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Old 11-05-2007, 07:30 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by scolley View Post
But please, do explain what we are looking at, in particular with reference to your 1st post on in this thread. I'm trying to relate all the connections in the back of your box, and relating them to what you were originally trying to do, but I'm not comprehending all the connections. Can you please explain?
Uh, you're right, I now realize i need to put the latest pics in context.

They're pictures of the completed controller whose schematic is in a prvious post.

The front panel is mostly for looks. I used the same laser-printer-toner transfer process that I used to make the PC board in order to put the graphics and labelling on the panels. The green pilot light just lets me know the box is plugged in and getting power. The left switch is not really needed, but I figured if I'm going to all this trouble, why not add a switch so that I can do manual filling and emptying as well? To drain the tank, just put the switch in the down postion. To add water to it, just put it in the up position. In either position, the controller will put the valves, etc., in the correct state to perform the requested operation. In normal use, you'd never use this switch.

The right switch is used to reset the alarm condition and turn off the buzzer. As I described previosuly, if something wrong is detected during an empty/fill cycle, everything is returned to the idle state and the alarm buzzer is turned on. Hopefully, I won't use this switch much, either.

The back panel is where all the connections are made. The serial port is currently unused - the microcontroller chip is equipped with one, so I thought I might as well hook it up. In the future I might hook the box up to my PC or something. Below that is an input jack for the two redundant float sensors that detect a Full level.

To the right of that are bannana jack plugs for powering the 4 valves in the system (see the diagram on the first post). Next, to the right of those are 120V AC jacks for powering four devices controlled by the system - the cannister filter, the heater, the drain pump, and a possible auxiliary heater (although I'm working on something else that may obviate the need for that).

Finally, the AC power inputs are on the right side. The UPS input powers the filter. The non-UPS input powers everything else, including the controller box itself. The Trigger input is used to initiate an Emtpy/Fill cycle - just breifly apply 120V to it to start the cycle (I did that so I could set the time of day to do the cycle with a simple appliance timer, or an Aquacontroller, etc., without having to mess with the software in the box itself every time I wanted to change it).

Hope that helps. My brother-in-law, who happens to be a mechanical engineer, has two CNC machines in his garage "for fun" (?), so it was a simple matter for him to do all the cutouts for the switches and connectors in the panels.

Quote:
PS - I don't want to hijack the subject of your thread... but I do want to mention that I am thrilled that you are trying to take a practical and affordable approach to auto-water changing without unusual tank modifications. While I may have executed a proof-of-concept, but you are executing a far more valuable real world "you can build this yourself" alternative. Most people are NOT going to drill their tanks, and you a blazing making significant contributions to making auto water changing accessible a larger audience. Thank you.
Thanks. At this stage, it's still only "build this yourself" for electronics hobbyists, of which there seem unfortunately to be fewer these days. But if I can contribute to a gradual progression in the development of auto WC systems that are more mainstream, that would be great. You might have kicked off a genuine 'movement'.

In alot of ways, the aquarium hobby has progressed alot since when I was a kid. Back then, no one at the hobbyist level knew anything about the nitrogen cycle. But even today, most of us either do a clumsy job with keeping our livestock in what is essentially a miniscule quantity of water compared to their natural environment, or we do a tremendous amount of manual labor. This is in stark contrast to the big exhibition aquariums. I visited two this summer (the Montery Bay and the Oregon Coast), and the stocking rates they can maintain in their tanks is impressive; of course, the reason they can is that they're adjacent to the ocean, and can do massive, continuous water changes. Maybe someday in the future, you'll be able to order plumbing set up for an aquarium as commonly as you can for a bar sink, and there'll be commercial hoobyist aquarium equipment that'll hook right up, that implements a "turnkey" auto WC system.
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Old 11-05-2007, 11:26 AM   #17
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Man.... I feel very small after reading this thread... very inspiring I must say.
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Old 11-05-2007, 11:38 AM   #18
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out of curiosity, the cabinet box you have there...what is it and where did you get it? You seem to have perfectly sized this little box perfectly for all the components you have. Was this just luck?? lol.
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Old 11-05-2007, 03:32 PM   #19
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www.digikey.com

You can choose from lots of different sizes.
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Old 11-16-2007, 04:46 PM   #20
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I got a PM with some questions, and I thought I'd share the answers with the whole group:

I'm confused about your 2 sensors. Why one jack? Why not 2?

I ran out of room on the panel. Actually, I goofed a bit - I sent the blank panel to my brother-in-law to cut out on his CNC machine, and then realized I had forgot to specifiy any holes for the sensors jacks! So I picked a jack that fit in a round hole that I could drill myself. There was only room for one. No biggie, since the two sensors will be mounted close to each other, and will use a single cable.

And do they operate so that if one switch closes, it throws the switch? Seems like a good way to deal with redundent sensors.

The sensors don't directly control anything. They just each provide a logic-level input to the controller software when the water level in the tank is above a certain level - 1 when the water level is above that level, and 0 when the water level is below it. I could have used just one, but I figured they're the least reliable part in the system, and if one failed stuck in a "0" state, some water would end up on the hardwood floor (until the failsafe timer stopped it). 'wouldn't make me me nor the aquarium very popular.

And what is that "trigger"? Maybe I'm missing something, but a bit more description of what this is, and how it works would help me. Maybe other people too.

Yea I guess that's confusing. Here's the explanation: at this point, I don't know how frequently I want to do water changes. 'probably once a day, but maybe twice. Who knows, maybe every other day. So I'm not keen in hard-coding the frequency of the changes into the controller code. Nor did I want to go to the trouble of coding a time-of-day clock into the controller code.

The most straightforward way to schedule this, it seemed to me, was to use an off-the-shelf appliance/light timer (same as what you would use to turn the lights off and on). These are cheap, readily available, and easy to program. That's what the "Trigger" input does. You plug it into one of those timers. When the controller sees 120VAC applied to the Trigger input, it initiates a water change cycle. When this cycle takes place, and how often, it controlled by the timer.
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Old 12-28-2007, 12:31 PM   #21
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So how is this baby working out for you?
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Old 01-02-2008, 03:18 AM   #22
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Sorry, not much to report yet. Work, travel for work, building Xmas presents, the holidays, etc., have gotten in the way. Finishing up the stand is the next task.

I do have one thing to report, though. As I mentioned, I'm planning on mixing both the cold and hot water supplies for the fill water. A tricky aspect of this is keeping a stable temperature. I thought of using one of those pressure-balancing or (even better) thermostatic mixing valves, like the type used for shower valves now. But not only are shower valves expensive, the lowest temperature setting is still way too hot for aquarium use.

Then I found these mixing valves:

They are intended for use with hydronic radiant-floor heating systems. Their lower range is 85 degrees F, perfect for a discus tank. I picked one up on E-Bay for about $40, much cheaper than the thermostatic shower valves.
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Old 10-11-2008, 05:04 AM   #23
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I just finished somthing simillar, it's only an auto filler though. I have a 24v transformer controlling an irigation valve through a float switch. The valve worked out great, you can find them at home depo from 1/2 inch to 1 inch is size. as for the water source, i have well water and i have the inlet hose tired into ta garden hose outlet right outside from the aquarium.

My only problem I was when it gets colder i'm not going to be able to fill the tank with the cold water. My solution is i am going to run a new line to the water heater room and tie into the cold an hot with valves to ajust the temp. I was going to post a thread when i fixed it.

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An easier way than shower valves to ajust the water temp is to use two diffrent valves. One on the hot and cold lines and then T the pipes together. Leave these valves alone once set and use a diffrent valves to use and shut offs.
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Old 09-27-2009, 05:55 PM   #24
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OK, time for a (long overdue) update: it's all set up!

Now that the tank stand is complete and in the living room, it's time to move the autoWC system in there, too. It's been running in the shop for several weeks, hooked up to garden hoses for supply/drain.

First off, the design has been modified a bit:



With this modification, all the autoWC plumbing at the tank is done on the outlet side of the filter. This makes things a bit simpler, as the inlet side is unchanged. In addition, with this change, all the solenoid valves have filtered water running through them. This reduces the chance that one of them will get clogged, or stuck open from a dirt particle. Also, I added check valves at some of the solenoid outputs. Diaphragm solenoid valves will open with any reverse pressure. Valves 1 and 2 are such valves, so the check valves prevent this. Valve 4 is a direct-acting valve, but it has a check valve on it to help ensure that drain water doesn’t feed back into the fresh water supply.

Here’s what the plumbing looks like under the tank:



With the filter removed to make things easier to see:



Valves 1,2,3 are from the “valves4projects” Ebay site. They’re unusual for diaphragm valves in that they’ll work at low pressure, down to 0 psi. The inexpensive lawn sprinkler valves need house water pressure (~40-60 psi) in order to function, so they’re not suitable for most aquarium applications. The “valve4projects” valves are great for the price, with high Cv values (i.e., low flow-restrictions).

Valve 4 is a bit more expensive direct-acting valve. This valve needs to withstand house water pressure long-term and is important to the reliability of the system, so I felt it was worth it to spend a little more. As a direct-acting valve, it has a lower Cv value, but it has the benefit of house water pressure to push water through it.

Valve 4 operates off of 24VAC and the oher three use 12VDC; the power center I put together supplies these voltages as well as supplying 120VAC outlets for other equipment:





Here’s the AutoWC Controller box on the left side of the stand; I still need to clean up the cabling a bit:



I ended up using ” tubing in the run from the living room to the laundry room for maximum flow. I used CPVC tubing for long straight runs, and PEX tubing where more flexibility was needed.

For the hole in the living room wall I needed a large hole so I’d have clearance to drill through the bottom plate of the wall, but I wanted it to look neat for maximum spousal approval. I ended up installing an access panel (I later drilled a hole in the cover for the hose that connected to the tank stand):



This gave plenty of clearance for the drill:





Here’s a shot from inside the wall, showing the hole in the bottom plate and access to the joist space below:



The PEX tubing from upstairs transitions to CPVC with a Sharkbite connector, which is a great system. The Sharkbites are approved for house plumbing and in-wall use (as are PEX and CPVC), and they hook up to any potable water tubing using the CTS size system (copper, PEX, CPVC). Note they don’t work with Schedule 40/80 PVC pipes, which aren’t rated for potable house plumbing.

After this connection was made, I put the square of drywall back into place; a little spackle, some spray-on texture, and touch-up paint made it disappear.



The long run of ” CPVC through a utility room, which will be covered with some molding:



Making it to the laundry room, a cabinet was temporarily removed in order to make an access hole to continue running the tubing:





Here’s the plumbing at the laundry room end. Note the strainer, which guards against a dirt particle getting to Valve 4 and clogging it.



The connections to the cold and hot water supply lines are full-flow ” lines, in order to allow a fast refill rate. Sharkbite connectors make it easy to connect the pre-assembled module to the plumbing:



Here’s the mixing valve, which does a good job of keeping the temperature at 84-85 degrees. At the beginning of a fill cycle, valves 3 & 4 are turned on for 30 seconds with valves 1 & 2 off, in order to warm up the water before sending it into the tank. Check valves on the hot and cold lines ensure that the cold supply won’t empty the water heater of hot water, or allow hot water to flow into the cold supply:



The connection to the ” line from the tank is also done with a Sharkbite.



Some pics of the level sensor switches. The first shows one when the tank is not full:



The next shows it when the tank is filled up:



This shows the mounting of the switch from the top. I have Aqueon Versatop covers on the tank. I didn’t like the hokey plastic strip in the back, though, so I replaced the rear piece of glass on each one with a wider glass piece that eliminated the need for the plastic strip; I drilled and notched a hole in the glass in each for the filter pipes, and drilled a hole for mounting the level switch. Old 35 mm film canisters cover the electrical connections:



This is the initial setup of the tank, to check everything out. I probably won’t put any plants in until the Discus I’m getting grow out a bit. The big take-away from this pic, though, is the complete absence of additional pipes and most contraptions in the tank for the autoWC. The small, tan-colored level sensors in the rear corners are the only extra things.



Here it is with ~40% of the water drained:



Here’s the fill cycle in progress:



With the ” line to the laundry room and the full-flow connections, this system is fast. It only takes ~13 minutes to drain 40% of the water from the 90 gallon tank, and only ~11 minutes to refill it.

After all the years of dragging buckets and dealing with siphons on smaller tanks, there’s no way I wanted to do it with a tank this size. Especially with wanting to try Discus, and the high water cleanliness standards they demand. It’s a great feeling to park your butt in a comfy chair in from of the tank with a cold one, and watch the tank do the water changing chore all by itself, as if by magic. It’s a satisfying feeling.

Last edited by PDX-PLT; 09-28-2009 at 06:30 AM..
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Old 09-27-2009, 09:08 PM   #25
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Amazing system.
Where are you going to get your discus?
Do you plan on using a gravel vacuum at all?
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Old 09-28-2009, 10:58 PM   #26
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Thanks.

I prefer the European Stendker lines over the Asian imports, so I'll probably go with those. The Wet Spot is a Stendker dealer and has had some decent looking stock in the past, but the last time I went in there I was, quite frankly, appalled at their condition. Maybe the economic downturn means they can't afford enough people to keep up with maintenance? I dunno. Since Hans (the USA Stendker importer) now takes orders direct, I'll probably get them right from him.

I have a very thin (<1/4") layer of sand on the bottom right now. I got an Eheim Sludge Extractor, which seems to do a decent job of picking up the "solids" that the WC won't get.
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Old 09-28-2009, 11:14 PM   #27
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I looked into discus around here for a little bit a couple of months ago. I was not overly impressed with the Wet Spot either, but I am no expert. There just isn't a whole lot of discus around Portland it seems. There appears to be a lot more up near Seattle. Backyard Discus is one of the ones that I remember looking into. I think they are on this side of Seattle. I found them on simplydiscus. There were a couple of others up that direction. If you want to go pick out your own discus, a trip to Seattle might be worth it.
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Old 11-17-2009, 09:08 PM   #28
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Have you planted and stocked your tank yet?
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Old 11-19-2009, 04:05 PM   #29
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My system has been running for a couple years, its a similar design. A few comments:

1. I used the same style float switches from autotopoff.com, after a year and a half one finally gummed up and stuck. All that happens with my system when that occurs is that the tank will refuse to fill. I covered my sensors with loose tea filters that look something like this:http://baldmountaincoffee.com/Mercha...L/00002131.jpg. I'm not 100% certain whether its a good idea or not. I'd suggest considering some sort of guard from snails/plant debris blocking your floats.

2. I'm not sure what type of solenoid you're using (lazy) but I used a diaphram type like this: http://www.madhocontrols.com/solenoid_valve_lar.jpg. The problem I had with it was under unusual circumstances but basically I was messing around backflushing my filter and a tiny piece of carbon stopped the diaphram from sealing completely.

The result was the tank kept draining, thus it kept filling. At that point I didn't have a thermostatic valve in place and the inlet water was cold (small volumes didn't matter). Consequentially some fish got very cold, some didn't make it. Two design changes were required. First a thermostatic valve, the best I could find was like you found, limited to 90 deg F or so. A bit warm and still an issue if the tank were unattended for long periods but better than freezing the fish out! And the second I did not implement: limiting the length of a fill cycle with a timer program. I really think this is an important one to avoid lots of potential damage.

The post with the setup is here, not as detailed as yours (which is the best setup I've seen to date!)
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/ge...r-replant.html

Last edited by original kuhli; 11-19-2009 at 06:12 PM..
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Old 11-20-2009, 11:41 AM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yikesjason View Post
Have you planted and stocked your tank yet?
Stocked yes. But it's been a stressful experience, LOL. The fish looked great initially but started to go downhill. In order to try to fix things I ended up taking out the wood and sand and going bare bottom; it didn't help at all. I left on a trip to Europe last Monday (I'm still here), and the fish looked they were a death's door: based on their symptoms I treated for parasites but it didn't help. As a shot-in-the-dark last resort I started a treatment of broad spectrum antibiotics the evening before I left and asked the family to keep it up. Fortunately that worked; my family says the fish are now like when we first got them. I suspect they got sick from a bad food mix we were feeding them; thankfully they're all eating Color Bits now so we don't need to bother with a homemade mix again. 'can't wait to get home and see them.
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