Cost of Automation - Why?

MaxSmart

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Jun 1, 2019
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I am an engineer, and looking at the Jandy automation systems, I can tell you that this is 1970s/1980s technology. Newer boards add processors, but the requirements are minimal. I can understand why a control board would cost >$500 in the 1980s, but nowadays this tech should probably cost $100. Why do control systems continue to be so expensive? It seems like such pricing should already have been undercut by startups.

With aquariums, when LED tech made lighting systems cost much less to produce, the companies tried keeping up $1000+ price tags, and quickly dozens of companies (mostly Chinese) came out with $100 units ("black boxes") that were just as good. Seems like same thing happening with pool control systems, but unless I am just not finding them, there doesn't seem to be 3rd party replacement components or competing systems for reasonable prices.

Anybody have any industry insight on why this is?
 
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Dirk

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Because the big three foresaw this and made all the components they sell proprietary. And they don't publish any protocols (or at least they're hard to come by). There is no way for third-party developers to get a foothold. We have a few here that have cracked Pentair's protocols. But it would be a safe bet that if that got any real traction Pentair would either shut it down legally and/or change the protocols. I half suspect that's why the firmware in Pentair's most recent controller offering is user upgradeable. Third parties could make killer controllers, they just wouldn't be able to control anything!

They will continue to charge a premium because they can. It's the Apple Mac business model vs the Microsoft Windows model.

You can see this MO even in their older controllers (Pentair's, anyway). The boards all have the same components, and some here have figured out how to hack-upgrade them. Pentair doesn't make different boards, they just hobble them for their low-end offerings.

That's mostly my instinct about it. @ogdento might be able to shed some actual facts on this subject.
 
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Newdude

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If you think the industries tech is outdated, you should see their chemistry!!! :laughblue: (For the record i agree with both your thought and dirks take on it)
 

PoolGate

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Supply and demand. How are your Arduino skills?
 

homegameroom

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Depending upon your desired level of automation, SmartThings has some good controllers (and associated relays/switches) that you can lump together on one interface (I use ActionTiles). The cost of admission really isn't bad at all. The benefit of SmartThings is that you can add all kinds of "if this then that but not if A and B are not happening unless C and D are present". Such as , "run the waterfall feature in the pool between 4 and 6 pm but only if the house is occupied and turn the feature lights on after dusk and turn them off when person X goes to bed".

Having said that, I don't really have the motivation to add pool control to my ActionTiles though I have it control almost everything else in my home!
 

markayash

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That would be a area Wyze should look into. They have a smart thermostat that sells for $50 and works great, I have one. They also made a smart sprinkler timer for $60 that looks cool
 

Dirk

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Depending upon your desired level of automation, SmartThings has some good controllers (and associated relays/switches) that you can lump together on one interface (I use ActionTiles). The cost of admission really isn't bad at all. The benefit of SmartThings is that you can add all kinds of "if this then that but not if A and B are not happening unless C and D are present". Such as , "run the waterfall feature in the pool between 4 and 6 pm but only if the house is occupied and turn the feature lights on after dusk and turn them off when person X goes to bed".

Having said that, I don't really have the motivation to add pool control to my ActionTiles though I have it control almost everything else in my home!
My home automation (HA) relies heavily on the logic I can program. Turning things on and off is one thing, but adding logic really makes HA shine. That said, I would not trust my pool to my HA devices. They don't work 100% of the time (close, but not 100), and they are so-so reliable, they do stop working every once is a while. They've vastly improved from years ago, like way better, but I consider my pool mission critical, above really any other system in the house. Irrigation is a close second. I can't have my pool not run for even a day, let alone a week while away. Just as I cannot let the garden go un-watered for any length of time. If a porch light goes on and off at the wrong times, or not at all, no biggie. If the furnace stays on for three days, oh well. But coming back from a few days away to a green pool or a dead garden is unacceptable.

Now, my Pentair controller could also stop working, at any point in time, but I sense it is considerably more robust than anything I have in my HA system. So if you do go some other route, you need to consider reliability, and how important it is to you and your pool.
 

MaxSmart

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Just to clarify, "automation" here refers to the systems housed in a box next to your pool equipment that trigger relays to turn pumps on and off, configure valve actuators to switch between skimmers, heaters, pool cleaners, and between pool and spa modes. So that you can press a button and/or set a schedule to operate your pool. Most pools have this.
 

Dirk

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I don't know if "most pools" is accurate. Certainly many. Plenty of folks are quite happy operating their pool manually. What you describe as automation is the automation controller. What I consider pool automation also includes controllable components, without which an automation controller would have nothing to do. Those include (but are not limited to):

- actuators (the motorized component that moves the valves),
- controller compatible heaters (I think most if not all are),
- variable speed pumps that can take full advantage of automation, though just about any pump can be automated to some extent,
- pool cleaners,
- salt water generators,
- acid injection systems,
- liquid chlorine injection systems,
- lighting systems...

Technically, even a simple intermatic pool timer is automation.

Semantics. When I speak about automation, I'm referring to the entire system, not just the controller. And you can tell by looking at the list that automation can be as simple or as complex as you want.

Some here build their own controllers. And others are using home automation devices and controllers to automate some or all of these pool components. For example, I have a pool automation controller, but I control my pool light with my home automation system. So in addition to the variety of systems available, hybrid systems can also be utilized, so you can put together the best of all of them to fit your particular use case.

There are almost as many definitions of automation as their are pool owners. That was mine...
 
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AUSpool

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Automation or electronic process control? The process of making a manual system or task operate automatically.

I believe an auto top up or overflow is the simplest form of automation. When it rained really heavy in the middle of the night I used to go out there, select waste, and turn the pump on till the pool drained to the desired level. Now with the auto overflow it does that automatically.

I believe the control of actuators, pumps, lights and temperature etc is electronic process control and a subset of automation.

I don’t believe there is a cost benefit in the full automation of pool systems. Companies run the risk of making themselves redundant. My chlorinator can make my pump turn on and off automatically, it can switch a light, control pump speed and maintain a predetermined sanitation level but it cant maintain or adjust sanitation levels over time. If it could I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.
 

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PoolGate

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Automation or electronic process control? The process of making a manual system or task operate automatically.

I believe an auto top up or overflow is the simplest form of automation. When it rained really heavy in the middle of the night I used to go out there, select waste, and turn the pump on till the pool drained to the desired level. Now with the auto overflow it does that automatically.

I believe the control of actuators, pumps, lights and temperature etc is electronic process control and a subset of automation.

I don’t believe there is a cost benefit in the full automation of pool systems. Companies run the risk of making themselves redundant. My chlorinator can make my pump turn on and off automatically, it can switch a light, control pump speed and maintain a predetermined sanitation level but it cant maintain or adjust sanitation levels over time. If it could I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

Hmm...... Do you get up to change your TV channels? ;)
 

markayash

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Everybody is different but I don't get automation..Ok if I want to heat the spa I have to turn 3 values and turn the heater on and takes me about 30 seconds but know everybody is different.
The most reliable car I had was my 97 civic LX. I did spring for the LX so could get power windows :)
 

AUSpool

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Hmm...... Do you get up to change your TV channels? ;)

That would be remote semi automation. If the TV was fully automatic it would know that after the news we watch barnwood builders and it would switch to that for me. And if I should happen to step out of the room it would then automatically change to farmer wants a wife.

A good point though, what is control via bluetooth. Is that remote process control? I never thought I would embrace modern magic but turning my pump on or off and changing the SWCG settings from my phone is really handy.

A few years back we had a friend wire his house with the cbus system so the house could be automated. Miles of wiring is now redundant and the house frame was butchered with a million holes for nothing.

I had the opportunity to visit one of our more modern coal fired power stations, fully automated from the water quality to the rail coal loaders. Very impressive, but at a cost.
 
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Katodude

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I am one of those DIY guys and I love my home grown controller. It does what I need the way I need it. The UI is crazy simple (I need my wife to be able to use it). When I want to expand it, I can very easily. And it was fun to build. It is also highly reliable. It does take some technology skills to be able to do it, but nothing too extravagant.
 

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Anybody have any industry insight on why this is?

Maybe. I was in the aquarium hobby when LED’s started to replace the metal halides and hobbyist’s where looking for high flow/low power pumps and automated dosing systems. The market was driven by the wants and needs of the consumer. In comparison, in the pool industry the market is driven to some extent by the pool builders rather than the end consumer which makes change slow and/or misguided.
 

AUSpool

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Just to clarify, "automation" here refers to the systems housed in a box next to your pool equipment that trigger relays to turn pumps on and off, configure valve actuators to switch between skimmers, heaters, pool cleaners, and between pool and spa modes. So that you can press a button and/or set a schedule to operate your pool. Most pools have this.

Sorry, I missed this. I don’t know if most pools would have this, maybe most high end pools. Here in Aussie I think the most common form of Automation would be a SWCG that controls the main pump.
 

markayash

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I would like to setup a way to control my hayward heater using an app..Never fails its hot when I first get in but 5 minutes later want to turn it up
 

joboo7777

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Maybe. I was in the aquarium hobby when LED’s started to replace the metal halides and hobbyist’s where looking for high flow/low power pumps and automated dosing systems. The market was driven by the wants and needs of the consumer. In comparison, in the pool industry the market is driven to some extent by the pool builders rather than the end consumer which makes change slow and/or misguided.

I’m also in the Reef keeping hobby and I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Not to mention the service $$ the PB will miss out on because of automation.
 

PoolGate

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I’m also in the Reef keeping hobby and I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Not to mention the service $$ the PB will miss out on because of automation.

Were either of you screwed over by Digital Aquatics, like I was?
 

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