Brewery Work: A Few Holes

Welp, I started today thinking I would be able to build the entire control panel for the brewery but what I ended up doing was cutting 6 holes. I realized I had no good way to cut the large diameter holes in steel for the receptacles until I remembered… hey, CNC mill! So I spent like 6 hours watching the mill pocket out a few large holes.

Let’s just revisit that… “pocket out a few large holes”.

Something seems wrong there.

Pocket… out…


Courtney and I were just sitting on the couch when I realized that I spent hours watching the mill grind a bunch of metal into dust instead of having it run a few simple contours which would have taken like 20 minutes. I have no idea how I missed it. At some point in the day I decided, “Hey, I’ll just use the circular pocket wizard and let the mill do the work!”

So stupid.

Anyway, here’s some pictures. Here’s to hoping tomorrow will be far more productive.

Brewery Work: Mostly Electrical

This weekend I did lots of work on the brewery. I built a 25 foot, 6 gauge extension cord that will carry 50 amps at 240 volts. That cord serves two purposes. One is so I have an extension cord for my welder, and the other is so I can plug in the brewery anywhere in the garage I like. I also replaced one of the 3 wire 240 volt receptacles in the garage with a new 4 wire one which is required for the brewery. I’ll be using 120v and 240v in the brewery and the 4 wires will get me that.

I also finished wiring up the HLT and got it all waterproofed.  I believe I now have a pretty safe vessel for electric heating. The whole thing is well grounded and electrical connections are all secured in a weatherproof junction box. The HLT has a 10 foot, 10 gauge, 3 wire power cord terminated in a NEMA L6-30 plug which will go to a matching receptacle in the control panel. Eventually.

I also did some pump testing and tested my HERMS coil for watertightness. All looks good there. The March pumps are a pain in the ass to prime but I think that when I have my solenoids all wired up I can nearly automate it. The first solenoid off the pump will be for draining (by design) and now I think I will also use it for priming. Opening that solenoid will let the head of the pump fill without having to push any pressure.

I also spent a bunch of time this weekend modeling all of the components that will be used in the control panel in 3D using SketchUp. I did this so I can build a full model of the control panel before I start cutting into the box. I don’t want to make any mistakes here. So far it’s looking good. My SSR heat sinks will have to live under a few shallow components but they should have plenty of breathing room.

So, all in all, very productive weekend! I am waiting for some replacement parts for the control panel and a whole batch of stainless steel nipples to plumb all my manifolds. Those will all be here this week and then things will move fast. I am really hoping to be able to fire the whole thing up this weekend!

Here’s some pictures from the work this weekend. I’m using a new (to me) WordPress plugin called Slickr-Flickr and it seems cool so far.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention about the extension cord. After I wired the plug and put it all together I tested each wire with my volt meter as I always do. Except this time I found a short between a hot leg and neutral! Turns out the little metal pressure plate in one of the terminals had  a sharp edge and when I closed the plug it cut into the wire next to it. Lucky I tested it. Most likely it would have just flipped the breaker, but it’s a 50 amp breaker and I don’t like the idea of a 50 amp short!

HLT Work and Pictures

Took an hour or so tonight and finished cutting all the holes in the HLT. I had to drill a liquid return hole near the top of the kettle and cut the big 1.25″ heating element hole at the bottom. I put the liquid return at 2 inches from the bottom of the rolled to top of the kettle cause that looked like a good place to put it. The heater element hole went 3″ from the bottom of the kettle on the right side. I originally wanted to put the heating elements in the backs of the kettles for aesthetic reasons but decided at the last minute that I would have more room to work inside the kettle for adding accessories if I went in from the side.

For the large heating element hole I used a “chassis punch”, which is a new tool to me. It’s basically a heavy metal punch and die that the punch slips in to with a bolt through the whole thing. You drill a pilot hole, put the bolt through, put the punch on one side and the die on the other and tighten the bolt till you have a perfect hole. It worked well, but I am not sure it was any easier than the step drill I’ve been using for the 7/16″ holes. I also think the threads on the bolt stripped a little. My understanding is that Greenlee makes the best chassis punches, but they are kinda expensive. I picked up a knockoff from Radio Daze.

I also finally took some pictures. Here is the kettle with the 2 HERMS coil holes, the liquid return hole and the heater element hole and a picture of what I refer to as “The Loot Table”. This is all the stuff I’ve currently collected for the brewery. It’s going to overflow in the next week as the last of the orders all come in. I can’t wait!

So now all the modifications for the HLT are finally done and with any luck tomorrow I will be able to put it all together and start doing wet testing. Gotta make sure there are no leaks before I give it the juice!

Minor Progress

I made a little progress last night on the brewery but there is some other news to share!

First, progress: I picked up a tubing bender from Harbor Freight and it made quick work of bending the other 90 degree bend in my HERMS coil. I measured everything out and chopped off a few inches of each end of the coil so everything lined up and the coil is now ready to be mounted. I’ve decided to hold off on mounting it till I finish drilling holes in that kettle. It will be way easier to clean out the swarf, cutting oil and nasties without a giant coil mounted in there. I still need to cut a 1.25″ heater element hole, a hole for the temperature probe and a hole for liquid return near the top. It’s getting late tonight so this will probably happen tomorrow.

Next, kits: I ordered and received all the parts to make 10 BrewTroller PID Display kits so tonight Courtney and I made up the kits and printed some nice labels for them. Now they are in a box just ready and waiting for you to buy them!

Finally, parts: I ordered the last of the expensive parts for the brewery. I ordered a bunch of control panel components along with the enclosure that will actually be the control panel. It’s a 14x14x8″ steel, hinged and locking enclosure. I’ll post of a picture of the control panel design soon but basically it holds:

  • 1 key operated switch for main power with a large power light.
  • 2 3 position selectors along with lights for setting heaters to On/Off/Auto.
  • 2 3 position selectors along with lights for setting pumps to On/Off/Auto.
  • 3 BrewTroller PID Displays.
  • 1 BrewTroller LCD.
  • 1 Giant aluminum encoder knob for controlling the BrewTroller.
  • 11 (or more) small 3 position toggle switches + LEDs for setting valves to On/Off/Auto and for showing their status.
  • 1 large PANIC switch that cuts all power.

Inside the control panel will be the BrewTroller, 16 port relay board, 2 very large contactors for controlling power to the heaters, 2 SSRs for controlling heat, a compact computer power supply for lots of 12v current and lots of other little odds and ends.

Anyway, I also ordered the last of the valves I will need. 10 more of the little bastards. That was expensive but it’s gonna be awesome. Unfortunately I decided at the last minute I needed 11 valves (which I now have coming) but I only planned my control panel for 10 so I need to move a few things around and I will be short one damn LED.

I think that’s it for tonight! Looking forward to the weekend when I hope to make some serious, serious progress. Hopefully by then the rest of my kettles will be here, too!

HERMS, RIMS, Wattage and BTUs – A Treatise

Someone on a forum asked me what size heating elements I intended to use in my brewery. My answer was simple – but then I decided to try to do some math…

My batch size is going to be 10 gallons. I am planning on using a 4500 watt element for my HLT and a 5500 watt element for my BK. These numbers are based purely on random guesses. But… I’ve been wanting to know too. So let’s figure it out.

I just found this info on Wikipedia:

A BTU is the energy required to raise one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. A U.S. gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds. So, to raise a 40-gallon tank of 55 °F (13 °C) water up to 105 °F (41 °C) would require (40 × 8.3 × (105 − 55) / 100,000) BTU, or approximately 0.17 CCF, at 100% efficiency. A 40,000 BTU/h heater would take 25 minutes to do this, at 100% efficiency.

In comparison, a typical electric water heater has a 4500 watt heating element, which if 100% efficient results in a heating time of about 1.1 hours.

Okay, so based on that info and the Wiki entry for BTU we find that the formula for calculating power required to heat water is: BTUs = (GALLONS * 8.3 * (FINISH_TEMP – START_TEMP))

And from we find out that 1000 watts is 3414 BTUs.

And based on random crap I found around the Internet we know that heating elements (and heat sources in general) are measured in BTUs per hour or Watt hours. i.e. how many BTUs they put out in an hour or how many watts they put out in an hour.

So now we just have to figure out the two formulas based on time.

So, using my case of a HERMS system let’s say I want to know how long it will take to raise 15 gallons of 55 degree water to my 170 strike temperature. That’s:

(15 * 8.3 * (170 – 55)) = 14317 BTUs

If I use a 4.5kW element I am creating (4.5 kW * 3414 BTUs per kW) = 15363 BTUs per hour

So my time to heat my water is 60 minutes / 15363 BTUs * 14317 BTUs = 55 minutes!

That was actually much less difficult than I expected 

Based on that info, I think that I will put a 5500 in my HLT and the 4500 in my BK. The big difference here is the temperature difference. To go from tap water to sparge water it’s a 115 degree difference but to go from mashed wort at 156 to boiling it’s only 56 degrees – so it will make more sense to have the bigger heater in the MLT. It will save me about 10 minutes in heating my mash and sparge water.

Now, getting back to your original question – RIMS seems more difficult to calculate because the water is moving past the heating element. I’d need to think about it more but maybe that doesn’t matter. If water is always in contact with the element and water is constantly being moved through the tube maybe that’s the same as being in contact with all the water at once. You end up applying more BTUs to less water, so maybe it averages out. Let’s assume it does.

If you wanted to ramp 20 gallons 1 degree in one minute it’s:
(20 * 8.3 * 1) = 166 BTU hours * 60 minutes = 9960 BTU minutes / 3414 BTUs per kW = 2.9 kW. So, it seems like with a 100% efficient system you could use a 3kW element to get your steps. I think the real problems will be trying to get 20 gallons of wort past the element in 1 minute. It looks like my March 809 pumps are a max of 6 gallons per minute, so you’d need at least 3.3 minutes to get all the wort past the element.

I guess another option would be to oversize the element to decrease the amount of wort that needs to flow past it. If it will take 3.3 minutes to move your wort past the element, what if instead you use 3x the heat? If you use 3x the heat you would only heat 1/3 of your kettle but the wort would come out of the RIMS much hotter and would increase the total temperature of the wort.

So, there’s my attempt  I am sure someone who knew anything about thermodynamics would just read this, laugh and walk away, but it’s probably better than guessing! 

Brewery Build – Introduction, HERMS Coil, Drilling Boilermakers

It’s probably time I start posting about my brewery.

I’m building an all electric Heat Exchanger Recirculating Mash System (HERMS) brewery that will live in my garage. The brewery is intended to fix all the problems I had when I was brewing in Kansas and make brewing enjoyable instead of a horrible chore.

The basic gist of the system will be 3 20 gallons pots, the Hot Liquor Tun (HLT), the Mash Lauter Tun (MLT) and the Boil Kettle (BK). The HLT will contain a large coil of stainless steel tubing that wort will circulate through to change the temperature of the liquid in the MLT. This is the HERMS. The system will use two pumps to move all the liquids around and several (10, perhaps?) solenoid valves to make on the fly plumbing changes. The goal is that the system will require no manual plumbing changes and (ideally) could run almost 100% automatically.

I’ve been designing, drawing, dreaming and buying stuff for a month or so now. I made a giant shopping list and have been trying to buy the stuff needed to get a single kettle up and running and then go from there. This weekend I finally had most of that stuff together so I got to work. I wanted to build the HLT first since that would be the most complex. The first step was to fabricate the HERMS coil as the size of that would determine the positioning of many things. I picked up 50′ of 1/2″ OD stainless tubing McMaster and when it arrived it was in a 24″ diameter coil. Unfortunately I needed a 12″ coil. So, after doing some reading and asking questions I filled the whole thing with nice, dry sand (which was a pain in the ass) and very slowly and painfully coiled it around an old 12″ diameter pot I had laying around. This worked pretty well but it was HARD work! My coil turned out to be 12″ in diameter and about 8″ high when compressed.

Side note: When the project is done I will post a spreadsheet with prices and sources of all the parts. I don’t feel like putting them all in these posts as I go along.

That was Saturday. Sunday I measured everything, draw some dots and set out to drill some holes in my Boilermaker. This was fairly difficult but I think it was my own fear of drilling in the expensive pots more than anything. I drilled a 1/8″ pilot hole using lots of cutting oil and plenty of pressure with my hand drill and then widened each hole to 13/16 with a large Unibit. Lots of pressure, cutting oil and some good hearing and eye protection and it wasn’t really that bad. I drilled two holes on the left side of the pot. One at 5″ from the bottom and one at 13″ from the bottom. These are the entry and exit holes for the HERMS coil. I would have liked the coil to sit a little lower but I needed room for the heating element which will be at 3″ from the bottom. The holes needed to be slightly larger than 13/16″ so I cleaned them up just a little bit with a sanding wheel in my Dremel.

The next step was mounting the coil. I had intended to use a pair of weldless bulkheads, two 90 degree elbows and just run the coil right into the elbows. This turned out to not really work. Because of the angles involved the coil would rest against the side of the kettle. I tried using a coupler to move the whole assembly further into the pot but that made it go too far to one side and hit again. When I had really wanted to do from the beginning was have the coil terminate in two straight pieces from a 90 degree bend so it could go straight into compression fittings through the kettle wall. Unfortunately I had had some trouble doing 90 degree bends in the stainless tubing. Since this ended up being necessary I got to work on that.

To get my 90 degree bends in the tubing I first straightened about 16″ of tubing at the top of the coil. I did this by slipping a plumbing spring over the coil then straightening it about an inch at a time in my vice. This worked really nicely. Once it was straight I put it back in the vice around where I wanted my 90″ bend and started pulling on it. I would bend a few degrees and then move it in the vice a quarter inch or so and then repeat. This was hard work but it got the job done. The only problem is that the resulting bend has a very slight kink to it. I don’t think it will cause too much restriction but only time will tell. I tried to reshape the kink in the vise a little and had moderate success.

That’s where I finished on Sunday. I have another 90 degree bend to make and then I should be able to mount the coil. I am thinking I might pick up a tube bender from Harbor Freight and try that. They sell one for $30 that looks like it might be capable.

So, tonight I’ll try to make the other bend, mount the coil and test it all out for water tightness. After that it’s on to installing the first heating element. I bought a 1.25″ chassis punch that should make that a lot easier but it’s not here yet. Should be here soon. I’ll also be receiving a bunch of control panel parts tomorrow that I can start laying out and seeing what works.

Also, I should mention I built and am selling a custom display for the BrewTroller brewery controller I am using. Check it out!

And finally this is a quick rundown of the specs and major components of the brewery I am building:

  • All electric HERMs brewing system. 240v, 50A input.
  • 3 20 gallon Boilermaker kettles.
  • 240v 4500 watt HLT and 5500 watt BK.
  • Control provided by a BrewTroller v3.3 w/ 16 relay output board and BrewTroller software 1.2.
  • 3 Custom PID temperature displays.
  • 2 March 809-HS pumps for fluid movement.
  • 7-10 stainless steel 12v solenoid valves for fluid routing.
  • Plate style stainless steel wort chiller with 20 plates.
  • Silicone tubing plumbing to start, stainless hard plumbing eventually.
  • Custom stainless brewing stand. I’ll be welding this once my TIG skills are a little better.
  • Custom control panel with On/Auto/Off controls for pumps, heaters and all valves. Also includes 3 of my BrewTroller PID Displays, the BrewTroller LCD and rotary encoder for input.
  • All stainless pipe fittings.
  • Inline oxygen injection during pump to fermenters.
  • Constant recirculation of MLT and HLT to avoid temperature stratification.

I think that’s it for now!