BBQ Smoker Trailer Automation With Wireless Interface
A couple of years ago, ACI automated a smoker trailer with an Opto22 groov RIO and Node-Red. This was a fun project that proves you can automate just about any process so lets dive into it.
An employee of one of our customers came to us with an idea to automate a BBQ smoker, so we started some R&D on the best way to go about it. The first iteration was a proof of concept on a small backyard smoker using an Arduino board and some actuators controlling the smoke valve.
Using an Arduino presented its own challenges and limitations. A big one was the operating temperature. When it got too hot then the board started malfunctioning or just stopped working all together. This being just a proof of concept didn't make it a big deal though. Another was the limited IO the board supported but, again, not a big deal for this particular application. We were only proving that it could be done, albeit in a limited fashion.
Our final iteration was much more robust and allowed for an increase in functionality to say the least. Using a groov RIO with a USB WiFi dongle , an industrial grade access point, and Node-Red we had a control system with a wireless GUI ready to install on the trailer. What we normally use for smaller jobs is a Siemens micro PLC, but if you want to have an operator interface on top of that then you’ve gone way over the cost of groov RIO, whereas RIO has the I/O, control, and user interface all in one. We added two auxiliary heating elements to the BBQ pit for supplemental heat, three thermocouples and a linear screw actuator to control the smoke inlet valve. The GUI accepts a master temperature setpoint and deadband variables for two separate heating zones, which it uses to calculate the required high and low smoke temperature setpoints. All of this is powered using a Westinghouse gas generator so you can setup anywhere you want.
Using Node-Red gave us the ability to implement a wireless user interface that can be controlled using any tablet or phone. Being able to run it with a browser is huge because it gives you a lot of flexibility. As long as you are within range of the trailer WiFi signal you can monitor and control the smoking process. This makes visiting other trailers at a BBQ competition easy, while still keeping an eye on your own meats. Using temperature trends and timer setpoints, you can begin to see how useful a system like this can be. When the preset smoke time as elapsed, a message is sent to the user via text and/or email indicating that it is time to eat.
We all know that smoking meat takes time and that means night time barbequing. So to top it all off we added LED rope lights to the underside of the roof to light up the work area for those late night or early morning smoke sessions.
We were very excited how this turned out but it wasn't without its difficulties. Placement of the actuator to properly operate the smoke valve took a few times to get right. Configuring the access point to pair with the RIO reliably and consistently had its issues which we eventually resolved. Finally, the Node-Red control flows took some trial & error to get exactly as we envisioned it should operate. Despite those challenges, ACI delivered a fantastic automated solution for this BBQ smoker trailer. If you would like to apply a similar solution to your BBQ trailer then contact ACI at Sales@totallyautomated.com . We can provide a complete control system, designed with your specific needs in mind, that you can install yourself.