Reefing from Afar, Part 5: Plans and Wishes for the Future

Innovation in our hobby is the key to advancing automation and monitoring possibilties

Innovation in our hobby is the key to advancing automation and monitoring possibilties

Finally, we have come to the end of my series, where I will set out some future desires of mine that are totally nonexistent today or are very close to market. These are the holes in my system for which I currently have no automated solution. This allows me to further innovate on my own for DIY specials or plant the seeds for entrepreneurs in the industry.

I should probably write up some patent applications, but I doubt my employer would pay to process them. These patents take at least four years and a lot of money for patent lawyers to process. I currently have two patents for my current industry work, and it took such a long time that I almost completely forgot about them.

Ultimately, innovation is still the key to advancing anything. For example, how much innovation did it take to get from the Lee’s wood airstone protein skimmer to today’s recirculating cone skimmers? Just think, even the solutions of today can be improved to further our hobby even more.

So what are the things I am planning to do and wish I had for my system of the future? Returning home to a fairly stable system has always made me wonder what more I could do to alleviate my travel stresses. Currently, I have a short list that I was pondering last week while away in New Hampshire.

I came up with the top five list of things I would like to have and the reason:

1) An automated quarantine system

Yes, I have a 20-gallon long quarantine system set up primarily for fish, but I have been lazy and reluctant to use it just because it is not connected to anything and reminds me of all the manual things I used to do before automation. I would love to add the tank downstream of my sump so every time I perform a water change, it automatically fills the quarantine tank with freshly used water.

Automated quarantine system

This would offer a way to recycle and make the most of my salt water, and any medication added would be kept from entering the display system. I would also add a salinity probe and dosing pump from my RO tank in case I need to perform hyposalinity treatments.

2) Automated refrigerated/frozen food dispenser

Since I already bought a new thermoelectric refrigerator and four-channel doser for this, I might as well complete this project, giving my livestock better nutrition for better health and growth.

The current designs available online seem to work well, but the cost of the fresh, suspended liquid foods is too high in my mind, so I would like a dispenser for some DIY foods I would be able to prepare as well. My one worry is spikes in phosphate if something goes wrong, so there needs to be some type of safety check available.

3. Automated salt-water-mixing station

reef-automation5-3After running out of salt water (even with a 100-gallon reserve available) while I was away in Paris for two weeks, I would like to be able to create salt water of the appropriate temperature and salinity on demand.

This can be my next DIY expansion project. I know what I need to make one but will need to include a hopper and some industrial-grade components to measure the amount of salt to be mixed. Unless I can find some low-pressure electronic valves to redirect the flows, I will be forced to increase the amount of pumps used from my current manual mixing design.

4. Automated glass cleaner for the rimless tank

I already have two AquaGenesis RoboSnails, which do fine for my 125- and 90-gallon display tanks, but I would love to try the Ocean Swipe 360 Jr. on my 80-gallon rimless since I need to clean all sides of the frag tank.

5. Real-time water parameter monitoring

When it comes to SPS corals, water parameter maintenance is king. As much as I love my Hanna meters, I won’t be able to perform the measurements while I’m away. If there were probes for each, I would buy them.

The closest such innovation I’ve read about is the Mindstream Aquarium Monitoring System, which went out of business. If it works the way they claim and is affordable, I’ll jump on it in a heartbeat. As a product development engineer, I know how long it takes to get a product ready for market, and I’m willing to wait for it if it meets all its quality, design, reliability, and cost goals. With this, I can truly dial in all my dosers for improved stability even more.

Series summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts on reef automation. It was a great way for me to help document my system, rethink how it is used, and figure out how to improve it. As with everything in life, you have to strive for continuous improvement. There will always be more than one way to solve a problem, and it will always depend on your system and what resources you have at your disposal.

Ultimately, my investments in automation have allowed me to stay in the hobby with the increasing demands from work, family, and life in general through the years. I am sure I have contemplated getting out like many who have hit life’s challenges, but being a hardcore reefing enthusiast for the last 25 or so years, I am glad I stuck with it. The stresses of maintaining a reef system are nothing compared to other stresses in life, so it actually becomes a therapeutic activity during the long western New York winters. Once you conquer these little stresses, then you can have your vacation and a worry-free reef too!

As always, learn from each other. Let me know if you have any ideas to improve on what I have suggested. Keep in mind that good husbandry will always trump all the automation in the world. From my point of view, it’s great to be part of the reefing community these days. It is the closest thing to being on an adventure with Jacques Cousteau, and it helps the next generation understand why we need to maintain and preserve our ocean resources.

Read the other installments in this series:


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About Ellery Wong

Ellery is a mechanical systems engineer at a Fortune 500 technology company. He has professional automation experience in the automotive, appliance, printing and robotics industries, as well as over 25 years as a saltwater aquarium hobbyist. He currently maintains a 365-gallon SPS/LPS system while regularly traveling for work, which presents a variety of challenges he enjoys tackling.


  1. gettaReef says

    Ellery, thank you for taking the time to show us all the automation that is involved in your setups and your opinions/ideas on the subject. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these articles and have learned a lot of great information, including some ideas on how I can now automate various things in my own setup.

    I bought an Apex unit (with additional EB8) about 2 years ago, and it has been sitting in my storage just collecting dust mainly bc I have no idea on how to set the thing up. These articles have finally given me the courage to get it out and give it a go.

    I also would love to completely automate the making and changing of SW in my system. I have the new DOS doser that I will hookup to the Apex to accomplish the auto changes. What is a “hopper” exactly? If you ever do decide to automate making SW, please document it and write an article or something as I’d love to see it.

    Thanks again! – Dustin

    • ElleryWong says

      Hi Dustin,

      I’m glad you enjoyed and was able to benefit from my short series! It’s the sharing of knowledge that has expanded this hobby in the last 2 decades. I’m glad to be a part of it.

      When I get around to upgrading my S/W mixing station I will write an article on it. With some of my trips being almost a whole month long it will be great to be able to automatically mix more saltwater on demand.

      Dustin, you asked “What is a “hopper” exactly? well it’s anything that can hold the salt without it turning into a big hard salt lick.

      Thanks again for your interest and definitely make use of the controller you have since it’s a shame to let it collect dust since you already invested in it. It’s a powerful tool. The Neptune’s community support forum is pretty awesome. I’ve learned alot on there to set mine up. Many control freaks like myself on their to help.

      Till next time!


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