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Apex: Better automation than before

  • wmx-header

I've been using the Apex controller for my reef for years, and for the most part once it is set up, I don't touch it. If it works, I'm happy. Occasionally I get motivated to make some changes, be it because some equipment has failed and had to be replaced, or something was upgraded.  I tend to resist change, believe it or not.  I know that sounds odd from a guy that tries out new products and loves gear, but when you reef is happy you normally don't change anything to avoid causing problems.

To set the stage, I'm going to explain what I've been doing, and then I'll explain the change, and lastly provide some screenshots of what was applied in case you are inclined to do something similar. This will be a tad long.

When I feed my reef each night, I have a physical big yellow button on the side of my stand that I press. This turns off the return pump and the skimmer to the 400g reef. Additionally, I press the off-button on the Vortech Mp40 in the Anemone Cube.  Once both are off, I'll feed the fish in both tanks. The main reef has 10 minutes to consume what was poured in before the return pump turns on again, and this method prevents sending food down the drains into the sump.  Usually within 4 minutes you can't see any food in the water column, but the fish continue to hunt anything edible they may have missed in the frenzy.  After 10 minutes, the return pump turns on and flow resumes from sump to reef to sump again. Five minutes later, the skimmer turns on now that the water level in the sump has stabilized at the proper height.  I've had this setup like this for more than a year and I love it.


The Anemone Cube is different: the return pump is on, but runs slowly.  The Vortech pump is shut off so the food stays easy to consume instead of sending it everywhere in the 60g cube. The original intent was so food wouldn't get sucked to the foam sponge encircling the pump. I had to remember to turn this pump back on later, usually after a quick rinse of that foam sponge.  A few months ago, I made an acrylic cage to eliminate the foam sponge which has worked out well. But my habit of turning the pump off nightly didn't change. I should add that I did try using EcoSmart Live to turn off that pump for a specified period, but it also turned off the return (L1) pump. When that occured, not only did all the water stop moving but all the fish quickly darted into the rockwork out of fear and all the food rained straight down to the sand uneaten. I wasn't pleased that ESL stopped both pieces of equipment simultaneously, and I didn't see a way to only pick one out. (In the meantime, one person told me that if I created a faux aquarium profile, I could put the Mp40 on that and enable feedmode for the one isolated pump, which was a good idea. But I don't pull my phone out to feed my tank, I press a button. )


Enter Mike Rota, a local hobbyist that stopped by and told me that if I had the WMX module on my Apex, I could shut off the Vortech.  If you own a Vortech you know that it works with a battery backup. If you turn off the power to the pump, the battery backup turns on to keep it running. According to Mike, using the WMX to talk to the pump allows it to use RF to shut off the pump and not go into battery backup mode. I already owned a WMX module which was sitting on the shelf collecting dust. He left and I started to think about maybe figuring out how to hook it up.

The next day I'm on facetime with Deven of ReefDudes and he told me he'd be happy to help walk me through the process. Perfect! I dropped everything and we spent the next 45 minute or so getting it installed, programmed and I'm happy to report it works perfectly.

What's different now: When I press the big yellow button, the return pump & skimmer turn off, and the Mp40 turns off as well. Why is this better?  Because one action takes care of both tanks, AND it restarts the gear automatically instead of relying on me to remember. After 10 minutes elapses, the return pump and the Mp40 turn on, and five minutes later the skimmer turns on.

First thing I had to do was plug the WMX into an Energy Bar of the Apex system. It didn't matter which one, so I picked a spot in the fishroom, adjacent to the frag tank. I had a 3' aquabus cable. As soon as it was plugged in, the Apex reported it was found, but that the firmware was out of date. Using the Original Dashboard menu on my desktop computer, I worked my way through the drop down menus to update all firmware. However, I ran into a glitch where the Apex didn't update as quickly as my screen indicated. I ended up going into the display module (top picture of this blog) and located the WMX module via the touch buttons, and then updated the Ecosmart Live firmware. This was a slower process, and it took about 2 minutes to update.  Once done, I thought I was ready to go. Wrong.

Deven told me now the Mp40 had to be reset to factory specs, and then assigned to the WMX module.  We followed the guidelines provided by the Apex documentation in their manual, but it didn't work. That's when we discovered you had to have the WMX within two feet of the pump you are syncing to it.  That required me to pull out a 30' aquabus cable I just happened to own (purchased for a different project I have yet to install), which permitted me to put the WMX next to the vortech driver so they coud be paired up. Success. Once done, I put the module back in the fishroom, affixed to an acrylic bracket I have, using the 3' cable to a local EB-8 (Energy Bar 8).


Now that Fusion could talk to the pump, I had to program it with all the various modes that tank utilizes, which includes 'constant flow', 'reefcrest', 'tidal swell' and 'lagoon' mode over a 24 hour period. 


With all the complete, I now had a new widget on Fusion.


I also had to create a Pump Profile, something I've never needed before since all my Vortechs run off EcoSmart Live. The Apex has about 16 pump profiles ready to go, so I edited the first one for my purpose. I called it Mp40-feedme, and set it to run at 10% instead of 0%. See below.


This was Deven's suggestion, which is actually a good one. It keeps fish from going into a pump that is shut off that might be harmed when the pump comes on again.

This new line of code in the Advanced tab of the Mp40 virtual switch now tells the Apex that when I press my Yellow Button, physically wired to the break out box, that Feed_Sw is ON. And when it is on, Mp40-Feedme (the new pump profile) is activated to run that pump at 10% for the duration I've selected which is 10 minutes. As soon as Feed_Sw is OFF, the regularly programmed pump profile resumes.


The sequence now is:

Press yellow button.  Feed_sw turns ON.
Return pump has a line of code: If Output Feed_Sw = ON Then OFF (which means turn off return pump)
Skimmer pump has a line of code: If Output Feed_Sw = ON Then OFF (which means turn off return pump)

At this point, the sensors from my top off system are both submerged by the water that drained into the sump, so I want the ATO turned off.
I have a line of code in a virtual switch called ATKTimer
If Output Feed_Sw = ON Then ON (timer is NOW on)
Defer 000:20 Then OFF (the timer is 20 minutes long)

After 10 minutes the return pump and the Mp40 turn on.
After 5 more minutes, the skimmer's pump turns on.
After 5 additional minutes, the ATO is turned on again.

And as of last night, it worked flawlessly. Do I wish I'd done this sooner?  Frankly, not so much because it's one of those tasks that takes time and can be rather frustrating unless you've got someone helping you do this that loves programming or spends a lot of time setting up and configuring Apex systems. While Deven was helping me out, I had him look at another frustrating thing that was going on with my ATK (the Apex's top off system), as I'd get two alerts and two emails every single night as soon as the return pump turned back on. He looked at the code remotely, told me to "delete Line 9 and you'll be all fixed up." I don't even remember what Line 9 said but now that it's gone, no alerts and no emails at last. It's good to get those alarms when your tank has a problem, but to get them when everything is right is both annoying and I guess somewhat useful: at least you know your Apex can send you information.  BUT I'd prefer to only get one when there's a problem.

Rather than these:


So thanks to my friends in the hobby, I was able to make my system run a little bit easier, and correct a minor nuisance situation at the same time. If you don't have a Mike or a Deven, you can always contact Neptune Systems for assistance. They have people there to help you if you've run into a problem. And their forum and facebook groups have people willing to assist you with your control freak ideas too. This Friday, first thing to happen at MACNA is the Apex Meet-Up where we get to learn all the latest stuff Apex offers. It's exciting to see new features. Heck, who knows .... I might even add one. Maybe. wink

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