Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Feedback leads to updates!

The past few weeks I have been in back-n-forth conversations with two people who have recently built up an Arduino Alternator Regulator, and are testing it out.   One person is based in NZ and is using it with his DC Generator, while the other is based in Finland and is currently playing with it on the bench (in a lab with TONS of cool equipment) - looking to install it later this winter into his sail boat.

I am excited about this for three reasons:
  1. They are excited about the regulator!
  2. They are testing things out, and providing feedback (See more below)
  3. They have vastly different systems then I have on Viking Star.

Starting with point #3:  Viking Star has an old-school FLA (Flooded Lead-Acid) battery bank, and a big one at that.  Over 1,400lbs worth.   It is made up of 6x 85-29 industrial cells, be thinking forlklift battery, and can provide over 1,800Ah of storage capacity.  Attached alternators are a 270A in the mains, and a 185A (limited by the controller) in our DC generator.

A really large battery, and good sized alternators = a max Alt/Bat ratio of:  270/1800 = 0.15x

Now in NZ, the setup is the opposite.  He has a good sized AGM setup of 240Ah with a 160A alternator, or a Alt/bat ratio of 160/240 = 0.7x   More then 4 times the ratio of what we have on Viking Star.

In Findland has a 70A alternator and is looking to deploy a 200Ah LiFeP04 bank.  Right now he is doing lots of bench-testing and simulation in  a lab with oh so many nice toys and equipment.

There may be others workogn away, but these two have been in communication and providing feedback, which leads back to point #2:   A few bugs, and optomizaitons have been IDed.  I will be working to update the source code, and perhaps getting some folks to give it a 'trial run' before releasing th enext version.   So far, here is what will be looked at / changed:
  • Fix ASCII reporting error when voltages are 13.95-13.99 it reports out as 13.0 instead of 14.0
  • Add in dynamic field PWM change cap.  Currently the fasted the PWM can increase is 2x each 100mS, which is good when getting close to the wire.  But systems are able to withstand a bit more aggressive ramping when far away from the goals, so will add code to cap dynamically from say 10x down to 1x change up every 100mS (as always, battery protection is 1st priority and there is no cap in reduction of PWM drive values)
  • A bit of fine tuning around load-dump traps when changing from Absorption to Float, let the system drive down a bit as opposed to triggering the load-dump traps and pulling field drive back to 0.
  • Refignment of the adaptive time-based absorption to float transition.  This capability is in there to protect the batteries in the case one leaves the docks wiht a fully charged battery, and the Amp shunt is not installed or fails.  It will measure the amount of time the battery spent in Bulk, and use a multiplier of that to cap the time allowed in Absorption.  To prevent boiling of the battery.   But, if the Amp shunt is working - it is much better to follow that, and let the battery tell us what it needs.  So, will be adding a bypass to Adaptive time-based trap when the Amp shunt is functional.
  • Adjust PID engine.  The large alternator vs battery ratio showed some weaknesses in the current PID engine used to regulator voltage.  With adjustments we are able to make it work much more stabilily, but I am thinking I need to implement a full PID as opposed to a PD engine.  This will take some time, but having real-life examples to trial on is gold!
Overall I am humbled by the folks who are seeing value in this project, more each day it seems.  And I am so grateful for those who take the time to help refine it.  Somewhat to that end I have started a Google Group for the Arduino Alternator Regulator called: Smart-Alt.  ( https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/smart-alt ).  This group will cover the current stand-alone regulator here, as well as the future CAN enabled alternator regulator as that system of projects are developed.







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