Posted: February 26, 2014, 1:50 p.m. EDT
Manufacturers of aquatic timers, monitors and programmable systems are providing the high-tech convenience consumers want.
By Keith Loria
With so many different electrical devices being used in aquariumkeeping, controllers play an important role in maintaining a healthy aquatic environment.
Currently, everyone uses a timer of some sort, and auto feeders are growing in popularity, said Bruce Kelley, manager of AquaTek Tropical Fish in Austin, Texas.
"LED has kind of taken over the aquarium world, and anyone who has updated their lights wants to be able to do something with them, so simple timing programs to impress the friends and family are popular,” he said. "What I really like the most for lighting is Aqua Illumination’s Director, a supercool light controller that lets you control up to 30 lights in the tank. It does everything from sunrise/sunset to clouds, lightning storms and lunar cycles, and there’s a mobile app that lets users do everything on their phones so they can be out of town and have it work off a web address.”
The industry has gotten to the point where high-end timed lights have become the norm, as hobbyists simply can go to their computers in many cases and download the exact light profile they want throughout the day, including intensity and pitch of color spectrum, said Rick Preuss, co-owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.
Display products near aquarium lights and other electrical aquarium accessories. Sherri L. Collins/I-5 Publishing at Nature Pet Centre
"Not only is it remembering unit on and off, but it’s doing exactly what you would see in nature, which for a reef tank or aquarium is a desirable aspect,” he said. "As far as other timers that are new and different, we have water circulators that will tie into whether you want the water to be calmer or more turbulent, and it can also time a storm event and different sequences of tidal effects.”
Best-sellers at Preuss Pets include EchoTech Marine’s Radion LED lighting and Acan LED lighting, added Preuss.
Lifegard Aquatics’ Intelli-Feed aquarium fish feeder is designed to be moisture proof.
"Typically with fish feeders, the food is hanging over the aquarium, and it’s easily clogged because of the moisture,” said Neal Dulaney, president of the Cerritos, Calif., company. "But the hopper that holds the fish food is stored inside of the unit and comes out when it’s time to feed and rotates and goes back in, so it keeps the food dry. It is programmable and can feed up to 12 times a day with three rotations.”
Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. offers several new aquarium controlling systems, said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company.
"These controllers are easy to use and help aquariumkeepers by automatically providing a natural and consistent daylight cycle for aquarium plants and animals,” she said. "These controllers can be used to provide power to lights, powerheads, filters, heaters and more.”
The company’s AquaSun Aquarium Timer can be used to turn one item on and off. Its AquaSun Aquarium Controller features four outlets controlled by a timer and four constant outlets. The AquaSun Dual Timer has one outlet controlled by a timer and one that provides constant power.
High-tech devices that monitor calcium and nitrate as well as pH and freshwater hardness also have been in high demand, said Lou Dell, president of American Marine Inc., a Ridgefield, Conn.-manufacturer of Pinpoint Monitors.
"Highly accurate and affordable digital instruments to show water quality have been growing in popularity for over 15 years, and there is no end in sight,” he said. "Freshwater hobbyists will appreciate the instant readings for precise hardness; saltwater hobbyists will use the monitor to assess the purity of deionized and reverse-osmosis water.”
One of the more exciting innovations to come along in recent years is the ability for aquariumkeepers to control timers and feeders via iCloud or perform remote monitoring by a cell phone or tablet.
This is the wave of the future, and it won’t be long before most monitoring is done simply by looking at a screen from a remote location, said Bryan Moore, sales manager for Milwaukee Instruments in Rocky Mount, N.C.
One controller popular with many retailers, including Bruce Kelley, manager of AquaTek Tropical Fish in Austin, Texas, and Rick Preuss, co-owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., is the Apex from Neptune Systems, which can be hooked up wirelessly and controlled from a phone or tablet.
"It allows you to pretty much program everything from feeding your fish to checking temperature to monitoring levels and temperature, and controlling chillers if you have them,” Kelley said. "More of my customers are interested in devices like these, and I definitely believe this is where the industry is headed.”—KL
MC Monitors, manufactured by Milwaukee Instruments, are designed to continuously monitor pH, EC or TDS values, and an LED visual alarm activates and flashes when the levels rise above or below the set point.
"Our new monitor line allows the end user to control whether the alarm or notification is activated above or below the specific set point with a butterfly switch,” said Bryan Moore, sales manager for the Rocky Mount, N.C., company."In the past, it would only activate above a specific point. Now users can set it anywhere on the pH scale and the unit will alarm if it drops below.”
That means if users are dosing CO2 into a calcium reactor or saltwater tank, the monitor can detect if the pH acid rises to a dangerous level and cut the gas off automatically, Moore added.
"The speed, accuracy and footprint size of the units all have improved from year to year,” Moore said.
"One of the things we have been able to do is double, and in some cases triple, the size of the LCD because the footprint of the motherboard has been reduced, allowing for a larger display, so that’s an advantage.”
Around the Store
To help retailers spread the word about its product, Lifegard Aquatics provides a brochure to stores and features a video link on its website that shows how its feeder works, which excites customers and spurs them to buy, Dulaney said.
Keep products near aquarium lights and other electrical aquarium accessories, as they are easy to display and complement them nicely, said Rademacher of Zoo Med. Retailers should understand the parameters of each controller, and all staff should be up-to-date on the features, she added.
"Retailers should be knowledgeable about the benefits that controllers can provide for customers and the importance of consistent, natural photoperiod,” she said. "Some of these include encouraging natural feeding behaviors in marine invertebrates, such as corals, minimizing algae growth and promoting aquatic plant growth.”
Retail customers request web link pages and disposable accessories, such as probes and AC kits, to help with displays, said Dell of American Marine.
"When retailers use a Pinpoint pH Monitor, for example, they tend to sell quite a few of them while also demonstrating the chemistry of their own systems,” he said.
AquaTek Tropical Fish features several display tanks that are set up in the showroom with a variety of timers attached so the staff can demonstrate the features of each, said Kelley.
"Manufacturers could do a much better job with helping in that regard,” he said. "Usually, with controllers, we need to figure out the methods ourselves and then we can show the rest of the staff. It would be nice if the manufacturer presented us with instructions on how to use and sell it more effectively. The problem is, they know they have a product that people want so they feel they will just come get it and then figure it out.”
Make sure the store has enough display tanks to keep all of the systems at eye level so customers can see how everything works, said Preuss of Preuss Pets. Plus good signage never hurts, he noted.
Offering troubleshooting expertise to retail stores and consumers is helpful, said Moore of Milwaukee Instruments.
"We’re available to answer customer questions during normal business hours as it relates to the monitor or controller and how that is set up,” he said.
"Many people don’t want to spend the time roaming through the multitude of information we have on our website. We can answer questions in just minutes, and that’s an important part of our relationship with retailers.”
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