Rancilio Silvia Mega-Mod part 1 Introduction
Avi's Silvia Mega-Mod
My way to a better coffee...
It is well known that Rancilio Silvia is one of the popular and reputable espresso machines that is used by many coffee enthusiast hobbyists all over the world.
Miss Silvia (as its official model name) is well built and has a modern style stainless steel cubic design.
It is a single 0.3 Lt. boiler machine with a commercial design 58mm portafilter, 2 Lt. water tank, steamer and takes only 290x235x340mm (11.4x9.3x13.4″) space.
If you take good care of it, use soft water and clean it periodically, it will serve you for years.
But, Silvia has its drawbacks, thing that makes a user spend time with the learning curve of using it correctly and with the consistency quality of its coffee shots.
All those drawbacks would not be present if the manufacturer, Rancilio from Italy, had added means to view and control the boiler temperature and pressure, which unfortunately was not made.
During the time since Silvia was introduced in 1997 and until today (2012), Rancilio made some improvements in the Silvia design and released 3 versions known as V1, V2 and V3.
All versions kept most of the external design and none has temperature / pressure reading or means of accurate controlling it.
Over the years, users developed a method of using Silvia in order to produce best espresso shot.
This method is known as ‘temperature surf’ combined with ‘cooling flush’ and you’ll find many articles on it.
If you have a Silvia, you probably use both methods to reach correct brew temperature. Temperature surf involves few steps preparing the machine for brewing at best temperature and pressure, all those steps are done without any means of measuring nor displaying temperature and pressure.
Some users over the world took these methods further, a variety of mods appeared and you can find over the internet many modifications that can be added to Silvia which makes it more easy and simple to control.
Instead of guessing, you get a precise and advanced control of temperature and other parameters that seems to be missing in Silvia. Some dealers also offer Silvia with a controller as a standard machine add-on.
Silvia’s relatively basic construction and the ease of altering it helped a lot for this modifications trend.
You can find modification from a simple float meter that tells if the drip tray is full to fully computerized controlled machine.
When I have decided to mod my Silvia, I chose to combine few mods and this is why I call this project Silvia Mega-Mod. My target of doing this project was to start and finish it in one session, I hate doing a job slice by slice.
Parallel to this project I also made some mods to Rancilio Rocky grinder that you can see here.
In the following posts, you’ll find some information and thoughts based on my experience with modding of Rancilio Silvia V3.
Before I begin, I wish to thank my dear friend Asher, a gifted model maker and owner of Yisum-Modeling who helped me a lot with transforming my ideas into real working solutions. Without his support this project didn’t have a chance.
Thank you Asher.
DISCLAIMER - Important!
And now, to the bolts and nuts of this project.
It took me few months to understand what I’m about to do, planning it and gather all needed components.
The advantage of doing it over a long period of time gave me enough time to read, study the subject and better understand and plan my steps.
Some major considerations, questions, and decisions I asked and took before I started:
First: ‘What do I want to achieve, what’s the target ?’
My main target was brew + steam temperature control + brew timer + pressure reading. The rest of the mods were added as add-ons.
Second: ‘How do I make the above?, What method / technique should I take ?’
a. I decided to use a PID controller (Proportional Integral Derivative) to control the temperature in order to get precise, efficient and energy saving control. I decided to go with on-the-shelf controllers rather than starting a computer-based hardware and software project such as using Arduino system. I knew I might be missing some great options going that way, but seeing my requirements I came to a conclusion that using a PID is more than enough for my needs. I really didn’t see a need for me to communicate and control my Silvia over the internet nor with a laptop or iPhone.
b. I decided not to use mechanical relays to drive the heating element because of relays lifetime and noise.
Using SSRs (Solid State Relays) seemed more reliable for this job.
c. I decided to preserve Silvia’s brew switch functionality and allow using it parallel to the controller (to allow rinsing, backflush, cooling flush etc.).
Third: ‘Where do I place all the components ?’
This can be internal, external or a combination of both. In my case, I decided to place the controllers in an external box and the pressure gauge and the rest of components inside Silvia that has some free room for it.
OK, let’s begin…
Comments, remarks and updates are welcome.
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