Friday, 29 June 2012

Eureka 89

We just got home from a cocktail party held by my better-half's work which was held at Eureka 89 in Melbourne.

The view from the 89th floor of the Eureka tower on a brilliantly clear winter night was stunning, with unobstructed views of all of Melbourne from the top of the highest building.  We got to watch the MCG slowly fill with people and all of Melbourne do the Friday-night-thing, while eating & drinking at the top of the tower (the public SkyDeck observation deck is actually 1 floor lower on the 88th floor).
 (Picture borrowed/linked from Wikipedia)

The venue location, staff and food were all top-notch, and while the beer selection was average/limited (Cascade Premium or Light) it was worth drinking a few just so you have to visit the men's room.

The gents-room is located in the exact corner of the building, with full floor to ceiling windows (24 carat gold plated glass) giving an amazing and uninterrupted view of the city. The view is not interrupted when you turn around, because they have a cleverly and strategically located full-width panoramic mirror situated above the urinals.  While you are making room for more beer, you can stand right in the corner of the building - 89 stories above Melbourne - with a stunning view of the city ... seriously worth it just so you need to visit the men's-room.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Brewery Build #15: Pump

I first came across these pumps on the UK-based JBK forums a few years ago, when some of the UK-based home brewers started to use them for their home brew setups.  At the time they were called 'solar pumps' likely due, in a large part to the fact that the shop selling them was SolarProject in the UK.  Since that time similar, (or the same) pumps have become available relatively cheaply on Ebay and in Australian based shops, including Australian home brew shops, but I got two via Ebay more than a year ago.

Today it's more common to see them called a Little Brown Pump, because that is exactly what they are:
Even compared the the 1/2 inch valve and fittings, these things are 'little'.  They run off 12V (other 24V models are available) so it wireed up via a transformer recycled from our old cable-modem, that will be powered by one of the points on the control box.

While they are not the most powerful pump, the Little Brown Pump recirculated from what is essentially the bottom of the brew-stand to the top, at a rate of 3L per min and did so without problem for an hour.

The main reason for including a return fitting and camlock at the very top of the HTL is to allow for the recirculation and easy CIP (Clean In Place) once everything is setup and running.  A brew-stand is on the 'to do' list, but since it's not essential for making some beer, it's toward the end of the list.  For the moment the old table-thing one of our neighbors was throwing out and a few milk-crates should do an adequate job.  The milk crates are cable-tied together and to the stand so that they can't move or tip, adding an element of stability and safety.
Many home-brewers, both in the UK and Australia, use the Little Brown Solar Pumps without issue or complaint, and I was happy to do so as well, and included one in the design of the new setup.  However, after pulling one apart, I'm not sure it's something that will have a permanent place in my brewery.

I do not question that they are a cheap and useful solution.  However they also have a number of small, fiddly internal parts, some of which are made of metal, and the impeller, shaft and housing are really not sealed that well, so I can easily see wort and other contaminates getting - and staying - into the various internal components of the pump.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Brewery Build #14: Fit-out, Leak Test & Burn-in

After spending some time, and copious quantities of pink plumbing tape screwing all the fittings together, fitting them to the kegs and getting everything setup, I've come to some realizations that would have made the build-process easier had I known them in advance.

Tapered fittings (such as American NPT) work best for pipe-to-pipe type connections, such as attaching valves to fittings or camlocks.  The tapered thread, combined with some thread-tape, locks the fitting in place and prevents leaks without additional seals or gaskets.

However, tapered NPT fittings are less useful when making bulkhead-type connections, such as connecting fittings through the keg walls.  Due to the tapered thread, the nut or fitting must tighten exactly as it compresses the gasket or washer against the wall of the vessel  However, especially when thread-tape is applied (which is essential to ensure there are no leaks along the thread) the fitting can easily lock-tight too quickly and not seal to the side of the vessel or not tighten quickly enough, potentially allowing for leaks along the not-sealed-thread.
In the photograph above, both a steel and silicon washer (not visible) are required before the nut can tighten the taper-threaded nipple to the side of the keg.

On the other hand parallel threaded fittings (such as British Standard Pipe Parallel thread (BSPP)) work much better as bulk-head connections.  Thread-tape prevents any leaks along the thread as the connection tightens securely against the side of the vessel.
In this case the parallel threaded nipple required only the locknut and a silicon o-ring to make a water tight seal on the side of the keg.  The disadvantage with parallel threaded fittings is that when creating pipe-to-pipe type connections an extra seal or gasket is needed that the fittings must fully 'tighten into' in order to create a water-tight seal.

With this in mind - and knowing that at 1/2 inch size both BSP and NTP threads mate without problem - bulkhead type connections through the wall of a vessel would be made best with an parallel BSP thread, while fitting-to-fitting connections like the ball valves, are best using tapered NTP thread.

Since the Chinese Ebay supplied lock-nuts have a groove cut in them (which most local fitting suppliers and LHBS usually charge considerably more for), the easiest and cheapest method for sealing through-keg bulkhead seals was simply to use the nut and a silicon o-ring (as per the picture of the thermowell above).  However as the fitting is tightened the o-rings can deform or break easily making them less than useful, and essentially useless in any situation that does not have a channeled-nut for them to sit inside.  As a result many of the fittings required both a silicon washer and stainless shim-washer so that the fitting would hold tight against the wall of the keg.

While it might reduce the life of the seal, and potentially be the source of contamination (but since the seals are silicon this should not be a problem), most bulkhead fittings were sealed on the inside.  This was to stop the water/wort from getting into the threaded connection and between the fitting and the keg-walls, which could happen more easily if the seals were located on the outside of the keg.

With all the fittings attached it was nice to see that the sight-glass worked as expected.  The silicon is transparent enough to easily see the water-line, however over time, I expect it will go cloudy so the little floaty-ball should be more useful.
With everything attached, fitted and sealed, it was time for a leak and burn-in test.  As with most things, the first few fittings that I attached leaked a bit and needed to be tightened or re-assembled, but by the time I was finished all of the seals were water-tight first time.  Once that was done it was time for a burn-in test, or more correctly a boil-in, by connecting the element directly to the power-socket and running it for about an hour.
While such a test, after all the leaks had been eliminated, might appear pedantic, in this case the silicon seal 'slipped' - likely due to the fitting being over-tightened - after about 45mins and ended up spilling boiling water all over the floor.  Since the HLT will be elevated, I'd much rather find the problem by testing, than when it was set in-place on the stand at eye-level.
The boil-in test also showed the consequence of my being lazy and not carefully cleaning the inside of the keg after cutting, drilling, filing and working with the keg, small patches of rust developed during the 1 hour long boil:
Most likely these were the result of small contamination on the stainless surface from the various drilling, cutting and filing processes.  Luckily using some of the Stainless Cleaner, a scrubby and a bit of rubbing removed them fairly quickly.
And soon the inside of the keg was looking as good as new again, next time I'll make sure I clean them more pedantically after any metal work.
In order to minimize the risks of the potential weak-point where the cord-flex attaches to the electric element, I wrapped some tape and spiral wrap around that point and then attached the cord securely to the plug housing.  Hopefully this should reduce any pulling or flexing at the point of weakness, and increase the safety and longevity of the fitting and element.
Even after the 1 hour test-boil the cord and connection were quite warm, so it's easy to understand how a bit of pressure or pulling could cause problems.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Brewery Build #13: Insulation

Stainless steel kegs - especially when buffed and polished - look good and add a very nice bling-factor.  When I was at the hardware shop I actually picked up a flap-disk with thoughts of polishing the stainless and making it look pretty.  However, I returned the disk to the shelf when I realized I wanted my brewery to be more about making good beer than looking good - besides it's not as if anyone, except myself, will be looking at it anyway.

While it is uglier than bare polished steel, insulated kegs are more logical and sensible, and while the energy-cost-savings are likely to be small, they will add up over time.  In addition since the brewery will be electric heated, there is no problems with open flames or melting insulation to worry about.
At the last council-clean-up one of our neighbors was throwing away this camping mat/insulation/stuff, it's about an inch thick and black-rubber-stuff on one side and blue on the other.  The pipe-insulation was on chuck-out special at Bunnings for $1.50, so the biggest cost to fully insulate the brewery was a couple of roles of silver-tape from Aldi.

The insulation was cut into strips 15inches high and 52-53inches long, I used the 32mm hole-saw where holes for fittings were required, and used the roll of tape as a template to cut out around where the elements will fit.
Two rolls of silver-Aldi tape later and all three kegs were wrapped up.  I'll likely need to use some other - more sticky tape - on the top so that water/wort spills don't get under the tap at the top,  make a mess or drip down inside the insulation.

The bottom layer of insulation was a little more difficult to install fit, since it didn't really want to stick down in place..
But copious quantities of tape stuck it in place.
While they look short, dumpy and ugly now, the latex does show off their curves. ;)
The bottom layer of insulation needed to be made more shifter-friendly, so that the valve and fitting could be more easily maintained:
... and with the cut-out tucked in under the valve:

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Brewery Build #12: Sight Glass

A sight-glass on the HLT will help measure water into the mash and also (hopefully) be a visual reminder for me not to let the element in the HLT run dry.  The kits from BrewHardware look quite good, however due to their length postage is not very cost effective, and the similar kits I could find locally are about $60-70.  In addition the information about Polycarbonate and it's relation to being food-safe did not fill me with confidence - even though the Polycarbonate sight tubes are very clear and easy to read.

Using the concepts from BrewHardware's kit, the sight 'glass' for the HLT is very simple; a couple of stainless elbows and nipples, a few washers and a lenght of silicon hose, and hose clamps to hold it in place:

Since the silicon tube is not very transparent, I borrowed the little ball-thing from a kitchen kettle and added a couple of small washers that sit on the elbows so that it does not float away or get lost:
I was asked for some more information and pictures of the sight-glass, so here they are.

Completed, with insulation on the HLT:
Due to the positioning of the elbows (and the curve at the top and bottom of the keg) and the elbow 'height', the lowest volume marking displayed is 13L and the highest 37L (the heating element is exposed at 10L) so as long as the water level is shown in the sight glass it will not boil-dry.  Completed, marked and set-up it looks like this:
Due to the thickness of the insulation, a hex nipple was needed on the outside of the keg to 'space' the elbows out far enough, so on the inside the fitting looks like this:
At the top (photo above) the fitting comprises (from the inside):
Nut - washer - flat silicon washer - keg wall - hex nipple - elbow.
The bottom fitting did not need the extra washers so:
Nut (with o-ring groove) - o-ring - keg wall - hex nipple - elbow.

In the first photo (bare keg with no insulation) the elbows could sit closer to the keg-wall so the fitting hex-nipple could be installed on the inside of the keg  (from the inside):
Hex nipple - keg wall - flat silicon washer (or o-ring) - elbow.

Brewery Build #11: Ball Valves

Even after their bath in sodium percarbonate, the ball valves still had a rather nasty chemical/grease/manufacturing smell to them.  Since I didn't want this in my beer, I pulled them apart and gave them a good internal clean and removed all the industrial-type grease that was packed around the ball and seals.  When reassembling them I used a very small amount of food-grade keg-lube, but since they will not be turned on or off very often, it was probably not necessary.

Ball valves are probably the most common type of tap or valve used in home-brewery situations.  The main reason for this is that they can be disassembled and cleaned inside and out.  Ball valves generally come in three types, 1, 2 and 3-piece, 1-piece valves are not often used since they cannot be disassembled, so the choice is really between 2 and 3-piece valves.

Both 2 and 3-piece valves can taken apart to completely clean them inside, obviously the 3-piece valves have more pieces and are slightly easier to clean when pulled-apart, however the 2-piece valves are just as easy to disassemble and with a rag or brush very easy to fully clean inside.
3-piece ball valves are disassembled by undoing the 4 body-bolts, and while this allows the valve to be taken apart while one end is still attached to the fitting - allowing for it to be cleaned in situ - I can't imagine how this is of much benefit to a normal home-brewery situation.  When reassembled two Teflon seals hold/seal the ball in place as well as providing a leak-proof seal between the three pieces of the valve.

2-piece valves are disassembled by unscrewing the two body parts, so as well as the two Teflon ball-seals,  2-piece valves have an additional smaller (and somewhat insubstantial and apparently easier to mangle) Teflon seal between the two body pieces.
Both 2 and 3-piece valves can easily be disassembled for full cleaning, and while the seals in the 3-piece valves do appear more substantial, 3-piece valves are also about 30% to 50% more expensive than similar 2-piece valves.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Brewery Build #10: Fittings (revisited)

As mentioned in Brewery Build Update #4, most plumbing fittings came from the USA or China, but unfortunatly those usually take at least 2 weeks or longer for stuff to get here. Now that I have the majority of the equipment and fittings (and kegs are getting empty) I want to start brewing.  However, when I did a mock-fit-out, I was missing a small number of critical fittings and did not want to wait weeks for them to get here. So today I visited a local stainless-fittings supplier (ProChem) and as a result, was pleasantly surprised that their prices compared well to the imported fittings.  Also nice to find was that the ProChem fittings are noticeably better quality and finish than the Ebay ones - obviously they don't deliver to your door, but it's likely I'll source future fittings from them where possible.

Purchasing the local BSP fittings, also allowed me to test my earlier claim about BSP and NPT fittings being inter-changeable at 1/2 inch size.
From left: American NPT camlock, Australian BSP nipple, Chinese NPT cross, Australian BSP elbow, Chinese NPT nipple.  All these fittings fit snugly and with or without plumbing tape are tight and secure. At 1/2 inch size the only real difference between the NPT and BSP fittings is a difference in thread-pitch, so with some plumbing tape and a little care they all mate together without issue.

The other thing to mention is buying stainless washers - which are required make sure the silicon washers fit tightly and help make the tapered thread fitting bulkheads sit snugly against the side of the kegs. Washer suppliers will deal only with the internal hole-size (and the external diameter) of the washers, meaning that if you ask for "1/2 inch washers" or even explain that you want "washes to fit 1/2 inch plumbing fittings" they'll (try to) give you washers where the internal hole is 1/2 inch wide - and these wont fit onto 1/2 inch plumbing fittings (since the 1/2 inch size refers to the internal size of the fitting not the size outside the thread), as you can see below:
I think the guy at the washer-shop said the correct size was 3/4 inch but they seem to measure 13/16 inch (if that's even a real size for washer holes I don't know), the good thing is that if you go to a dedicated industrial fasteners shop, you'll pay between 5-40cents for washers that will fit 1/2 inch plumbing fittings, but that sell for $1.50-2.00 each and home-brew shops.

Before everything gets fitted, I figured it was a good idea to ensure that it was clean - especially the imported fittings. All the fittings had a bath in hot water and sodium percarbonate, then a citric acid bath and a rinse in water before drying:
The kegs will also get a wash with sodium percarbonate and - especially anywhere I have drilled, cut, filed or grinded - a good scrub (with a non metallic kitchen scrub-mat-thing) with some Stainless Steel Cleaner (which contains Oxalic acid, citric acid and other random stuff including AES, K12, ETA-2NA) which should help re-passivated the stainless, especially around the areas I have worked.
This stuff is great for cleaning up any minor surface rust (like the various external dents and scratches on the kegs), a bit of a rub with a wet kitchen-scrubby and the rust is gone and the stainless is nicely shiny and passivated again.

I mentioned earlier that the first batch of Chinese fittings were not that great quality, they'll still work fine and I'll use the fittings in non-critical areas like the sight-glass on the HLT, but still the workmanship was a bit shoddy:
The other thing to not when dealing with fittings is that they do not appear to have a standard size - the "1/2 inch size" is really a reference to the internal diameter and is essentially just a number now and not anything real.  So while they are all 1/2 inch fittings, and all mate together without much issue, the outside diameter, length and even thread-length of the fittings can vary depending on where and when they were purchased:
Each of these fittings is lined up exactly on the edge of the bench, however each is longer, taller or have longer thread-length than the other. Again it's not a major issue, however, it's something to consider if you're designing stuff that depends on specific size fittings.

Unfortunately after I washed all the fittings (as above) it seems that the external-body-bolts on the 3-piece ball-valve have rusted:
These were supposed to be all 316 grade stainless, and while the bolts are stamped 'A2' - which means they should be 304 grade stainless - they're clearly not if they've rusted after drying with a few spots of water on them. Interestingly these were purchased from two different Ebay vendors, so I'd guess that either the manufacturer or distributor has cut some corners or something. Both vendors were quick to provide refunds, and I'll pull them apart and remove the rust and be more careful, but I presume the external-body-bolts are some inferior grade of steel which will easily rust when it gets wet, so will likely need to be replaced.