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Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Wed Sep 23, 2020 11:45 pm
by gaspacho
I'm from Cape Town, South Africa and recently visited my dad in the Eastern Cape to help him get his home still going and had a blast. I'm keen on robotics and automation and have some cool ideas, but I don't drink so it will be a bit excessive to buy or build my own still. I was hoping that I could meet someone local on this forum who would be interested in a partnership. No money involved. Just for the fun of the hobby and designing some cool arduino and raspberry pi based solutions. Maybe put some of it on instructables to help other enthusiasts. So far I've seen some ideas for floating tilt hydrometers that you drop in the mash/wash to get an SG reading via Bluetooth without having to open the bucket. "Talking" or digital parrot ideas.. PID temperature controllers etc. I have done quite a bit with Arduino so have all the tech skills and programming background, but just don't have a still. You can see some of my project on FB just search for Cape Town Robotics.

If you're keen please drop me a note!

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:05 am
by Saltbush Bill
gaspacho wrote:
Wed Sep 23, 2020 11:45 pm
I'm keen on robotics and automation and have some cool ideas
Welcome to the forum Gaspacho, I would suggest that you try to learn to run and understand how the different still types work manually before you try to automate them.
Also suggest you do a forum search for PID before committing to any of your "ideas".

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:15 am
by Demy
I am not familiar with arduino but it is used in many hobby fields, it is a great resource. As suggested, however, you must understand the distillation process well and "get your hands" in the sense that it takes a lot of practice, after which you will have clear how things work and how to automate them even if there is not a great need to do so. Just my opinion.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:16 am
by Corsaire
Welcome

Unfortunately I live a couple 1000 kms north of you. But if you find a stilling partner (plenty of South Africans here!) I'd appreciate if you post your findings here.

Like SBB said, a PID isn't the best idea for driving a boiler but I see a lot of options for automation. In fact, Odin made a living out of it ;-)

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 5:12 am
by gaspacho
Saltbush Bill wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:05 am
gaspacho wrote:
Wed Sep 23, 2020 11:45 pm
I'm keen on robotics and automation and have some cool ideas
Welcome to the forum Gaspacho, I would suggest that you try to learn to run and understand how the different still types work manually before you try to automate them.
Also suggest you do a forum search for PID before committing to any of your "ideas".
Thanks Saltbush Bill! Maybe automation was the wrong word. Process control and monitoring is probably more accurate. With the limited research I've done I realised that keeping good data on every run is very valuable. Pot and head temperatures, cut temps proof and volume can all be recorded while you do a run. I just hope I can find someone local that likes the idea of adding tech to the process.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 5:17 am
by gaspacho
Corsaire wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:16 am
Welcome

Unfortunately I live a couple 1000 kms north of you. But if you find a stilling partner (plenty of South Africans here!) I'd appreciate if you post your findings here.

Like SBB said, a PID isn't the best idea for driving a boiler but I see a lot of options for automation. In fact, Odin made a living out of it ;-)
Thanx Corsaire. I definitely will post here if I find someone to work with.

The PID thermostat was just something I saw online. I used the same logic to drive a 2 wheeled segway type robot and think it can be effective if you design it correctly, but just one of many ideas. Some will work, some wont.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:18 am
by Corsaire
See that's the temperature trap most new stillers fall for.
We don't manage temperature, we manage vapor production (and reflux). Temperatures naturally rise during batch distillation.
Still, lots of data to be processed and play with if you're so inclined.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:34 am
by gaspacho
I definitely have lots to learn, but am really keen to explore. Seems like I've come to the right place!

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:00 am
by Demy
gaspacho wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:34 am
I definitely have lots to learn, but am really keen to explore. Seems like I've come to the right place!
This is a valuable forum, full of knowledgeable people. I'm still learning after a few years of distilling, especially if you distil a lot of different things like me. As it has been suggested to you, you do not chase the temperature as you do for a fermentation because the temperature automatically stabilizes according to which stage of the distillation you are facing, as long as you get your still working properly. For example, I am very happy with a voltage regulator for the power supply, it maintains constant heat and is as easily metered as raising or lowering the flame of a stove. Someone uses a PID which is true, but I don't think it's the right tool. I use it during mash when brewing beer and it makes sense. The fact remains that you can drive an entire distillation in a "smart" way, there are models that do this, so every project deserves all my respect. Just my opinion

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:16 am
by gaspacho
Demy wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:00 am
This is a valuable forum, full of knowledgeable people. I'm still learning after a few years of distilling, especially if you distil a lot of different things like me. As it has been suggested to you, you do not chase the temperature as you do for a fermentation because the temperature automatically stabilizes according to which stage of the distillation you are facing, as long as you get your still working properly. For example, I am very happy with a voltage regulator for the power supply, it maintains constant heat and is as easily metered as raising or lowering the flame of a stove. Someone uses a PID which is true, but I don't think it's the right tool. I use it during mash when brewing beer and it makes sense. The fact remains that you can drive an entire distillation in a "smart" way, there are models that do this, so every project deserves all my respect. Just my opinion
Thanx Demy. Yeah sounds like the PID controller wouldn't be worth the effort if all it does is turn the power down when you get to you starting temp. Graphing up the temperatures and combining that with a digital parrot I think would still be useful. You could have a button to mark where you take cuts and maybe even a scale under the collector jar to measure quantities as you go.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:26 am
by Demy
gaspacho wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:16 am
Demy wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:00 am
This is a valuable forum, full of knowledgeable people. I'm still learning after a few years of distilling, especially if you distil a lot of different things like me. As it has been suggested to you, you do not chase the temperature as you do for a fermentation because the temperature automatically stabilizes according to which stage of the distillation you are facing, as long as you get your still working properly. For example, I am very happy with a voltage regulator for the power supply, it maintains constant heat and is as easily metered as raising or lowering the flame of a stove. Someone uses a PID which is true, but I don't think it's the right tool. I use it during mash when brewing beer and it makes sense. The fact remains that you can drive an entire distillation in a "smart" way, there are models that do this, so every project deserves all my respect. Just my opinion
Thanx Demy. Yeah sounds like the PID controller wouldn't be worth the effort if all it does is turn the power down when you get to you starting temp. Graphing up the temperatures and combining that with a digital parrot I think would still be useful. You could have a button to mark where you take cuts and maybe even a scale under the collector jar to measure quantities as you go.
As long as it comes to collecting data, that's fine but in my experience, cuts must be made using your senses because it may very well happen that the same recipe could have slightly different cuts. Though it might be useful to know when you are approaching, but don't make cuts based on that. When I started distilling I was looking for the percentage of heads, hearts and tails then I realized that those data are only used to get a rough approximation but experience has taught me that based on what you distil, fermentation temperature, type of yeast etc .. affect the results. It is clear that those who are familiar with automation (arduino is a super project, there is no question) try to apply it to this hobby and it is a good thing.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 11:57 am
by seabass
Automation isn't the issue here. There are a lot of ways to automate a still. An Arduino driving an SSR can be used in many ways. PID mode can be used for holding strike temps during the mash. For distilling, you'll want a short period on/off cycle if using an Arduino to control the SSR.

Automating stripping would be the easiest thing to start with. You can set start temps based on your wash abv. Have it heat up at 100% to a few degrees under the start temp and reduce power until the column gets up to temp. Give it a bit of time for foreshots to get taken off, then increase power until you get to the abv you want to stop at.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 2:30 pm
by Setsumi
welcome, myself from RSA. you will find valuable info here. try to understand distilling first before you try to control the proces... heat input, vapour speed and take off is what you need. very simple, but why do want automation? it is a hobby...away from nagging...

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 3:50 pm
by seabass
Automation is it's own hobby. It bleeds into other hobbies!

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 4:09 pm
by Saltbush Bill
Automation is not for me..... I dont need or want robotics taking over my hobby.
I enjoy running stills hands on.
Distilation might be a science........but making good booze is an art.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:28 pm
by gaspacho
Saltbush Bill wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 4:09 pm
Automation is not for me..... I dont need or want robotics taking over my hobby.
I enjoy running stills hands on.
Distilation might be a science........but making good booze is an art.
My dad says exactly the same thing and I totally respect that, but my engineering background has me always looking for the scientific approach. I think the art comes in the tasting and blending and the distilling is much more scientific. Having the below information on screen as your still runs can only be a good thing. I'm thinking a button on the panel that you press every time you take a cut that then indicates on the graph.
image.png

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:39 pm
by gaspacho
Setsumi wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 2:30 pm
welcome, myself from RSA. you will find valuable info here. try to understand distilling first before you try to control the proces... heat input, vapour speed and take off is what you need. very simple, but why do want automation? it is a hobby...away from nagging...
Thanks Satsumi. I helped my dad set up and run his still so did a lot of research to help him, but the more I learn the more I realise I don't know. :lol:

Automation may have been the wrong choice of words. Process monitoring and control is more accurate. There's an excellent Nano distillery on instructables https://www.instructables.com/id/The-Na ... istillery/ which is what got me interested.

Any chance you're interested in a colab?
image.png

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 8:30 pm
by Sk8brew
I am a big fan of automation and just getting started into distilling. I have built a temperature controlled fermentor for beer using Arduino driving ssr's to control a glycol chiller, heaters and pumps for controlled fermentation temperatures. I think there are some good opportunities in distilling to collect data and control cooling water. With several hour distillation runs, I have to think automation could help keep things consistent and safer.
Cuts would be tough unless you are running the same recipe all the time. I will be watching this thread and am willing to contribute.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Thu Sep 24, 2020 11:39 pm
by Corsaire
gaspacho wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:39 pm
Automation may have been the wrong choice of words. Process monitoring and control is more accurate. There's an excellent Nano distillery on instructables https://www.instructables.com/id/The-Na ... istillery/ which is what got me interested.
Looks like a cool project, but at first glance I spot a couple of issues with it.
Discussing them would go too far for a thread in the welcome section.
If you start a new thread in the appropriate forum I'm sure you'll get lots of feedback.

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 10:38 am
by Setsumi
gaspacho wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 6:39 pm
Setsumi wrote:
Thu Sep 24, 2020 2:30 pm
welcome, myself from RSA. you will find valuable info here. try to understand distilling first before you try to control the proces... heat input, vapour speed and take off is what you need. very simple, but why do want automation? it is a hobby...away from nagging...
Thanks Satsumi. I helped my dad set up and run his still so did a lot of research to help him, but the more I learn the more I realise I don't know. :lol:

Automation may have been the wrong choice of words. Process monitoring and control is more accurate. There's an excellent Nano distillery on instructables https://www.instructables.com/id/The-Na ... istillery/ which is what got me interested.

Any chance you're interested in a colab?

image.png
sure, pm me. we can chat private. BUT i do not have much intetest in automation or process control appart from heat input and take off speed. that i do with a valve on my gass burner and a CCVM coil for take off. i just converted a keg to electric, a simple 200ZAR SCR with a dail regulates the power. if there where a part that i want to control it would be my recirculated water temp.. but a bigger resivour would do that for me. but please continue, i would like to see your endeavors.👍🏻

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 7:31 pm
by gaspacho
Setsumi wrote:
Fri Sep 25, 2020 10:38 am
sure, pm me. we can chat private. BUT i do not have much intetest in automation or process control appart from heat input and take off speed. that i do with a valve on my gass burner and a CCVM coil for take off. i just converted a keg to electric, a simple 200ZAR SCR with a dail regulates the power. if there where a part that i want to control it would be my recirculated water temp.. but a bigger resivour would do that for me. but please continue, i would like to see your endeavors.👍🏻
Sure will do. Have you got plans for the electric conversion. Which element what size etc?

Re: Cape Town enthusiast looking to do some arduino automation

Posted: Fri Sep 25, 2020 8:35 pm
by Saltbush Bill
Time to start a new thread.....this is supposed to be a wecome post only.