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pdxmonkeyboy

Reef controllers.. waste of money..?

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Hey there, 

I think perhaps that I am missing something in regards to reef controllers, their cost, and what they can actually do.  My goal isn't to bash on people that have controllers or start some flame thread, I'm trying to find out some information on controllers as maybe they are more useful than I think and I am just not seeing it. 

A little background on me; I own and operate a large commercial "green house" so I have quite a bit of experience in terms of monitoring air and water quality parameters and setting up systems to text,call and email me when something isn't working.  For example, I have a system that wirelessly monitors air temp, humidity, water temp, water levels, nutrient ppm and ph in 6 different self contained rooms.  It is a cloud based system that monitors and alerts me if things are out of whack and alerts me anytime anyplace.  This costs me $35/month.

Many of the entry level controllers are in the $200 dollar range and all they do is turn lights on and off or control temperature, or maybe control a wavemaker (which already comes with a controller).  These systems cost another $150-200 in order to connect them to a system to alert you.   Step up to something with wireless alerts like the apex and your out $600-$800.  I saw the neptune for $240.  But then you need to purchase a ph probe for $60. 

Here is the deal.. couldn't you buy a milwaukie ph controller for $80, a digital timer for your lights $15, and a DIY digital temperature controller for $25 and get all the same real time read outs but no alerts for 15% less cost?  Has anyone found that the convenience and cost of a all in one controller isn't worth the risk of a failure?  I mean, if your controller ever went bad..your pumps, heaters, reactors..everything would crash..no?

Lastly, has anyone ever used the robo tank controller?  It is a DIY kind of deal with LOTS and LOTS of options.. its basically like an open source code in terms of being able to control anything based on set parameters.  Also about $500 with probes and what not.. but slick touch screen interface and easy controls.  https://www.robo-tank.ca/en/Robo-Tank-DIY-Kits/Robo-Tank-DIY-Aquarium-Controller-Kit-Worldwide-Limited-Sale-p158c59.html

Any thoughts?  What are people using here in the northwest?  

Thank you!!

 

 

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You are right. Controllers are a bit expensive, but you are paying for the assurance that nothing will go wrong with the device. You have prompt support if you ever need it and a multitude of reef-ready devices.

In general, that's how most things are in the reefing world.

 

You could design your own with a raspberry pi and there are plenty of DIY tutorials out there to do it. 

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Worth every penny. My apex has saved my butt more times that I can count. Heater issues, power outages, ph is high, water on the floor you name it and the controller can tell you. They are not. Necessary to have a solid reef but for me they are worth the peace of mind if you plan to put lots of livestock. Because it all adds up quick if you have a heater stick on an fry all your corals and fish.
If you want something basic, go with the apex jr. good price and controls the most common failure...heaters...


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Kim is selling one right now for a great price and she is a solid person to deal with. :)


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Kim is selling one right now for a great price and she is a solid person to deal with. :)


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Ok... I will take a stab at an explanation/rationale from my perspective.  While you could potentially get/create individual controllers for all of those I do think there is a significant advantage to having an all in one device - and that is parameter layering.  I often control items/events in my system based on multiple parameters (time, pH, levels, conductance,ORP, etc.) which I find highly useful and would be really difficult to do with a whole bunch of separate controllers.  I think a 15% premium (to use your example) is a really small price to pay for that kind of all in one flexibility but I could see if that isn't everyone's cup of tea.  Personally, I like to build as much redundancy and logic into my setup as possible and I find a multifunction controller to be a very convenient way to do that. I have not explored a pi setup but, if I had more time and wanted to get the most bang for my buck, I would probably hit up miles (:)) and do some digging into that option.  If you have a background in control system interfaces and some programming chops I definitely think you could probably put something pretty sweet together for less than the off the shelf options.  For those of us with more limited skill sets (and not a lot of free time), a multi controller can be a good fallback option.

Hope that makes some sense.

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Yes I am and the reason I am selling it is because I'm looking for a wireless model. When you add up the costs of your fish and corals they are worth the peace of mind and I have had them save me in the past too with water on the ground.

And you are right pumps can fail or the controller can fail but you will know and for the most part if a pump or heater fails or the lights fail or whatever and it is only a few hours it is not usually an issue but say you are out of town (which is when my apex saved me) and a pump fails or heater gets stuck you can send a message to somebody and say hey will you please see what is happening!

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Very interesting question!

For those less DIY inclined, APEX is a great bet.  Well used in the industry, well supported, lots of documentation.  I have at least 3 apex saved my bacon posts lurking around here somewhere.

However, day job, I am a software engineer and own a software company.  

So... for me, things like robo-tank look quite cool!

Sounds like you are in the same boat.

I am a big fan of openhab2.  I use it around the house for a variety of things along with openhab2 I use mysensors, wemo, arduinos and other microcontrollers.

I have been tempted to write an openhab2 plugin for apex to write better alerts, trigger other logic etc.  Here is a screenshot of openhab2 / habpanel for those interested:

 

X7buvON.png

 

 

 

 

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Here are a few personal examples of where APEX shined for me:

APEX Makes Caclium Reactors Safer

Heater Went Out

My water changes are 100% automated with APEX

My apex can detect when one float fails

 

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14 minutes ago, TheClark said:

Very interesting question!

For those less DIY inclined, APEX is a great bet.  Well used in the industry, well supported, lots of documentation.  I have at least 3 apex saved my bacon posts lurking around here somewhere.

However, day job, I am a software engineer and own a software company.  

So... for me, things like robo-tank look quite cool!

Sounds like you are in the same boat.

I am a big fan of openhab2.  I use it around the house for a variety of things along with openhab2 I use mysensors, wemo, arduinos and other microcontrollers.

I have been tempted to write an openhab2 plugin for apex to write better alerts, trigger other logic etc.  Here is a screenshot of openhab2 / habpanel for those interested:

 

X7buvON.png

 

 

 

 

This looks cool Jeremy!  Would love to see more some time (free time caveat aside).

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While I can totally see the validity in your pricing comparison I have to agree with Lex that having it all in one, like your service you pay 35 a month for, is much more user friendly. I travel quite a bit, while I'm out if town I can check my apex and see exactly where everything stands. If something goes out I know right away.
I was in your same shoes about 2 years ago before I bought a controller and I'll never have a tank without one again. I got tired of checking my temp controller, hoping the heater hasn't gone bad, having to adjust calcium reactor etc list goes on.
I think for most of us that run them it's really just the simplicity of it all in one place and peace of mind that setting a heater to shut down if the tank reaches a certain temp, or killing the lights for an hour if the tank gets above a certain temp, knowing in my sump has sprung a leak etc.
Just my 2 cents :)

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Here are some cool things from the apex guide that show more than what a simple ph or temp controller can do

https://www.neptunesystems.com/downloads/docs/Comprehensive_Reference_Manual.pdf

 

Dosing – Calcium and Alkalinity This example shows two separate dosing outlets called Calcium and Alkalinity. The Calcium outlet runs for 3 minutes 20 seconds each hour except during the day (lights = ON), during a FeedA cycle or if the pH is > 8.35. The Alkalinity runs the same except is offset by 30 minutes from the Calcium

ATO – Double Switch, top-off on a schedule Here, an outlet is triggered to run for 5 minutes every 4 hours unless Sw1 is OPEN. Sw1 is a high water level switch in the sump. Sw2 is in the ATO reservoir and if OPEN, indicates the reservoir is empty.

ATO – Single Switch, top-off on a ‘as-needed’ basis Sw1 is a water level float in your sump that has been reversed so that OPEN is the UP position of the float. When OPEN, the sump is full. The Defer command keeps the program from rapidly cycling – the switch has to be CLOSED (float DOWN) for 5 minutes before activation can occur

VorTech Variable Feed Mode Contributed by ‘YCore’ This program uses a series of virtual outlets to have VorTech pumps go through a series of modes – Off, Nutrient Export, ReefCrest – to perform a custom Feed cycle. Entire process spans 55 minutes and is designed to stir up the tank after feeding to limit detritus collecting.

Determining if an outlet has been on for ‘X’ minutes Contributed by Jon (‘schwaggs’) This uses a virtual outlet to establish a timer that you can use to tell if an outlet is ON or OFF for a specified amount of time. First, create a virtual outlet and name it something useful. Then use the following to determine if the outlet is ON for longer than (in this case) 60 minutes:

Doorbell Activated Program Contributed by swearint (Todd) The example given here is a feed cycle but using this same logic, you could use this for other applications. In this example there’s a variable speed pump running on VS_Port1. You could substitute a VorTech on a WXM module just as easily.

Automatic Water Change Contributed by swearint (Todd) This routine uses two float switches in the sump (one is normal level, second is high water safety), a salt water (SW) drain pump, a new salt water (NSW) pump and an auto top off (ATO) reservoir and pump. At 3pm each day the SW drain pump will pump out water for 10 minutes. After that is complete the NSW pump will replenish with new salt water for as long as it takes for Sw1 to OPEN. Once that happens, the water change is done. Ideally, both pumps would be about the same size but it will still work if they’re not. The ATO works automatically except during water change events, any time the water level drops and Sw1 CLOSES.

 

Limiting the run time of an outlet Suppose you want to limit the amount of time an outlet can run. Typical application for this would be an ATO that is triggered by a float but as a safety precaution, you want to limit the time it can run so that if the float sticks or the supply tube falls out of the sump, the ATO can only run for so long. Further, if it attempts to run that long, an email alarm is sent. Using a virtual outlet, this is how you do it. [Limit_ATO] is the virtual outlet. This is the timer, set for 20 minutes. [ATO] is your normal ATO pump outlet.

 

Having an outlet stay OFF if it trips a condition that later clears Sometimes you might have an outlet turn OFF based on a condition that even if that condition clears, you want to keep the outlet OFF. One example might be a water sensor. It senses water and trips, perhaps turns your return pump off. Then the outlet clears but you don’t want the pump to resume until you do something. Here’s how to solve that problem:

 

 

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50 minutes ago, albertareef said:

Ok... I will take a stab at an explanation/rationale from my perspective.  While you could potentially get/create individual controllers for all of those I do think there is a significant advantage to having an all in one device - and that is parameter layering.  I often control items/events in my system based on multiple parameters (time, pH, levels, conductance,ORP, etc.) which I find highly useful and would be really difficult to do with a whole bunch of separate controllers.  I think a 15% premium (to use your example) is a really small price to pay for that kind of all in one flexibility but I could see if that isn't everyone's cup of tea.  Personally, I like to build as much redundancy and logic into my setup as possible and I find a multifunction controller to be a very convenient way to do that. I have not explored a pi setup but, if I had more time and wanted to get the most bang for my buck, I would probably hit up miles (:)) and do some digging into that option.  If you have a background in control system interfaces and some programming chops I definitely think you could probably put something pretty sweet together for less than the off the shelf options.  For those of us with more limited skill sets (and not a lot of free time), a multi controller can be a good fallback option.

Hope that makes some sense.

 

Exactly.  The ability to take action based on more than a single variable.

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The automatic water change has always intrigued me. I need to set that up!

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Just now, PowderBlue said:

The automatic water change has always intrigued me. I need to set that up!

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It is great!  Highly recommend (with good float redundancy of course).  It changed out over 900 gallons over a period of weeks for me after the levamisole mishap ;)

I scheduled it to run when I was sure to be near the tank, in case the logic had flaws, back siphoning etc...

 

 

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Wifi is a new thing for apex.   I am using the classic. It is pretty easy to make the classic wireless though for about 20 bucks.  That is covered in the guide

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2 hours ago, TheClark said:

Wifi is a new thing for apex.   I am using the classic. It is pretty easy to make the classic wireless though for about 20 bucks.  That is covered in the guide

What? :shock: That's why I was selling the one I just got because I need the wireless version . Please tell me oh IT master how I do this ?:icon_bow:

There may be an apex no longer available if what you say is true!:mermaid:

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4 hours ago, Emerald525 said:

What? :shock: That's why I was selling the one I just got because I need the wireless version . Please tell me oh IT master how I do this ?:icon_bow:

There may be an apex no longer available if what you say is true!:mermaid:

You want to pick up a wifi bridge off of amazon or somewhere local.  Here is an example of a popular one:

https://www.amazon.com/NETGEAR-Wi-Fi-Extender-Essentials-EX2700/dp/B00L0YLRUW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1490278928&sr=8-2&keywords=wifi+bridge

Basically, once it is setup, you just plug your apex into this, and it bridges your apex to the wireless network.

The only caveat is firmware updates.  I don't know why, but they recommend a wired connection for those.  So if you can get with 100-150' of a switch or router, pick up a cable for that.  Alternatively you could move the apex to the router for firmware updates.  Here is one for 13 bucks.  You would only use it to update the firmware.

https://www.amazon.com/UbiGear-Ethernet-Network-Internet-Computer/dp/B00BNJ77J4/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1490278880&sr=8-4&keywords=150'+ethernet+cable

It's a bit of hassle but an option at least!

 

 

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50 minutes ago, TheClark said:

You want to pick up a wifi bridge off of amazon or somewhere local.  Here is an example of a popular one:

https://www.amazon.com/NETGEAR-Wi-Fi-Extender-Essentials-EX2700/dp/B00L0YLRUW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1490278928&sr=8-2&keywords=wifi+bridge

Basically, once it is setup, you just plug your apex into this, and it bridges your apex to the wireless network.

The only caveat is firmware updates.  I don't know why, but they recommend a wired connection for those.  So if you can get with 100-150' of a switch or router, pick up a cable for that.  Alternatively you could move the apex to the router for firmware updates.  Here is one for 13 bucks.  You would only use it to update the firmware.

https://www.amazon.com/UbiGear-Ethernet-Network-Internet-Computer/dp/B00BNJ77J4/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1490278880&sr=8-4&keywords=150'+ethernet+cable

It's a bit of hassle but an option at least!

 

 

 

 

Oh great! Thanks so much!!! I think I can make this work now! How often do they do updates and do they notify you?

Really not a big deal to connect it to the router from the living room to the bedroom once in a while.

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Oh great! Thanks so much!!! I think I can make this work now! How often do they do updates and do they notify you?
Really not a big deal to connect it to the router from the living room to the bedroom once in a while.

I just updated it like 3 weeks ago also so it should be good to go :)

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By the way I really appreciate the IT help around here because it is Sooooo not my thing! :)

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Glad to help, least I can do for our hard working club prez!

I don't update mine very often at all.  Like many months between updates.  

 

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5 minutes ago, TheClark said:

Glad to help, least I can do for our hard working club prez!

I don't update mine very often at all.  Like many months between updates.  

 

I may have to call you in for help but I'm sure I can find some sweet zoas to make it worth your trouble! :thumbs:

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