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Thread: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

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    JasonLion's Avatar
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    AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    Vision

    The AutoPilot Total Control System promises to automatically regulate both chlorine and PH, eliminating all of the daily chores except cleaning out the skimmer basket. This is the only unit sold in the consumer market that includes these features. After spending nearly a whole season with an AutoPilot Total Control system I thought I would share my experiences.

    Components

    The Total Control System consists of a digital control unit very similar to their Digital model, a manifold and cell ***embly identical to their other units, an acid tank with a peristaltic pump to inject acid into the pool, and a pool chemistry controller which includes Oxidation Reduction Potential (ORP) and PH sensors. There is also an optional auxiliary relay kit if you want the Total Control System to control your pump.

    Pricing

    The Total Control System is substantially more expensive than the regular Pool Pilot Digital system, which uses the same SWG manifold/cell and a nearly identical digital control unit. A deep discount price for the Total Control system with auxiliary relay and SC-60 cell is around $2300, while the Pool Pilot Digital system with SC-60 cell goes for around $1000 from similar deep discount vendors. Neither price includes installation.

    The Total Control system also has additional maintenance expenses. The PH and ORP sensors should be replaced every two years which costs close to $400. Over six years the Total Control system would cost on the order of $2100 more than the Digital system. That could be as much as three times the cost over six years (ignoring installation and electricity costs which should be similar).

    Features

    Many of the features of the Total Control System are shared with the Pool Pilot Digital: both are salt water chlorine generators with a friendly alphanumeric display, automatic temperature compensation, a byp*** manifold ***embly, optional control of the pump, flexible salt levels, failure of the pump to prime protection, freeze protection, and support for pools of up to 50,000 gallons. The Total Control System adds automatic regulation of both FC and PH.

    Install

    Installation went smoothly. Most of the install is the same as for any SWG; plumb the cell/manifold, then physically mount and wire electricity to the control unit. The Total Control System additionally required locating the acid tank/pump ***embly and wiring it into the control unit.

    Then holes are drilled into the manifold and into a pipe on the intake side of the pump. The holes are used to connect hoses for water to feed the sensor ***embly and the acid feed line. Drilling the holes was easy. The quick clamp on hose connectors worked quite well and have not leaked at all. There wasn't quite as much tubing supplied as I would have liked, but I managed get everything hooked up with the tubing provided.

    Manual

    The manual is a mixed bag. The sections on installation were complete and readable, though they could have used another diagram or two. The descriptions of the various configuration options were lacking, however. The manual fails to make clear what several of the options are for and when you might want to use them. It was only after speaking with technical support that I discovered that the ORP Overfeed and PH Overfeed features are only intended for quite small pools and should be left disabled with any reasonable sized pool.

    Technical Support

    I had very mixed results with contacting technical support. My unit came with the wrong cell cable. A very friendly person at Auto Pilot had the correct cable in the mail to me the same day I first contacted them. Later when I was having problems with the ORP Overfeed and PH Overfeed settings I had two attempts to contact technical support go completely ignored.

    I then switched to talking to Poolsean, an AutoPilot representative who is active on the forums, who was remarkably friendly and helpful. However he did not know the answers to all of my questions and so he tried to connect me to the technical support department. Again all contacts to technical support went unanswered, even through Poolsean was making the introductions.

    Finally, after a couple of weeks of failing to get in touch with technical support, Poolsean got me in touch with a senior engineer who was finally able to answer my questions.

    PH Sensor

    The automated PH control has proven to be highly effective. The system has held the PH between 7.45 and 7.52 quite reliably. The vast majority of the time the PH is between 7.47 and 7.5. Comparing the PH reading to a Taylor PH test over three months I have not detected any drift in the PH sensor reading.

    Aeration from the hydrogen bubbles produced during chlorine generation raises PH. The system compensates, by adding muriatic acid using a peristaltic pump. The acid slowly lowers the total alkalinity. Two or three times a year I need to add more acid to the tank and put a couple of pounds of baking soda into the pool.

    I find it entertaining that the Total Control system turns what is normally considered a disadvantage of a SWG, the tendency to increase PH, into an advantage. Since the cell will consistently raise the PH, the automation systems only needs to be able to lower the PH, to have complete control.

    ORP Sensor

    I was never able to get the ORP sensor to work in any useful way. As long as the system is producing chlorine, the ORP reading goes steadily down instead of up. The result is that the unit either never produces chlorine or always produces chlorine, depending on how the ORP goal is set. If I disable chlorine generation for a day, the ORP reading comes back to a more reasonable level.

    AutoPilot believes that this behavior is caused by hydrogen gas, produced by the system, dissolving in the water. They suspect that something about my plumbing configuration causes the hydrogen to dissolve instead of bubbling to the surface. Dissolved hydrogen gas is known to lower ORP readings, and in my situation, this effect seems to be larger than the increase in ORP from added chlorine.

    There is nothing particularly unusual about my plumbing. I have a single skimmer and a single return, both about 20 feet from the equipment pad connected with 1.5" pipe. I know that many other users of the Total Control System don't have this problem, but I have no way of knowing how widespread it really is.

    There are various other known quirks with ORP sensors that can cause problems in specific situations. Non-chlorine shocks can sometimes cause high ORP readings, even when chlorine levels are quite low, leaving a pool unsanitized. CYA levels above 50 can reduce the change in ORP as chlorine increases to such small values that accurate automation is impossible. Readings vary from one ORP sensor to another and no reliable calibration standard exists. Therefore, ORP readings can only be taken as a relative indication and not as an absolute number.

    Fortunately, the Total Control System can be configured to use the usual percentage-based chlorine production control, ignoring the ORP sensor, while still automatically regulating PH. With the automatic temperature compensation feature, and our fairly consistent bather load, the percentage based control works quite well. Still, it has been quite frustrating working slowly through all of the other possible causes for ORP reading errors for weeks, only to discover that there seems to be no hope of the unit ever working as designed.

    Conclusion

    The Total Control System fails to live up to its promise of automating both chlorine and PH levels. While we have been thrilled with the features shared with their Digital system and with the PH automation, the ORP controller completely failed to regulate chlorine levels. ORP sensors used for automation of public pools have a very mixed record. Even if you don't experience the particular problem we encountered, there are too many potential issues with ORP based automation. I do not recommend it for residential use.

    The deficiencies in AutoPilot's technical support department also weigh more heavily against the Total Control System than their other products. It is easy to get support for their Digital system from various forums should you experience problems with their technical support. But knowledge about ORP automation is limited and there are many possible pitfalls. Without active support from AutoPilot, ORP based automation should be left to the dedicated hobbyists.

    All that said, PH automation is a wonderful feature. It would be nice to see support for PH automation become available in a less expensive package. Percentage-based control over chlorine production is good enough for most situations. Adding PH automation to the Digital system, and leaving out the ORP feature, would be a much more appropriate combination for residential pools.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

  2. Back To Top    #2

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    JasonLion,

    Nice work! This is one of the most well-written reviews that I have seen in a long time.

    That is a shame that you could not get the ORP sensor to work. I would assume that AutoPilot will step up to the plate in some way and issue some sort of refund or warranty reparations?

    It looks like the Hayward PSC 2100 system has pH and ORP sensors, but it doesn't look like it is a current product of Hayward. http://www.haywardnet.com/products/Manu ... ual104.pdf

    Also, the new Poolux system from Balboa appears to have pH and ORP, but there doesn't appear to be much infomation on the unit on the Internet except at the Balboa website. http://www.balboainstruments.com/page216.html

    Titaniium
    24,000 gallon inground freeform pool/spa circa 1983 (113 ft perimeter, 625 sq ft) with 350 gallon attached spill-over spa
    2007 2 HP, three-phase Hayward TriStar pump which is powered by an Ikeric VS-200 variable speed drive system
    1983 Laars XE Pool/Spa Heater Type ES 400,000 BTU, 1998 Hayward Super Star-Clear C-4000 cartridge filter (400 sq ft, 4 separate cartridges)
    1998 Polaris 380 pressure-side cleaner w/ 3/4 HP booster pump
    One skimmer :( and one PoolSkim :), One Supervision Galaxy LED pool lamp, Second story solar panels
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    Well done review. Thanks for taking the time.
    Buggs

    14,000 gallon, in ground, plaster, free form, play pool.
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    Very nice review here. Hopefully the manufacturer will address some of the bugs in the system.
    Fortune favors the well prepared

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    Freeform 24' x 38' IG gunite. 3 1/2' to 8' deep. 28,500 gallons. AutoPilot Total Control SWCG. Pentair Intelliflo VF. Pentair CCP520 cartridge filter. Colorlogic LED lights. Tahoe Blue Diamond Brite. 1200 sq ft stamped concrete deck.
    More details as they happen...

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    From_Arizona's Avatar
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    Jason -Thank you for taking the time to write a robust and thorough review!
    1980's Shasta built 30,000 gal inground diving pool. Pebble-tec interior. Pentair DE Filter. In ground pop-ups. Hayward Navigator sweeper.

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    Just so you all don't think I'm ignoring Jason's post, he was very professional and forwarded his review to me prior to posting it here. I highly respect Jason for doing so.

    Just be aware that this is not a universal problem that we are needing to address as a manufacturer, as there are thousands of Total Control installations that are not exhibiting the same as Jason has reviewed. However, there are a few and because of that, they are of concern to us that there are any issues like these at all! Therefore, our need to research and try to recreate and resolve these type issues.
    Sean Assam - Sean@teamhorner.com
    National Accounts and Commercial Products Manager
    AquaCal Heat Pumps www.aquacal.com
    AutoPilot Salt Chlorine Generators www.autopilot.com

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    Jason,

    Did you ever get your ORP issue resolved or still just running percentage based chlorine production?

    Jim
    Fortune favors the well prepared

    The build...
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    Freeform 24' x 38' IG gunite. 3 1/2' to 8' deep. 28,500 gallons. AutoPilot Total Control SWCG. Pentair Intelliflo VF. Pentair CCP520 cartridge filter. Colorlogic LED lights. Tahoe Blue Diamond Brite. 1200 sq ft stamped concrete deck.
    More details as they happen...

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    JasonLion's Avatar
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    No, I never got the ORP issue resolved. I have found out more about the chemistry that might be involved and found other people with the same problem and even a few leads on very expensive ways to fix it that no one is sure will work.

    In the mean time I have found that simple percentage based control is really just fine for an outdoor pool. Once you get it figured out the temperature compensation takes care of most of the adjustments and all you have to worry about is the occasional pool party requiring some extra bleach in advance and afterwards.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    We have recently purchased the total control system.I wanted to share my views.The system works well on automating ph,however it doesnt work for ORP.I am having the same problem as Jasonlion,the ORP goes down when the generator is on and goes up when it is off.This makes it it useless for chlorine monitoring.Pool pilot is working with me with e mail help to see if we can resolve the problem.I will repost any new results.The rest of the system works as advertised,however the ORP really makes me mad since I paid so much for the system.We will see.
    7500 Gallon IG Pool-Stayrite 3/4hp Max-E-Pro pump,Stayrite Modular DE 48 sq ft filter,Heat Siphon 5 hp digital heat pump,Hayward Navigator,Jandy valves and Poolpilot total control system.

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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    First, I am a new user. So happy I found this site!

    We have a 36k gallon inground pool at our Condo complex. We are looking at purchasing the AutoPilot's Total Control System. However, from JasonLion and islandtees reviews above, it appears that the results did not justify the expense. Of course, these are 2007 and 2008 reviews. Do either one of you or anyone else have an update review based on 2009 or 2010 results? Has Autopilot fixed this apparent issue?

    Thanks!

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    JasonLion's Avatar
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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    yamonjon, welcome to TFP!

    I have spoken to a number of people with Total Control systems since I wrote this review. The majority of them have no problems at all. A couple experience some of the effects I describe, but the unit still works well enough to be usable. A couple find the ORP automation completely unusable as I did. I even spoke to one person who had two pools with identical designs and chemical levels, where one pool worked just fine, and the other did not work.

    The problems seem to be inherent to the combination of ORP and a SWG. Similar issues occur in pools using other brands of ORP and SWG equipment. I doubt that there is anything AutoPilot can do to resolve the issue for residential customers. There are some approaches that seem to work around the problems, that some larger commercial customers use, but they can get expensive.

    I continue to be very happy with my unit. The PH automation and SWG portions of the system continue to function perfectly, and the simpler percentage control setup common to most SWG is perfectly fine for outdoor residential pools.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    Not being familiar with your ORP sensor setup or location I wonder if your sensors location isn't the issue. Most if not all sensors are affected by turbulence and bubbles. Typically sensors should be mounted horizontally in a zone relatively free of turbulent water where phase seperation could be an issue. It is possible the simple addition of a sump tank with the sensor located some distance off the bottom where the water is slow moving and not aerated could solve your problem. Off course contamination with body oils and lack of proper calibration could cause your issues as well, or you could just have a bunk sensor too. Sometimes the design of the system requires an enclosed sensor where a solenoid is used to control exposure of the sensor to the media requiring sensing, typically this done in a well where a sample is extracted, sensing done on the media and then a rinse and drain procedure plus storage of the sensor with appropriate buffer solution to retain sensitivity and service life. These are usually mfg design considerations that should be addressed before distribution, but the simple addition of a sump tank at the sensor locations might be all you need plus a good cleaning to remove algae or scale/oil contamination.

    Here is a link to the cleaning process for a gel filled type ORP sensor, most are similar even if construction is different (i.e. Platinum cell).
    http://www.hach.com/fmmimghach?/CODE%3A3328897873%7C1
    55 Kilolitre in-ground 18'X36' vinyl lined kidney shape, 1HP pump, Jacuzzi 250lb sand filter, RayPak Delta T 200K BTU natural gas heater. New PoolWerks "Blue Diffusion" liner on May 26th-2011
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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    4JawChuck, the sensors in the Total Control system are in a specially designed sensing cell (supplied with the system) that guarantees no bubbles, uniform slow non-turbulent flow, etc. Neither calibration, nor bad sensors, nor dirty sensors could have been the problem since multiple sensors were tried, and all were tried both straight out of the box and after recommended cleaning procedures. Likewise the sensors were tested against calibration solutions and behaved ideally under those conditions. Installing a sump tank in a typical residential pool is completely impractical.

    I spoke extensively with a senior engineer at AutoPilot and have subsequently spoken with experts from other companies, all of whom agree that the system was installed properly and was properly cleaned and calibrated. The symptoms I experience come up fairly regularly across many different residential pools when using equipment from several different manufacturers. The best available diagnosis is dissolved hydrogen gas from the SWG is driving the ORP level down any time the cell is active. The chances of enough hydrogen dissolving to cause problems appears to depend on details of the plumbing design that are not practical to change in a residential pool.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    I have a total control with a CC-15 cell that went operational toward the end of last summer. I have discovered the same problem as others, i.e., during heavy demand, whenever the cell runs ORP readings decrease. I spoke @ length with an engineer @ Autopilot who diagnosed my problem as dissolved hydrogen gas due to "my plumbing configuration". The suggested cure: just let the system fluctuate between very low and very high Chlorine while keeping PH on the mark. I see this as a bogus solution as the cell runs nonstop @ times, acid feeds continuously and I keep needing to add Baking Soda.

    So I figured I would just do %age control on the cell in PH control mode. Another bogus solution as the software will not allow (at least my version) PH control using the PH sensor and a PH setting. I must instead choose a feed rate for acid from the tank, and according to the manual, just keep trying new settings and testing the water.

    So, I have a system under warranty that the manufacturer admits does not work and I might as well have a simple cell and a simple acid tank with a feed control.....

    I appreciate the time that Autopilot took to talk to me but after paying $2,900 for a system and who knows what to install it I feel the "Gee it just doesn't work for you but lots of other folks have no problem" to be a lousy excuse for how to treat a customer. This is especially the case as Autopilot knows full well this problem exists and knew it when I bought the system.

    Any thoughts?
    40,000 gal IG w/vinyl liner, 300 sq ft cartridge filter, Dura-Glas II pump w/1 hp motor, Heat Siphon heat pump, IntelliChlor swg, Paramount Floor Cleaning System, Automatic Pool Cover

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    JasonLion's Avatar
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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    Quote Originally Posted by chulaman
    So I figured I would just do %age control on the cell in PH control mode. Another bogus solution as the software will not allow (at least my version) PH control using the PH sensor and a PH setting. I must instead choose a feed rate for acid from the tank, and according to the manual, just keep trying new settings and testing the water.
    You can configure the unit to use simple percentage based control over the cell run time, while still using the PH sensor and acid feed based on the PH reading. There are two ways to do this. Either set the "Select system" setting on the Installer menu to "pH control", or set to "Total control" and then disable the ORP sensor on the Maintenance Menu, "Enable/Disable ORP" set to disable. Also, in either case "Enable/disable Acid" must be set to enable and the chemistry unit must be connected with both sensors installed.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    Thanks JasonLion..

    Select System: pH control does not work but in Total Control mode with ORP disabled it does the trick.

    I still bugs me that Autopilot has not figured out this issue as it has been know almost 3 years.
    40,000 gal IG w/vinyl liner, 300 sq ft cartridge filter, Dura-Glas II pump w/1 hp motor, Heat Siphon heat pump, IntelliChlor swg, Paramount Floor Cleaning System, Automatic Pool Cover

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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    Thanks for the post Jason! You guys have been talking about the difficulty of ORP based pool maintenance for some time and the experience that you and others have found shows the industry has a little more work to do. I think they are close though. I was looking into pH automation and found a few that I am considering. Most of the units run in the neighborhood of $1300. I like my SWG and think that just adding the pH automation would be a great improvement.
    Carlos
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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    ORP sensors are the only affordable technology for automating FC levels that is currently available, but they have inherent flaws that can not be fixed or worked around at all easily. There is another kind of sensor that detects FC levels directly. This new kind of sensor is still way too expensive for residential use and has some reliability issues of it's own. The price has been coming down steadily over the last several years. Perhaps in another couple of years they will be affordable enough and reliable enough to start showing up in residential units.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

  19. Back To Top    #19

    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    I have been running in Total Control mode with ORP disabled for about 10 days now. Oddly, I have the system set to 36% but it periodically displays 42%. Anyone know why?

    Thanks.
    40,000 gal IG w/vinyl liner, 300 sq ft cartridge filter, Dura-Glas II pump w/1 hp motor, Heat Siphon heat pump, IntelliChlor swg, Paramount Floor Cleaning System, Automatic Pool Cover

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    JasonLion's Avatar
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    Re: AutoPilot's Total Control System Review

    That is the temperature compensation system. When the water gets warmer the unit turns up the percentage and when the water gets colder it turns down the percentage. You need to stop thinking in terms of specific numbers and just let it do it's thing.
    19K gal, vinyl, 1/2 HP WhisperFlo pump, 200 sqft cartridge filter, AutoPilot Digital SWG, Dolphin Dynamic cleaning robot
    Creator of PoolMath and Pool Calculator. Other handy links: Support this site, TF Test Kits, Pool School

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