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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BillM11 month ago

In looking at the wiring for the keyswitch, it seems that power would need at the key to activate the relay. However the keyswitch is connected to common buss and the connection that is unpowered until the relay kicks in. Am I missing something?

jmengel (author)  BillM122 days ago
Ah, yes, good catch. If you look at the photo of the ratsnest below the schematic you can just see the black wire from the keyswitch disappearing into the terminal connector on the hot (black) wire from the 240VAC cable BEFORE the main relay, giving the keyswitch power at all times and thus enabling it to actually energize the main relay. As drawn the schematic is in error and would not work. I'll update that one of these days....

Will you please post your updated schematic to include the heat sinks.

jmengel (author)  carson12035 days ago

The heat sinks go on the SSRs and are not meant to be in the schematic, which is really more of a wiring diagram (with an error as noted by BillM1 above).

What can I do to assist?

Ok Jmengel,

I am no where close to being an engineer. Honestly I am a newbie when it comes to wiring. I love this project. I have all the hardware and am ready to being wiring. I am really nervous and don't want to mess this up. I am having a hard time following your wiring diagram and photos. I require a "rookie" version..... please. This is a huge learning experience for me and I require your expertise. If you could post or email me a wiring diagram for dummies with some explanations so that I may get my learn on. Thanks in advance.

jmengel (author)  carson1203yesterday

I'm sorry to say that I really don't have the time to redo this instructable to a "solder wire A to tab B" level of detail. Since the project uses 240VAC and AC in general throughout, I'd really suggest you bone up on a smaller undertaking before diving in if you aren't comfortable with electricity. AC can ruin your day or end your life if you aren't careful. The diagram as shown has all the info really needed (minus the mistake on the keyswitch wiring) and unless you have sourced the exact same parts as mine I will not be able to provide a pin-to-pin schematic anyway.

That said, if you want to forge ahead, dive in and have specific questions about a portion of the project, I'll be happy to help.

Thanks, I fully understand. I am currently trying to get my learn on. I will send questions as required. Thanks again.

goin200mph24 days ago

Could I substitute SSRs for the enclosed relays? I know they'd occupy more space with the heat sinks, but they are cheaper and I plan to use a thermostat-controlled enclosure fan.

jmengel (author)  goin200mph22 days ago

A few reasons not to skip on the relays. One, the SSR only switches one leg of the 240VAC, meaning that you'd need two SSR's to replace the DPST relay for each heater and the master relay. Two, you need to be able to ensure only one heater is active at a time, and a on-off-on toggle with a pair of DPST relays is convenient for that. Three, the PIDs are on all the time, and outputing control signals to the SSRs always, but you don't want the heaters on always so a toggle with the relays is a convenient way to achieve that without adding selector switches for the PIDs. Four, the DPST relays ensure that there is a "safe" state where the heaters are not receiving any voltage. Kind of a belt and suspenders approach since the system should be GFCI protected, but I like the idea of knowing that not only are my kettles grounded, but the heaters are completely isolated from mains voltage with the relays off. Five, SSRs dissipate heat due to internal resistance as evidenced by their heat sinks and thus decrease system efficiency as compared to using relays in the main current carrying path. Six, the SSRs require a DC signal to "activate" so you'll need a separate voltage converter to get the 120VAC to a suitable DC level to turn on the desired SSR.

That is all I can think of off the top of my head. I have nagging suspicion that I've forgot the main reason though. In this kind of project there are many ways to do the job so if you feel comfortable with the above, are up to making changes, and want to use SSRs go for it.

Whether you forgot anything or not, you gave me what I was missing. Thanks for the reply and darn nice work on this setup!!

carson12031 month ago

jmengel, what upgrades are required for a larger 50a system?

jmengel (author)  carson12031 month ago

Hmmm, a lot. You'd be good with the SSR's since they are already at 60A, but everything else that was in the current path would need to be bigger and beefier to handle the 50A. The wires, the relays, the receptacles, the terminal blocks, the cables, the heater elements, the outlet, the GFCI breaker, etc. Everything with fat lines connected to it in the wiring schematic above. The basic idea is the same, but everything would have to be rated for 240VAC and 50A, which is 12kW by the way. I'll tell you that the 30A system (7.2kW) I've built can boil 20 gallons of wort in short order, like less than an hour at 80% duty cycle to rolling boil and about 50% duty cycle to maintain boil with the cover off the pot. Hope that helps. Good luck.

Thanks for the reply. I am wanting to have the capability to grow to 30 gal batches without pushing the 30A system to the limit. But it sounds like I can get really close to 30 gal batches without burning up the components.

jmengel (author)  carson12031 month ago

If you use a taller pot than I have used, I would be confident of being able to boil 30 gallons with the 30A system. It may take a little longer to reach boiling (~60 minutes) however. The taller the pot, the better "heat stack" and the more efficiently you will use the heat output of the element. With my pot, boiling 20 gallons is no problem.

Great to hear that. My parts are currently on order. I will let you know how it turns out.

Great to hear that. My parts are currently on order. I will let you know how it turns out.

mwakefield36 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)  mwakefield36 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 jmengel4 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_14 months ago

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

a157636986 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?

Rex4116 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?

kryckeley7 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)  kryckeley6 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.

EngrDanny7 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)  EngrDanny6 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.

lappe6 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)  lappe6 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?

amirala7 months ago
hii can u help me ? I want to make a walkii talkie kiit
jmengel (author)  amirala7 months ago
kakashibatosi7 months ago
just to confirm: the price listing includes only the box components, not the heating elements, right?
jmengel (author)  kakashibatosi7 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.11117 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.