Electric Brewery Control Panel on the Cheap

Picture of Electric Brewery Control Panel on the Cheap
If you are into home brewing then you have likely heard of "The Electric Brewery" created and run by a fellow named Kal. If you haven't then get over there and read up. This is the best homebrew setup out there, well thought out, well designed and effectively open source. It uses electric hot water heater elements, a three-kettle two-pump setup, and a process control panel to bring your home brewing to a new level of awesome and easy. Kal has designed a top-notch, no-compromises system that is safe, enjoyable and easy to use. However, it is expensive. Also, Kal is an engineer by training, and as a fellow engineer I cannot possibly leave well enough alone and must change his design. This is job security which is bred into all engineering types. You can substitute fittings and pots and pumps to reduce system cost, but the heart of the "Electric Brewery" system and one of the costliest is the control panel. Here I will show you how I redesigned Kal's control panel with cost in mind, bringing the cost down from around $1500 to $250 without compromising safety and with only a few compromises in function. I can attest to the fact that this control panel works and makes great beer. If that sounds good to you, then read on!
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mwakefield35 months ago
Great project, love it. A comment, I don't know why you are modifying your PIDs when SSR PIDs are just as cheap and common.
jmengel (author)  mwakefield35 months ago

If you can show us where to get 3 SSR output PIDs for less than $40USD then I'm all ears. However, as I state in the writeup the goal is low cost. So spending $90 on 3 PIDs with SSR output is not attractive.

moshbox jmengel3 months ago

Great breakdown on TheElectricBrewery system, I had been leaning towards a simple SSVR w/ rheostat to control my BIAB system until I came across this, just because I couldn't wrap my head around TBE's complexity to extract just the bits I need.

At any rate, eBay is a great resource for these parts. A Rex C100 PID w/ SSR output can be found as cheap as $2 with free shipping from China. I just picked up this PID bundled with a 40A SSR, heatsink and thermocouple for $20 CDN.

private_13 months ago

You have to use a fuse for each pump output and the whole thing

a157636984 months ago

Is a fuse necessary or recommended? If I wanted to add one for safety of the electronics where would it be added. Also can you use a different item instead of the 8 terminal post and jumping it with 10 gauge wire?

Rex4114 months ago

This post is incredible! After reviewing a few times I now completely understand the electronic backbone of a HERMS system and can't wait to build. My question is on your use of the 30A 120VAC relay powering the 240V heating element - I know nothing about electrical components but isn't this going to cause a fault?

kryckeley5 months ago

How would I modify your Control Box for a 1 PID 1 Pump Electric BIAB System?

I want to do this... should be way less than $495.00 right?

jmengel (author)  kryckeley5 months ago

For a BIAB system? I'd reduce the system to the HLT controls, meaning a single RTD, a single PID, and a single pump control outlet and switch. Should be way less than $495. Below are some rough cuts at how you would mod the system. You'd have to manually alter the settings in the single PID to switch from "mashing" in the BIAB method to boiling, but that shouldn't be too hard.

EngrDanny5 months ago
Did you add any GFCI protection on your design? Most designs I've reviewed utilize a spa panel to keep the cost down. Nice project!

I'm currently running a three tier propane setup, but considering the jump to all electric.
jmengel (author)  EngrDanny5 months ago

(Step 7) I used a GFCI breaker for the 240VAC circuit that powered the outlet for the system. So yes I did add GFCI protection.

lappe5 months ago

I was wondering why did you connect the SSR to the other relay. What is the purpose of the SSR? I'm going to build this but as I'm new in electronics, I would like to first understand all. Please help!

jmengel (author)  lappe5 months ago

The relay is a mechanical type, meaning a moving metal arm closes and opens the circuit each time it turns on. Such relays have a limited cycle life, especially at high currents where erosion of the contacts during make/break contact is caused due to arcing. Thus a mechanical relay will last 100k cycles. Since the PID is controlling the heater element with 2 second time scale precision, this can lead to thousands of on/off cycles each brew day and a failed relay in short order. So the switch turns on the relay once or twice per brew day, and then the SSR cycles the heater thousands of times while the relay remains on since the SSR had a cycle life in the millions of cycles. Also, the relay and selector switch keep the system driving only one heater at a time since you don't want to run the other heater dry and the wiring requirements for both heaters at once would be prohibitive not to mention the limits on your home wiring. The PIDs are running all the time and thus sending control signals to the SSRs constantly. Without the selector switch there would be no way to disable the heaters without somehow turning off the PIDs. Which could be done by adding more switches. Make sense?

amirala5 months ago
hii can u help me ? I want to make a walkii talkie kiit
jmengel (author)  amirala5 months ago
kakashibatosi5 months ago
just to confirm: the price listing includes only the box components, not the heating elements, right?
jmengel (author)  kakashibatosi5 months ago

I didn't really include a price listing, just a rough estimate of $250 based on the parts I used. Getting rid of the extra PIDs and using cheaper receptacles could get it under $200. But yes, that estimate doesn't include the heating elements which are about $27 each.

Whats the difference between the 27$ heating elements on amazon and the 200$ heating elements kit on the electric brewery website?

Also, can i do the switch to an electric setup bit by bit? Ideally i would buy just the heating elements and have an ON/OFF setup. (even if i have to plug and unplug the coils). Then once i've saved up the money i'll invest in the control panel. In the end the panel is to monitor the temperature and turn the coils on and off accordingly right?

jmengel (author)  SunShine.11115 months ago

About $173. Really though I'm not sure what you are asking. The $195 heating element kit on The Electric Brewery is complete and assembled and is only one element, so you'd need the two element kit at $375. Or if you want to put two together yourself, $275. My guess is that if you built your own heater element kit from local parts and the $27 heater element, a single element would be in the $100 range complete.

You will not be able to control the HLT temperature by plugging and unplugging the cable. Boil will possibly work but will be crazy boring. I think this is a bad idea that will be frustrating for you.

This electric brewery setup does not lend itself to a layaway plan. Each piece plays an important role, you can get cheaper and smaller kettles, use brass instead of stainless, build the stripped down controller I've shown, but ultimately you will need each piece for the system to work. I built my entire setup for less than $2k. Not cheap but it works as well as the Electric Brewery setup. Just doesn't look as nice.