OpenGrow GroLab Review
One Year Greenhouse Trial, Computer Grow Automation
After almost 12 months of continuous greenhouse use of our OpenGrow GroLab computer based grow room automation controller we are confident in offering the following OpenGrow GroLab Review to anybody interested in adopting PC based computer automation to their growing enterprise.
[quote]Hardware aside, just like anything else computer based the software and support to run the hardware are a very important part of the equation; and computer based grow room controls have proved to be no exception.[/quote]
A greenhouse can be a tough environment on electronics, so if something stands up to the temperatures, moisture and higher wattage appliances we cycle ON or OFF to grow our crops, chances are it will also work for you, whether you grow indoors under lights or in a greenhouse.
Hardware aside, just like anything else computer based the software and support to run the hardware are a very important part of the equation; and computer based grow room controls have proved to be no exception.
If you want more background on the actual real world installation and what we were hoping to gain from adding Computer Controlled Grow Automation, please have a read and look through our earlier article.
Firstly, we are not computer experts here, at all. As long as you have a Windows 10 based platform or better the software from OpenGrow is easy to install to your PC computer and operate. No different than any common programs or Apps you may like to run. Visually it flows well too.
Considering the level of sophistication you are getting from the hardware to perform growing automation tasks, it was relatively easy to get the devices talking to one another. The GroNode is the hub that communicates with other OpenGrow control devices, in this case the PowerBot, which relays power On or Off to Four 110/120V outlets to 1200 watts (240V outlets also available for up to 2400 watts direct)
The GroNode gets plugged into your router and a power supply, in our case this stays outside of the greenhouse, in our case at a distance of around 24 feet (nearby building). The PowerBot gets plugged into a power supply in the greenhouse. Note that this is on the short end of the claimed range–so you can go considerably greater distances with a clear line of sight.
The PowerBot can handle up too 1200 watts of gear directly, which is OK for most hobbyists. However, since we use it run lights, heaters and other higher amperage appliances, the power plugs from the PowerBot are connected to higher amperage circuits that use relay boxes—the 120V plugs shut ON/OFF individual 220/240V powered circuits.
The GroNode stays connected to the PowerBot via Radio Frequency. Initially, we had some issues staying connected because of radio frequencies from other devices we had in the immediate area. However, the interface on the software end allowed us to choose between five different RF channels between the devices to stay connected. For the most part, this will correct any RF connectivity issues and the system has reasonable good range for most locations.
Operating the OpenGrow GroLab Automation System
An incredible degree of flexibility has been engineered into this system, and yet it remains very user friendly. So long as you know what you want your appliances to do in the growing environment, the GroLab makes it very easy to have everything running very smoothly, even if you demand a very high level of sophistication and smart commands.
It’s always pleasing to use a piece of grow gear that you can tell has been designed by somebody who actually knows something about growing—for example versus a “me too” company that might not know anything about growing while specializing in automation—the GroLab system bridges these two schools beautifully. Don’t underestimate how important this is; we think it’s one of the strongest features the GroLab offers.
The online tutorial videos available from OpenGrow.pt are worthwhile; they can help you get more out of your GroLab system, ie fine tuning, setting priorities (to streamline how having more than one command on the same appliance will work).
However, just running the basics is really user friendly and doesn’t require much of your time—just know what you want the system to do for you and set your Alarms, Alerts and Schedules for each appliance you want controlled. The GroLab system can make it easy to have rest done for you. This is definitely an area where it shows the minds behind OpenGrow know a thing or two about growing.
OpenGrow GroLab Review, Final Impressions and Notes
We gradually implemented to Full Automation of our hydroponics greenhouse, ie learning to control one aspect or plug at a time rather than switching over all of our systems overnight and walking away. OpenGrow can offer direct support if you do want to set up complete control right out of the box, ie preprogrammed, plug it in and walk away. We feel it’s best to get to know systems that control your grow very well before completely handing over the fate of your crop to any device—so exercise some patience.
The system has performed up to, and in some areas exceeded our expectations, from all aspects including hardware, software and support for our OpenGrow GroLab Review.
Of these three areas, we’d like to see a little bit of beefing up in the hardware. It’s beautifully designed and functional, however, our growing universe can be a little rough and chaotic—robust build characteristics help avoid problems that can stem from these conditions.
Months after solving our initial RF connectivity hiccups for our OpenGrow GroLab review, the RF connectivity quit completely. We received a replacement unit within days and have had no issues whatsoever since.
More points are awarded in our OpenGrow GroLab review for the modular and highly expendable nature of the design and concept. You can add as many PowerBots as needed, controlling different rooms, in veg and bloom all from one tidy and easy to understand interface.
You can also add sophisticated controls for CO2, irrigation, nutrient monitoring & dosing and more—just about anything you need to control your growing universe can be automated and made easy to control from your PC using the OpenGrow platform. Also note, for the purposes of our OpenGrow GroLab review, that you can work directly with OpenGrow and have them design and program a very complex or basic system for you from the modules they offer—they are easy to work with and understand your needs, based on our experiences.
The ability to chart your data (for example temperature in a specified number of days) via export to spreadsheet from the data back up can be a very valuable tool to growers, you can create some very telling charts and graphs—however, your ability to do this is going to depend understanding and working with programs like Excel. Again, the OpenGrow support team can help you here too.
Naturally, you can have your GroLab system alert you when problems arise or when set points are exceeded via email.
Grozine OpenGrow GroLab Review: 4.5/5 stars
We would recommend OpenGrow to anybody looking to adopt computer automation to their grow room or greenhouse who has some level of technological savvy. Otherwise, you can still do fine if you are prepared to invest a little time in the learning curve (we could say that for any higher level technology you may like to adopt and depend on).
-healthier crops, noticeable difference in production from a more controlled environment
-saves on time, especially regular monitoring and checks; easy to see what’s going on from the computer, ie temperature, humidity, ventilation, heating, cooling, etc. NOTE interface is set up for adding cameras too
-compared to buying all analog controls to perform similar tasks to the GroLab (although with less sophistication) the GroLab is a good value in terms of price
-saves money on power, because you can “train” your appliances to work together and run more efficiently, ie your cooling system and heating system won’t conflict.
-unbeatable support and fairly user friendly considering you can control every aspect of your grow from a computer remotely from anywhere in the world; immeasurable benefits in this regard
Not So Much:
A beefier build would be welcomed, although the existing design runs and looks like a high end watch—won’t skip a second, just handle it carefully.