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PC based electronic monitoring and control

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I’m looking to build a home brewing system, and am overly interested in the programming/automation aspects of a project like this. I’m a programmer by trade and my main motivation is to write a PC based program to control the process of brewing beer.

Without explaining the whole beer brewing process I’ll have three containers in this application that I would like monitor the heat and volume of (temperature(input) and pressure(input) sensors). I’d also like to control the heat of all three containers using some heating element (gas solenoid valve (output) or electric water heater element (output)). Lastly I’d like to turn on a pump or set of pumps to move liquid from one container to another. I plan to control all the outputs using solid state relays.

So that’s a very brief and stripped down version of what I’d like to accomplish. Now my question is what type of control board or control system can I use to monitor the inputs and activate the outputs from a PC? I have no interest is programming a PLC to do the control for me. I’d like 100% of the control coming from a program I write. All I want is an Ethernet based controller that I can send commands to (i.e. open valve 1 or turn on pump 2) and read input from (i.e. what’s the temperature reading of probe 1 or what’s the volume in container 2). I understand I’ll need to program things like temperature control, and it would be a great deal easier to just let something like a PID control this for me. It’s this aspect of writing my own software control that really gets me excited.

The following is the closest thing I’ve found to what I’m looking for, but I’m unsure if I can drive 100% of the control from a PC or if I simply use a PC to program the PLC and then it drives the actual control.

PC-Based Soft Logic Controllers

The BCS-640 is also very close to what I’m looking for aside from the fact it won’t accept advanced sensors like a pressure sensor and has a very limited number of I/O ports. I again understand I could use something like a float switch and don’t need pressure sensors, but I’d like to have as granular of control as possible.

Embedded Control Concepts: BCS-460 Temperature Controller

Any help and or advice would be greatly appreciated.


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