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I'm in over my head? But I'm doing it anyway!

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I have a project I've been thinking about since I got into aquariums and no one I know cares, so I thought I would share my ideas and plans for this with other shrimp enthusiasts. I've been granted access, wife said so, to a corner near the entry way of my house to build this thing and I'm doing it!

Wish me luck...


My wife and kid are visiting family in China for a month this summer and to occupy myself in their absence I plan on building a big bad ass automated aquarium cabinet to replace the cheap tacky 2x4 rack I use currently. I am a cabinetmaker by trade, an electrical engineer by education and computer programmer by hobby so this shouldn't be too difficult for me (hahahahahaha), but it will take a lot of time planning/building and probably won't be cheap. I will be using cabinet grade materials for this and finishing it just like I would for a client. It will look nice, per requirements of my wife.


So far I've come up with a rough layout of my design for the cabinet (pic attached) and haven't starting designing the electronic control circuits yet. I've been wanting to build an "automated" aquarium for quite a long time and have slowly acquired more than enough components to make this work. I would like to eventually plumb it into my water system and make it fully automated, but for now water changes will still be a thing. It will have two reservoirs for RODI water and waste water until I decide to tear open walls and run supply and drain lines into it.


My plan is to have a touch screen LCD display water parameters, control lighting, display messages, and basically control any other function I think of building into the system. It will be connected to my wireless network, send text messages in the event of catastrophic failures (electrical, leakage, structural, etc.) and reminders to empty or fill reservoirs. The feeding of shrimp and cleaning of the front glass will be automated as will the maintenance of user set water parameters.


PH will be controlled automatically by a Co2 system with a custom PH feedback controller, GH and TDS will be controlled automatically by adding calculated amounts of RODI water or a concentrated solution of mineralizer, temp is controlled by inline water heaters and a DIY chiller, the doors will have electronic locks so my two year old doesn't get into my shit, and the whole thing will be connected to my wireless network and have a custom blue tooth app so I can have mood lighting with the RGB LED strips ;) I'm not really concerned with monitoring KH, Ammonia, Nitrates, or Nitrites as those have never been an issue with a fully cycled filter, but could add it in the future when a cheap hackable sensor hits the market. 


The whole system will consist of three 20 gallon longs as display tanks and two "breeder drawers" I designed to maximize space in breeding projects. Tanks will be drilled and plumbed together for a single 70-80 gallon volume of water. 


WTF is a breeder drawer? I'm not quite sure yet, but I was staring at my wall of little storage bins I keep my electronic components in and thought, "what if I could build a similar setup to breed shrimp and separate traits, lines, and generations without having to maintain a billion tanks, that would be cool?." So, I designed a thing to house many tiny tanks in one unit all connected together with lots of tubes and valves and the breeder drawer was alive, patent pending. Each unit would house around 40 partitions in a cubic foot of space, only question is how much space does a shrimp need to chill out and breed? I'm building a smaller prototype to test this idea, if it doesn't work or is a pain I will find another use for the two spaces in my cabinet.


That is all for now, I know I forgot some stuff but it's late and I've written enough to include a TLDR...



Guy wants to build an over complicated aquarium setup so he can merge all his passions into one and have a glorious shrimp rack that is controlled by artificial intelligence, bought and paid for by the Chinese government.



Rough cabinet design. It will look real nice, I promise.



Very rough breeder drawer design. It's much cooler in my head, I swear.

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Yes, I will be taking pics of the build. Might get some material from my lumber supplier next week and start on the cabinet, just have to calculate how much I need and decide if I want to use Walnut or something less expensive.


*Wahoo! Just talked my brother into giving me a bunch of old walnut slabs to build this thing.

1489088318603-602287145.jpg.9aabf52427d58368b14297883da20fc4.jpgThat stuff doesn't look too sexy now, but it is some of the most beautiful wood I've worked with. That means I starting this project tonight!!! :D

Edited by MrShrimpo

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So I managed to mill the rough lumber into usable pieces, they're not perfect but they have lots of character. The face frame is assembled and ready for sanding. Took lots of pics of the process... 

This wood has been on a shelf for years collecting dust and before that it was in a barn for a long time after the tree was cut by some dude. 


Some of the rough lumber that was long enough for my needs. I used another couple slabs for the door rails and stiles.


I love this wood, by far my favorite species. Coco bolo is close though...


Marked my cut line for a straight edge. Left side...


Cut a sorta straight line on the big band saw


Plaining to thickness and bringing life back into this old wood.


Making a straight square edge to work off of.


Ripping to width


Told you walnut is sexy when cleaned up, and it makes my shop smell so good.


Strips all cut to length


I love my pocket hole my pocket hole machine. It would suck to have to use a jig for Pocket holes with the amount I use in cabinets.


Backside after some pocket holes


Almost too big for my assembly table


Assembled face frame.


Took about 4 hours start to finish, and still a long way from being done. I will do some more work on this on Saturday.

Until then.. 


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I've decided to use some cherry molding as accents and to hide some of the defects in the old walnut. 

It is hard to focus on work with this in my shop, lol. I've come up with the design for the doors and side panels. Instead of buying a $100 sheet of 1/4" walnut ply for the panels I will be using the old wood again for raised panels with cherry inlay. Should look sweet!

Now, it's back to work building some cabinets...



Cherry molding test piece


I should be working... but it's friday.


I'm liking this.


*Updated* My "rendering" (not to scale). Moved the LCD to inside the cabinet and will use small hidden capacitive touch sensors to lock and unlock the doors :) 


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Arduino! Hell yes.Going to buy the Mega, mostly because I don't have one and have been looking for an excuse to get one. Most of my projects are smaller and I just use an Attiny84/85 depending on I/O requirements. The double serial ports on the Mega will come in handy though.

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You can buy a PH module with probe that can communicate with an Arduino via serial for like $25 on ebay. Then just write some code and connect it to an LCD for display, or as I'm doing connecting it to relay controlling the solenoid on the Co2 system.

TDS is a little trickier, but doable. Just have to reverse engineer a cheapo meter and hack into it to make it arduino compatible, or spend lots of money for a really nice meter.



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I can already tell this is gonna be awesome. I love the idea of automation when it comes to caring for tank inhabitants. I don't currently automate anything other than the lights and a few heaters, but I want to get some auto feeders for my guppies. If anything, my next step for my shrimp is to get a simple temperature controller for a heater and fan.


I wish you lived closer. I've been wanting something to house my big Alita air pump to cut down on the noise, but keep it cool at the same time, since all of tanks are in my bedroom.

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Today I all the parts made for the 2 side panels and got them fit together. I did have to alter the design a little to accommodate for narrow boards, but I think it looks good. The doors will look the same just narrower. I still have to make the lock miter on the panels and face frame, run a cove around the cherry trim, and of course sand everything. Once that is done I can do the final assembly and it will be ready to be sprayed.


First panel


Cherry molding is raised above the walnut to match the other trim, which means no belt sander :/


Coming along nicely

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2 hours ago, shamedic said:

WOW this looks very nice anymore updates

Yes, my kid has been sick so I haven't been in the shop to wok on the cabinets this week. I have had time to plan the electronics and plumbing a little more.

I also purchased the materials for the box of the cabinet and started writing the program to be the brains. I decided to use two Arduino Mega, one for the brain and the other to control the LCD and pass through parameters. I still have to write the Android app for my phone, but there is time... and things are always changing as I go along.

I've also decided to build a Heater/Chiller using an electronic Peltier plate which can heat or cool in one piece, should be sweet! I'm also running my RODI directly into the system to maintain water levels and having a pump with float sensors for easy water changes. Should be able to just put a hose into a bucket, push a button and 4-5 gallons will be pumped into the bucket.

I bought a bunch of electronic stuff for the cabinet too :)



Rough idea of the electronics blocked out.



Layout of sensors, lights, and plumbing



Mockup of the LCD controller


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I haven't thought about that much, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to throw it up on git hub.


I snuck away to the shop tonight and got things sanded, glued, and assembled. :)

Still have some more trim to add before I move it into the spray booth, but at least now I have exact dimensions for the box.


Made some lock miter joints for the side panels.


Clamping the lock miter while the glue sets


Left panel


Right panel


I just used some 2" strips of 1/4" ply scrap to secure the walnut panel from the back so it can float. It will be covered by the box and never seen so it looks like crap, but whatever. On the doors though I will cut some 1/4" cherry ply to fit the space, sand, and spray to make it look nice.


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Got some more work done today! Test fit the box to the frame and everything lines up and fits perfectly! Still need to knock down the sharp edges on everything and finish the box. But it is coming along and more parts for the electronics arrive in the mail everyday:)



Added some more cherry trim on the doors, matches everything better and allowed me to remove some defects and worm holes in the walnut.






Backside looks good too.



Box fits good. I made a removable back piece for the center so I can get the tanks in and out as they won't fit through the front. I did that intentionally so the frame will hide the plumbing for the tank.


I decided to make six walnut pullouts for the top two openings where I will have small drawer tanks for breeding (6"x6"x12"). They will also be plumbed into the whole system. The bottom space will have two pullouts for storage. Actually, it's upside down...



That's the correct orientation. I might build the base for the box tomorrow morning so I can stand it up and make some more room in my shop. I have cabinets everywhere right now and little room to work :/

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On 3/10/2017 at 8:29 PM, techsmith said:

Sweet Ive been debating if I want to try and build a controller to check ph and tds.

Sent from my SM-G935P using Tapatalk

I found an EC meter for arduino on ebay for like $75, with some math you can get a good reading of TDS for your project. Let me know if you get it and we can work together on the code, eh?

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