Showing posts with label Upgrades. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Upgrades. Show all posts

Rancilio Silvia Insteon Warmup Timer

I've been upgrading my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine. The PID temperature controller operating instructions recommend a 45 minute warmup period prior to pulling the first coffee shot. This allows the temperature of the group head below the boiler to stabilize, which reduces water heating during the shot, and allows for quicker intervals between shots for the water temperature to restabalize.

I run an Insteon based home automation network, so I decided to install an Insteon plug in on/off module that I had available.

Insteon On/Off Module

The completed installation

These timer modules look quite contemporary
You could also install a mechanical or standalone digital timer. In my case, I wrote a very simple program in my Universal Devices ISY-994i home automation controller to switch on the pre-heat function at 5am, and shut it off at 9am.

ISY 994i Program to shut the Rancilio Silvia Off at 9am Every Morning
If you look at the program folders - you'll note that I have a folder called "Home" - which only allows programs to run when the house is not in vacation mode. If we leave the house for an extended period, we'll set the house on vacation mode which runs automated lighting programs, and also prevents certain programs from running. In this case - the expresso machine will not pre-heat if we're not at home.

ISY 994i Program to shut the Rancilio Silvia On at 5:15am Every Morning

The automated shutoff program will also help prevent the machine from being left on all day, and potentially triggering the 165C overheat trip sensor when the boiler eventually runs out of water. This has happenned to me twice in about 10 years.


In use for two weeks now - it works great and I'm really happy with the upgrade. I make sure the machine is filled with water and the front panel power switch left in the on position at night, with a couple of coffee cups left on the warming tray. I also leave the portafilter in the group head to help keep the heat in the group head. In the morning, I come downstairs, and the boiler temperature has stabalized and the group head is hot and ready for making coffee.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. My go-to place in Canada for Insteon automation components is


Rancilio V3 Steam Wand Upgrade

If you own the original or second generation Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, you can upgrade the steam wand to the third generation design with the swivel ball design - which gives you more flexibility for positioning the steam wand. The steam wand replacement is relatively simple, and can be done with basic tools and skill.

V3 wand on the left, V1 wand on the right. Note the additional length of the V3 Wand
 The installation steps are fairly simple.

  • Remove water tank cover and water tank
  • Unscrew 4 screws and remove top cover
  • Remove the back cover (loosen 2 screws at top, and one screw at bottom through pump cover)
  • Remove the 4 screws holding down the front cover - no need to remove the front cover completely - you can keep all the wiring to the front cover switches connected.
  • Loosen the steam pipe locknut from the steam valve. 
  • Remove the steam valve nut
  • Replace the steam wand with the V3 version. In my installation, I had to move the serrated lock washer from the front side of the frame to the back side of the frame so that the steam wand sits as far back as possible to avoid interference with the front cover and the larger chrome nut under the valve. 
  • LOOSELY install the locknut and steam pipe
  • Replace and tighten the front cover - this will move the steam wand and center it in the opening in the front cover. 
  • Then tighten the steam valve to the machine body. 
  • Replace the back cover, tighten fasteners.
  • Plug in the machine, heat it up and check for leaks. Do not shock yourself on any exposed wiring while inspecting the steam valve. Use gloves and remove rings. 
  • No leaks? Replace the top cover, water reservoir, and water reservoir cover. 

V3 wand left, V1 wand right - note the larger nut on the V3 wand - Causes installation difficulty.

The larger V3 nut will fit the original enclosure, but very tight.
The biggest tip for installation of the V3 wand in earlier model machines is not to tighten the steam wand to the frame until you have replaced and tightened the front cover screws. This will guide the steam valve into exactly the right position in its hole for good alignment.

The installation of the valve to the Rancilio Silvia Frame.


So - I really like the new Rancilio Silvia V3 wand. When I'm steaming a half pitcher of milk - I can pivot the wand down to the bottom of the pitcher quite easily. When steaming a full pitcher - I can lift the wand up to be able to get the pitcher out from underneath the wand without spilling any milk. The functionality is remarkably improved - a nice upgrade. It also seems easier to clean. I like it.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. My go-to place for Rancilio Silvia parts in Canada is


Rancilio Silvia Boiler Insulation Upgrade

As part of my Rancilio Silvia mid-life overhaul (noise damping, group head maintenance, PID temperature controller installation, etc.) I decided to insulate the boiler. There's some debate about doing this on the internet, and there are insulation kits available from various sources, but these are the reasons I decided to do the boiler insulation:
  • Faster group head warmup (head has to travel down from the boiler to the group head, and a warmer group head permits better and more consistent brew water temperature at the portafilter)
  • Energy efficiency - particularly when considering the addition of a warmup timer which turns the machine on about 45 minutes to an hour before first use in the morning
  • Protection of the PVC wiring and terminal insulators from excessive heat
I had some thin, fibreglass piping insulation available in my project bin, and this turned out to be perfect for doing the boiler insulation. 

The naked boiler prior to insulation installation. Note the group head below and forward of the boiler - heat has to move down and forward to pre-heat the group head. 

I used Climaloc Fibreglass Pipewrap Insulation for the Boiler
Wrapping the boiler with fibreglass pipe insulation

Boiler wrapped with fibreglass pipe insulation

Boiler wrapped with fibreglass pipe insulation

Insulating the wiring from the top of the boiler
simply cut out openings for the steam outlet,
boiler heater element and temperature sensors. 
You can see that I wasn't too fussy with the insulation installation - there are some small gaps around the top of the boiler and I wanted some heat loss to heat the top cover / cup warming tray.


In terms of performance, I've definitely noticed that the front and top covers of the machine do not get as hot as they used to - and I was careful when installing the noise damping mat not to cover any air vents or gaps around the top cover. This preserves the ability for air to move through the machine to manage the internal temperature. The group head warms up well, and a 45 minute pre-heat time seems to work very well for optimal brew water consistency in operation.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. My go-to place for Rancilio Silvia parts in Canada is


Rancilio Silvia PID Temperature Controller Installation

This isn't a post about coffee brewing technique - there's lots of great sites and posts dedicated to this on the interweb. I love my Rancilio Siliva - I look at it as a simple, rugged, reliable machine for making coffee. It has it's limitations however, and one of them is the ability to manage brewing water temperature. There is no temperature indication on the stock Silvia, and the brew water thermostat on the boiler has just two setpoints - water heating lower limit, and upper limit.

Auber PID Temperature Controller - White LED version
The installation of a PID (proportional–integral–derivative) temperature controller is designed to resolve these limitations by providing temperature display, and automated brewing and steaming functions with the ability to customize key settings - such as brew water temperature, brewing time, and so on.

Completed PID installation on the Rancilio Silvia - note the box to the right of the group head with the white LED temperature display. 

PID Installation

The Auber installation manual is clear and self explanatory. I don't intend to reproduce a manual here, just provide some photos and tips / observations from my installation experience. 

Installation of the SSR (solid state relay) is fairly straightforward. It installs next to the pump on the main chassis of the machine. The Auber kit comes with one nut, bolt and washer for installation through the bottom vent holes. I drilled a second hole and added a second fastener to help hold the SSR a bit more securely, and ensure the bottom surface and heat transfer silicone is as tight as possible for best possible heat transfer and component reliability. 

Hole drilled in chassis for second fasterner

Note the heat transfer silicone - I cleaned this up for a neater final installation. 

Top view. Note the scale on the black chassis to
 the right of the SSR from a leaking high pressure hose fitting. 
One other tip - this installation places the SSR almost directly below the high pressure stainless braided hose. I made sure to correct a leak in the 90 degree elbow fitting using some pipe dope. I also added a small plastic sheet to deflect any water from the SSR in the case of a future leak.

Wiring the controller was straighforward, again, the instructions were quite clear. Just one tip - I inverted the machine for performing the wiring and prep for adhesive tape installation. This made it very easy to access the connections, and apply pressure to the PID when applying the adhesive tape. 

I temporarily taped the PID enclosure to the steam wand to keep it out of the way during wiring termination.
PID Controller Wiring Complete
Note - when I cleaned the surfaces for installation of the PID - most of the ink came off the UL certification label. I ended up removing the certification label to ensure a clean surface for intallation of the PID. I don't recommend removing the certification label. One other thing I did was to use a heat gun to heat the metal sheet where the PID was to be installed, and gently heating the adhesive also. This allows the adhesive tape to completely adapt to the surface inconsistencies for the best possible bond.

Cleaning the PID Controller installation surface
Certification Label
PID Controller installed. Working with the machine inverted makes it easy to apply pressure to improve adhesion.
One other thing to consider when installing these kits - the Rancilio Silvia has PVC electrical wiring insulation - which becomes brittle with heat and time. My machine is 12 years old - and I was very careful to avoid cracking the wiring insulation and terminal insulators. Some of the terminal insulation broke anyway. When I insulated the boiler using fibreglass insulation - I was careful to reorganize the wires, zip tie them together to avoid having any wires or connectors too close to the heating elements. See photo below. This should enhance reliability of the connections. I can see that if I expect to get 20 years out of the this machine - I may end up having to replace the wiring.

Wiring organization using zip ties


How does the new PID temperature controller work? Simply fantastic - it's great to have fine control over brew water temperature, and a much better understanding of what's happening with the critical brew variables. Result - better tasting coffee (although I still have a long way to go). I wish I had got this upgrade done years ago. 

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. I purchased my PID kit directly from Auber Instruments: My go-to place for genuine Rancilio Silvia parts in Canada is


Rancilio Silvia Noise Reduction Project

The Rancilio Silvia has a vibratory pump. The principal advantage for a home machine is that the vibratory pump develops pressure quickly and is relatively compact. The principal disadvantage - significant vibration and noise. The engine of the vibratory pump is an electromagnetic coil attached to a fluid piston. The coil moves back and forth when energized with alternating current - in just the same manner as a loudspeaker coil. This drives the piston back and forth - pushing water through a one way check valve to pressurize the boiler with water.

Rancilio Silvia - Vibratory Pump Installation
You can see in the photo that the pump is supported by two rubber mounts designed to allow the pump to move laterally and offset the vibration of the piston motion. These mounts are 12 years old, and have partially collapsed under the weight of the stainless braided discharge hose.

I did a fair bit of research online before coming up with my noise reduction strategy:
  • Improve the pump installation and correct the collapsed rubber mounts;
  • Add vibration damping material (Dynamat or Noico) to as much accessible sheet metal as possible;
  • Add cushioning to the drip tray and drip grille to reduce rattling. 

Pump Installation Upgrade

Let's start with the pump installation. I was into the repair project before I realized that I should replace the pump rubber mounts, so I wasn't able to get replacement parts in time. So - I reversed the mounts to try to correct the sagging, and I added some closed cell foam underneath the pump to help support it from sagging under the mounts.

Vibratory Pump Installation Upgrades - Reversed collapsed rubber mounts, added closed cell foam under pump
I made sure to install the discharge hose in such a way to ensure it wasn't touching any of the metal panels of the machine, to help avoid transmission of vibration to the sheet metal. I also corrected the leak in the stainless steel 90 degree fitting at the pump outlet.

Vibration Damping

The next tactic was to install vibration damping sheet to as much of the accessible sheet metal on the machine, with the aim of reducing vibration transmission. A common brand name for vibration damping material is Dynamat. I ended up using Noico sheets - just because I found a format and quantity online which was well suited to the size of the Rancilio project. One thing I checked was the operating temperature of the Noico sheet - it's rated to 210F (about 98C).

I was careful to avoid placing this material too close to the boiler or group head components, and I insulated the boiler to help reduce the temperature within the front case.

I was also installing a PID controller, so I had to disassemble the machine anyway. I did the PID installation at the same time as the vibration damping sheet installation, saving time.

I installed damping sheet on the following components:
  • Main frame - side columns and base
  • Rear cover
  • Front cover
  • Pump cover
  • Top cover
Sound damping sheet installation underneath base

Sound damping sheet installation front cover

Sound damping sheet installation main frame around pump

Sound damping sheet installation pump cover

Sound damping sheet installation pump cover
I used a 2" rubber ink roller to roll out the damping sheet, and make sure there were no gaps in the adhesive or air bubbles under the sheet.

Sound damping sheet installation rear cover

Sound damping sheet installation top cover. Note installation of strips only to allow heat to warm top cover to keep cup heating function.

Sound damping sheet installation - with front and rear covers and pump cover installed. 


So - what's the net result of the noise control work? A fairly noticeable improvement in noise control. One problem however - the drip tray grate still rattles during a shot - so I added some cushioning to reduce the impact of the rattle since it wasn't practical to add sound damping material to the grate.
The machine runs quite quietly now and I can make coffee in the kitchen directly below the master bedroom, without waking up my significant other. Worth the effort? Definitely!

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. My go-to place for genuine Rancilio Silvia parts in Canada is


Rancilio Silvia Upgrade and Maintenance Project

I recently completed a fairly extensive upgrade to my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine:
The machine was purchased in July 2008 - so at time of the project it was 11 1/2 years old. I've been pretty good with routine boiler and pump descaling, however, I've never changed the group head gasket, and I had leaks around the portafilter when brewing. I purchased the PID kit 6 years ago, and never took the time to install it. I also wanted to be able to run the machine early in the morning while the rest of the family is sleeping, so I was also interested in quieting the machine when brewing. 

Here's a photo of the completed machine. I'll tackle each of the upgrades as separate posts. 


I've been running the updated machine for about 2 weeks now. I've been making coffee in the morning with everyone else sleeping in the house, and absolutely no complaints about noise. The convenience of the PID controller is not to be understated - knowing the brew / steam water temperature is so insightful when working to improve the taste of your espresso. The warmup timer has been flawless - every morning when I come downstairs the machine is ready to pull a shot - temperature has stabalized and the coffee mugs have warmed up. The boiler insulation seems to help keep the side panels of the machine from getting too hot, and it probably helps to get heat down into the group head for more consistent brew water temperature control, and quicker temperature recovery between shots. Finally - it's nice just having a machine that looks almost like new - has been thoroughly cleaned, and no longer leaks from the group head gasket. Totally worth the effort to renovate a 12 year old machine. It really is built like a tank.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States. I purchased my PID kit directly from Auber Instruments: My go-to place for genuine Rancilio Silvia parts in Canada is


Adding Trailer Light Harness to the BMW 5 Series E60 E61 Touring

I've had my 1 1/2" trailer hitch installed for three years now, I use it regularly with my receiver mount bike rack, but everytime I needed to tow - I needed to use the Subaru Outback because I never got around to installing the wiring. So - camping trip with the kids planned for this summer, so I was forced to get on the lighting controller installation.
Vehicle connections are on the left side - black - 12V, green - right turn, red - stop, yellow - left turn, brown - tail, white - ground.

Curt Powered, Circuit Protected Taillight Converter, Trailer connections right side, vehicle connections left side.
I thought I'd post a few tips to help anyone out with selecting tapping points for the lighting controller.

Green lead on the Curt adapter - right turn - I found the blue / brown wire to the right signal light right at the connector to the right side signal light connector, just above the trunk battery. 
Stop light (red wire) connected to White / Brown and Running Lights (Brown Wire) connected to Black / Brown at the right rear signal light connector

Ensuring a good ground - scuffing the paint around the ground lead connection to bare metal

Reverse lights (not needed for the Curt adapter, but used in the 7 pin plug connection) in the wiring harness above the battery, right rear of the trunk, white / yellow wire. This is also useful for tying in a reverse light camera. 

Use a bit of aluminum foil to deflect heat from the heat gun when shrinking the butt crimp connectors, to protect trim and other wiring. 

Following installation - neaten up the installation with some black PVC wire wrap. 
And that's all there is to it. Once installed, make sure you test to make sure all is working correctly. You can purchase these inexpensive testing plugs online, this one is made by Curt as well.

Light testing adapter. Running lights / stop and turn signal combination lights. 

2 Year Update

Still working perfectly. Did a cross country tent trailer camping trip with the kids - everything worked great. Good quality parts. 

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States.


Installing the Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller in the 5 Series BMW E60 E61 Touring

Let's get the first question out of the way... Why? I've had my 2010 BMW 535xiT for almost 5 years now, and there is no sign that BMW will be importing the next generation 5 series wagon to North America - so I've decided to keep the BMW and run it into the ground. I purchased it at 78,000km, I'm at 175,000km now - averaging about 20,000km per year, so I figure I'll take it to at least 300,000km and really get my money's worth out of it. So - I already had the 1 1/2" receiver hitch installed and get routine service out of it with the bike rack, and I decided to properly set up the car for towing. There's going to be the guys out there that will say you should go out and get yourself an F150 or the like - and I've thought about this quite a bit. The 535xiT weighs 4100 pounds, has 300HP, and most importantly, 300 torques all the way from 1500 to 5000 rpm. Plenty for towing up to 3000lbs with the correct hitch. Oh - and the 535 touring is also equipped with airbag rear suspension, on board air compressor and self levelling suspension control.

The completed Tekonsha P3 Brake Controller Installation, Console Mounted, Passenger side of the Shifter
So - on we go.

Locating the controller - you want the controller within sight and reach of the driver, to be able to actuate the manual brake lever on the bottom of the unit for testing and calibration. One limitation of this controller is that it has to be aligned with the travelling direction of the vehicle (display perpendicular to the direction of travel) so that the inertial sensors work properly. The unit can be rotated up or down a full 360 degrees as long as the unit is aligned along the travelling axis. I originally thought I would install the unit under the drivers side dashboard (below the steering wheel) and there were a few nice options to do so - however - there is almost no clearance below the wheel between the drivers legs. You could easily avoid the unit installed under the steering wheel, but if you ever got in an accident, the placement of the control unit under the steering wheel could really mess up your knees - so - I looked for a better alternative.

I did a quick search on cell phone mounts for the E60 / E61 and found a nice placement to the right (passenger side) of the shifter - so I decided to fabricate a bracket out of aluminum sheet.

First step in bracket fabrication - hook over the leather border on the console, fit into the gap between the wood trim and the console edge. 
Final shape of the bracket, with a small hook to fit under the carpet trim on passenger side of the cabin. 

I glued a baseplate to the top of my bracket to take the screws from the Tekonsha mounting bracket, using isocyanate glue
You can see where the second Neodymium magnet will be fastened to the bracket - make sure you mark the rotation of the magnet with the correct field orientation - so when you mound the magnet on the back side of the bracket, it will engage with the hidden magnet with full force (N to S, S to N). 
 Now - onto wiring. The brake controller needs a battery connect, a ground connection, a brake signal from the brake light switch, and a switched line back to the back of the car, the brake connection on the trailer connector. I first tackled the brake light signal. This took a whole lot longer than what I expected, because the brake pedal switch on the BMW E60 / E61 is not connected directly to the brake lights. It's a double pole switch which switches to ground on one pole, and switches a signal between two control boxes - comfort access and lighting control module. So - I decided against tapping into the brake light switch wiring and tap into the brake light wiring instead.

There are four brake light bulbs on the 5 series BMW, and a single high mount brake light. Since the BMW has a light bulb failure detection feature, each individual light bulb has it's own feeder wire. That means that five separate brake light wires go from the lighting control module located up front to the left of the brake pedal, all the way to the back of the car. I decided to tap into the larger of the two brake light wires feeding the left rear brake light bulbs, this wire is 0.75mm diameter, gray wire with green stripe. I found this wire on the way out of the lighting control module.
Gray wire, green stripe, leaving connector to lighting control module. I've cut the wire and tapping the signal wire which will run to the Tekonsha P3 stop signal (red wire). 
By the way - there are two gray wires with green stripes in this section of harness, one is larger than the other, you need to tap into the thicker wire (0.75mm diameter). Don't ask me how I found this out.
Heat shrink butt crimp connectors - I use two layers of aluminum foil to protect the rest of the wires in the harness from overheating. 
 Now - I needed 20A feed, and a good ground. Just to the right of the center console, on the passenger side of the car, there is a conventional 12V power outlet up underneath the dashboard. Instead of tapping a new fuse on the fuse box behind the glove box, I simply crimped two space connectors on the Tekonsha harness and tapped into the connector for the 12V power outlet. Brown wire on the car harness is ground - connect to the white wire of the Tekonsha harness, and the other wire is the battery feed (12V) to the black wire on the Tekonsha harness. SIMPLE AND QUICK!!

12V power and ground - I just removed the connector from the passenger side 12V power outlet, and tapped into the connector using standard crimp on spade connectors. 
 Next - you have to run a minimum 14gauge wire back to the trailer connector. I ran this wire along the passenger side of the car. Pelican parts has some nice tutorials on how to remove the door sill trim - really useful - just google them - and I ran the wire along underneath all the door sill trim.
Use a coat hanger to help run the wires through B pillar trim without removing the trim piece

Tape the wire you're pulling to a section of coat hanger wire - to help feed the wire under the luggage compartment side wall trim.

Installation of the 7 pin connector underneath the car, to the right of the hitch receiver. I decided to trim the bracket to make the installation a bit easier. 

The completed 7 pin connector installation - bracketed to the underbody cover which hides the battery box and air suspension air compressor. 
 So - with all the wiring completed, back to the final bracket installation. I decided to have the aluminum bracket held in place using two neodymium magnets, one underneath the console side carpet trim, one underneath the Tekonsha mounting bracket.
I used my mythbusters / Adam Savage trick of mixing baking soda with Isocyanate glue to thicken the glue, and provide gusseting for the magnet. This is the backside of the thin carpet trim piece which runs along the passenger side footwell. 


With the brake controller installed and powered up, here's what it looks like in the 5 series. 
Powered up and tested, brake controller head unit conveniently located to the right of the shifter.

The Tekonsha P3 has a nice voltage troubleshooting screen under the help menu - will tell you your battery voltage, and stop light voltage. 
I also installed a Curt lighting adapter to provide the turn signals to the trailer adapter, I'll write a separate post on that installation, and one on the operation of the brake controller.

Sources and Links

I hope you found this post useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. I answer all questions. If you're interested, you can help support this site by using the following links to in the United States.