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Well I'm well into my Brewtroller Build so I'd thought I'd document the whole process.
Building an Automated Brewing System
I have been brewing all grain in 20L batches for a couple of years now. I have been using a 32L pot which doubles as a HLT and a Boiling Kettle, recently I started using the Brew in a Bag (BIAB) method which has proven to be easier than the chilly bin cooler I was using.
The New System
I want to be able to brew up to 50L batches with consistency and I want the system to be as easy to use as possible - meaning I want to cut down on some of the more boring parts (heating sparge water etc). I decided to go for the HERMS style of brewing which involves a heat exchanger in the HLT and constant recirculation. I had a copper immersion chiller (coil of copper pipe) already so I thought this would be a good option.
Here is a basic layout of a HERMS system:
The pump continually recirculates the mash through a heat exchanger in the HLT. The temperature of the HLT is controlled to stay at the given mash temperature ensuring a good consistent mash. Note: I actually have the pump underneath the Mash Tun and pumping through the HLT.
For some more information on HERMS check out this link at homebrewtalk for some good diagrams:
I started by comparing two products that were going to be the "brains" of my system:
Both of these devices can control most of the brewing processes from heating water to opening valves and controlling pumps.
The BCS-460 is probably a more complete commercial product. It has a very nice web interface that is used to control everything - meaning that you can use a laptop or even an iPhone to adjust temperatures. The Brewtroller on the other hand is open source and perhaps a little less user friendly, but a lot more tweakable, something that appeals to me. Plus one of the deciding factors for me was the fact that it has volume sensing - meaning it can fill a container up to a precise amount. So wait, you mean I just set it to fill my pot with say 60L, and it can do it? Well yes, but a few extra pieces are needed to achieve this. Great concept though :)
Stage one: Pots and Stand
For the system I want to build I will need three big pots. These would of course be: Hot Liquor Tun (HLT), Mash Tun (MT) and Boiling Kettle (BK). The options are to use converted kegs or buy large stainless pots. I opted for the latter partly because of the look but also because I couldn't be bothered waiting for some to pop up on trademe. I think if you waited you could probably get some kegs cheaper - like around $50 each and then you would need to take a can opener to them to create the opening at the top (more likely a grinder I guess).
I found some large stainless pots on Trademe - I opted for 80L (HLT and BK) and 60L for the Mash tun. I ended up using a smaller one for the Mash Tun purely because they didn't have 3 large ones, but it also doesn't actually matter because it will never need the volume that the other two will require. The large pots were about $140 each and I was actually quite surprised by the thickness for that price (the cheapest I could find). They definitely seem pretty grunty.
The stand I also bought from Trademe for almost $200. It was more than I originally wanted to pay, but it is seriously industrial and I would fully recommend something like this one.
The Brew Stand:
The basic brewing process that I will follow (40L batch):
Fill the HLT up with about 60L of water and heat to approx 70ºC. Transfer about 20L to the Mash Tun (MT) and add grain (approx 8-10kg). This will sit for about an hour to 90min. Then transfer the malty water (wort) to the BK while slowly adding the rest of the water from the HLT to the MT. Eventually when the water runs out there should be about 50L of wort in the BK.
*Edit: Here is a picture of the frame, the wheels are seriously grunty and so smooth :)