did NOT work with the 4x40s. Oh well, Anyway, I stumbled apon the Tronixstuff blog; who had tested an LCD backpack from Akafugu, who said it works with 4×40 displays. John unfortunately had not tested with the 4×40 displays, but the displays were already on their way to me so I placed an order for two backpacks anyway. I also really liked their I2C/TWI 7 segment displays which look perfect for displaying the HLT and MLT current temps in the brewery, more on this later.

Judging by the pictures, all the pins on the backpacks looked like they should line up OK; having received them now the last two pins (LED backlight) are elsewhere on the LCD, but that won’t be too much of an issue assuming all the other pins are OK. The major problem it could have would be the Enable pins (yes, I said Pins) being in the wrong place. They use the popular hd44780 chipset, but what I did not know at the time was they have TWO of these chips in the LCD which is why they have two of the ‘Enable’ lines. The Akafugu board appears that it might work with this, as it has an E2 pin in the right place.

Both the Brewery and the Fermentation controller will require Relays, of course. The Brewery two 240v SSR’s for the heating elements, two 240v switched relays for the March pumps (though I am planning on actually allowing for 3 pumps) plus one other 12v relay for a Little Brown Pump. The fermentation controller will need 4 relays, all 240v. With this in mind, I tried to buy a relay board (with relays!) from DealsExtreme.com, but for some reason their website really didn’t like Chrome. It would continually tell me my password was wrong! But, it worked perfectly in Safari (copying/pasting from LastPass!). Not sure how it could be a Chrome issue, but oh well, I didn’t bother investigating.

I decided to support a local business in the end, and bought a couple of the Freetronics boards. One was the plain-jane 4 relay control board which uses 4 Arduino pins to control the relays. Nice and simple. Still need to sort out relays, though – so I may end up caving in and buying from DX in the end. The other was the 8 relay board, which works over I2C! This is an especially nice bit of gear, instead of using a full 8 pins for 8 relays, you use just two pins! BeagleBone supports I2C (has two I2C busses, actually!) so this will end up in the Brewery. It’s actually an Arduino shield, though that isn’t a complete deal breaker. I wired it up and was able to control from an Arduino just with wires yesterday (no pics 🙁 ) so it shouldn’t be a major issue doing that with the BeagleBone. If I do run into any issues, the BeagleBone has plenty of pins, so I can go for a couple of the 4 relay boards too in a pinch.

Another feature of the brewery I have planned from day one was the ability to see the temps from the other end of the yard, perhaps a strange idea, but on brew day I want to be able to walk away from the brewery and ‘do stuff’ while the brewery step mashes for example, and all I need to do is glance at the control box to get an idea of what the temps are doing. As I mentioned before I found these 7 segment displays at Akafugu, which work over the I2C/TWI bus. I also ordered these when I ordered the LCD backpacks, feeling confident in the knowledge that they were I2C so they should work with whatever system I ended up using to run the brewery.

Tonight I soldered them up, just a little soldering required, but if all those years of racing RC cars taught me anything, was how to solder! The soldering required was a lot more ‘fine’ than I used to do on the RC cars, but the principles are the same. Easy.

Of course, I have pics:
Akafugu 7 segment display

All that’s actually required is to solder the I2C headers to the board, and the 7 segment display itself. I was a little nervous having not soldered for a long time, but it was a walk in the park.

Akafugu 7seg

When I said I wanted to be able to see the temps from the other end of the yard, I’m certain this won’t be a problem:
Akafugu display test

Clearly this is just on the breadboard for testing so won’t be oriented that way, but the display is super clear and BRIGHT! I hacked up some Arduino code to cycle through the lowest brightness up to the highest, and wow is it bright!

These displays also have the capability to run on 3.3v or 5v, depending on what’s available the 3.3v is certainly plenty – but they may end up getting 5v as that’s simply what will be easily available inside the brewery control box.

BeagleBone kit has been shipped, but no sign of it arriving yet. Looking forward to getting it though!

So, I think that’s most of the electronics stuff that’s happened regarding the brewery and fermentation controllers. IE not a lot! 🙂 It scares me to think how much is left to do…

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