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Automated columns

Automated columns

Postby Odin » Thu Jun 27, 2013 7:14 am

Hi guys and girls,

If you followed my posts, it probably does not come as a surprise that I am hooked on automated distilling. Just happened a few months ago. Somebody built something I thought was very interesting, we talked, he sent me an automated rig ... next thing I know is I am selling these babies all over the world.

This post is not about selling automated columns. It is about what automated columns are about. Anybody out there, running automation? How, why, what? And to what goal or end if any?

I am trying to start up a tread on automated distilling, since I feel it is something worth investigating, sharing. Maybe you agree, maybe you don't. I know on other forums they do not necesairily (f*ck, how DO you write that word correctly - all the wordprocessor is telling me I type it wrong. It does not tell me how to write it correct) like it. No problem. All change will give opposition. It's on the sharp edge of that, where we find innovation. Or so I think.

So for a start, since I learned a few things on automated distilling, I will share some insights, learning points, misconceptions, etc. with you. Please challenge me and join!

1. "Automated distillling? Where is the fun in that!?! You want to do it yourself, right? I mean, if you like it? And so if you chose "automated", that must mean you don't like distilling!"

Well, I actually do like distilling. Somehow "automated" makes people think that ... the distiller does all the work. I can tell you, from my experience, that is not the case. Automation takes things out of your hands. Some things. Things that computers are better in. Like computing, counting, taking care of o.oo1 like details ...

In this case, I made the comparison between driving an old school sportscar and a new style sportscar. A Porsche 911 from 1980 on the one hand, the latest 2014 model on the other hand. Both can be fun. One is not better than the other. I know this, because my brother loves his 100 year old T-Ford. He really does. Now a manually operated LM can be like that 1980's Porsche. Great at what it does best. Involving, etc. The 2014 model is great as well. It is just that its repertoire is so much "broader". If you want to drive fast, it will outperform the 1980 model. But you can use it to drive back from a day at the office. When you are tired, it will shift for you. You can mellow up suspension, etc. Automated distilling does not mean you, as a distiller, are less in control. You are actually more in control, because the automation can dial in parameters that are beyond our human, manual touch.

Do you want smearing? In an automated rig, you can dial that in. You can do it by hand as well, smearing heads & tails into hearts, but you never know if you over did it, until you taste your results. Automation can broaden your distilling perspective.

2. "Automated distilling? Great! I want that too! Means I can plug in my rig, dial in the numbers, and go out with the missus to see the opera. Or have a beer with friends. No, not at home! In that bar at the other end of town!"

Nope. It does not work like that with automated distillation. For sure, you can leave your rig and be of to have that beer at the other end of town. But your automated rig is not "omni knowledgeable" or "omni-potent". If it cooks dry, it may stop. If it floods the column, it may stop. If cooling water fails, it will stop. But that does not mean it sorta starts walking around solving your problems. It won't make a new wash, when it is empty. It will not auto restart after you flooded (or after it flooded) the column. Yes, you could program it that way, but you don't want that. Automation is great for keeping things within set parameters. But when those parameters spin out of control, you want it to stop and not restart. Why? Because you want to dive in and find out WHY that cooling water is not flowing ...

So automation helps, but the responsibility for safety is still yours. And - almost as important - so is the resulting likker. An automated rig does not taste your vodka and say: "Bly me, that's tasting mighty fine!" It just produces within set parameters. Faster than anything else. Probably more secure, with less quality tolerances than one ever imagined possible. But if the wash you threw in was crap, the product - 96.5% though it may be, will taste like crap.

Just sharing.

Who's next?

Odin.
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Re: Automated columns

Postby Linny » Thu Jun 27, 2013 1:18 pm

I like the idea as a project ( for the challenge ) ... But time and family doesn't allow it. I was talking to a guy at work about it since his hobby is pic conctollers and smoking meats... Flow meters and and temp thermocouples its very plausible with time
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Re: Automated columns

Postby chill » Mon Jul 01, 2013 5:20 pm

Odin,

I think this is an interesting topic. I am a computer geek for my day job. I'd like to hear more about what the control points are and how heads and tails are managed. How do you make a whiskey or rum product with an automated still?

Chuck
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Re: Automated columns

Postby Odin » Mon Jul 01, 2013 5:47 pm

Hi Chuck,

Here's a pick om my still. Well, of the computer controlling the automation. What I monitor is a few things like temperature of the cooling water, temperature at the bottom of the column and the temperature below take-off point.

The automation is aimed at distilling at maximum efficiency, the programming allows for pot distillation and pure distillation. Pure distillation for vodka making, pot distillation (no reflux) for whatever else. So the automation should work like this: set reflux in such a way that azeotropic take-off conditions are maintained at all times, if you want to distill as pure as possible. If you want the automation to run as a potstill, you only allow for the passive reflux to take place. Everything at the take-off point is fed into the product cooler and not returned down the column.

Cut points can be set by monitoring start temperatures and by defining end temperatures of collection.

Regards, Odin.
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Re: Automated columns

Postby emptyglass » Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:12 pm

I watched a documentry on the Jack Danneils Distilery not long ago. Now thats full on automation. Lucky if you see a guy in the distillery.

I guess you can automate any type of still to any level if you want to. But any automation is only as smart as the human that made it.

Good on you for blazing a trail Odin.
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Re: Automated columns

Postby the Doctor » Tue Jul 02, 2013 10:32 pm

I agree... Odin you are pioneering what may well be the future for all of us...bravo!
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Re: Automated columns

Postby TassieStiller » Wed Jul 03, 2013 1:53 am

:text-goodpost:
Looking forward to further posts. This is definitely a thread I will be reading. I like the concept of automation as it does allow experimentation to a fine degree int he search of the spirit that is your ideal. :handgestures-thumbupright:
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Re: Automated columns

Postby Odin » Wed Jul 03, 2013 5:20 am

Empty,

You are very, very right. The automation will only be as good as the guy who programs it. Or the guy telling the programmer what to program. And that programmer understanding it. Just sharing a conversation I had with my programmer. It was about Fores and then it was about Fores some more. He programmed everything the way I wanted him to, only, when I tested it, it said "Forest" instead of Fores ...

Something even more important is what a customer that did not have too much distilling experience told me: "You can buy a Ferarri, but that does not mean you are all of a sudden a good driver!" I think he was very right, too!

Doc,

Dunno if it is the future, but it certainly is a new future many are heading for. We find out time and again, it is a game changer to. You predicted that very well only two months ago. The iStill draws a new kind of client to the distilling scene. One that is not primarily interested in building it himself. One that is not even interested in taking part in forums. We find a lot of new customers just download some of the recipes I posted on www.iStill.eu and that's it. If there is any community they feel they want to be part of, it is the iStill community. Often people that have a brewing background or just started researching on distillation. You can imagine that sorta challenges our marketing efforts! But maybe that's a good thing. It is not that we are short on demand.

Tassie,

Glad you like it! I will throw something in. Let's see who picks it up. Automated distilling, shouldn't that be about automated cuts? And if so, how would you define, program-wize, the different cuts? I am not asking for bits and bytes, but I am looking for a discussion on "If ... Then ..." How could an automated distilling device decide between fores and heads and hearts and tails? All of you interested in automated distilling, please chime in! There are no wrong answers, I am sure, just interesting ones!

Regards, Odin.

PS: Would you guys be interested in a YouTube movie about automated distilling? Sometimes pictures say more than words ... My son has planned to do a first movei for tonight. Not sure it would be of a really good quality, but let's find out.
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Re: Automated columns

Postby FullySilenced » Wed Jul 03, 2013 5:56 am

Youtube is a great sales tool if you use it correctly Odin
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Re: Automated columns

Postby Odin » Wed Jul 03, 2013 7:47 am

FS, Doc,

What would be the trick in making it work for us? Are there any do's and don'ts for movies you can share? Trailing a bit off topic, but I hope you don't mind.

Regards, Odin.
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Re: Automated columns

Postby Ormlår » Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:17 am

Since it seems that this thread is aiming more and more against the iStill, I hope it`s ok that I post my questions here.
iStill 50:
I`ve been reading your blogg, regarding the new "heads-remover" .
- Where does the heads come out? I guess it`s not through the filter, which means it comes out the same pipe as "fores"..
- How mutch "heads" usually comes out of a wash, lets say 14%?

- Is the collumn delivered with SSP installed, or do you have to insert them yourself? If so, maybe it`s an idea to clean them by boiling them with some cleaning agent for brewery purpose?

Is the threads in the drain valve 1\2"?

Cheers!
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Re: Automated columns

Postby aqua vitae » Wed Jul 03, 2013 9:25 am

Automated stills is a very handy concept, at least for neutral. But I wouldn't call it the future, more present time.. Actually FarbrorPlast (inventor of "the amazing still", "the spiral still" and "ARC" Automated Reflux Control) built his first semiautomatic still using cheap parts suited for the hobby stiller back in 2005 something. This book - about further developments on FarbrorPlasts ideas and new ones- could also be of interest for further reading.
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Re: Automated columns

Postby chill » Wed Jul 03, 2013 11:20 am

+1 on Riku's automated stills book. It is interesting reading, even if you never build anything from it. Unrelated to this book, but relevant to this topic, I have had this bookmarked for a while: http://www.artisan-distiller.net/phpBB3 ... cao#p74265

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Re: Automated columns

Postby Odin » Wed Jul 03, 2013 4:15 pm

Ormlår wrote:Since it seems that this thread is aiming more and more against the iStill, I hope it`s ok that I post my questions here.
iStill 50:
I`ve been reading your blogg, regarding the new "heads-remover" .
- Where does the heads come out? I guess it`s not through the filter, which means it comes out the same pipe as "fores"..
- How mutch "heads" usually comes out of a wash, lets say 14%?

- Is the collumn delivered with SSP installed, or do you have to insert them yourself? If so, maybe it`s an idea to clean them by boiling them with some cleaning agent for brewery purpose?

Is the threads in the drain valve 1\2"?

Cheers!


I am not sure it is against the iStill. You may mean towards theiStill maybe, Ormlar! Well, I started it to talk about automated distilling in general, but will answer your questions for sure. Heads come out thru the same pipe as fores. I think total heads and fores are about 6% of total collectable. Maybe a tad more. So if you were to collect 5 liters of 96% in total out of a wash (40 liters of 12%), you will get around 6% of heads and fores. 0.3 liter? SPP is readilly installed inside the column. A vinigar and a cleaning run are needed to clean up tower and SPP. The drain valve on the directly heated boiler is 0.5 inch. On the water bath version it is 2 inches.

Others, especially in Scandinavia have ventured into automated distilling. They have been a bit secretive about it. I want to have our discussions more out in the open. On this forum for instance.

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Re: Automated columns

Postby aliced » Sun Aug 23, 2015 6:42 am

Why dontcha geto telling us the nuts an bolts of that there operation then Odin?

Like whatcha computer is?

What cha code yur written?

I seen a few blokes discussing it, but no blokes showing anyone how to get about doing it.

Seems you might be the man for that there job :-)
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Re: Automated columns

Postby Desvio » Sun Aug 23, 2015 7:17 am

As a software analyst for a large laboratory and I am torn between analog and digital processes, and as far as my stills are they are very analog and visual, the older style needle gauges the better. And my cooling for the reflux is still very much hands on. However when it comes to the control of my heating element I very much like to adjust the wave patterns and durations to keep my tempertures more controllable during a run. Very tough mental fight between old and new.
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