Last week we were fortuante enough to be at Ecotech Marine headquarters in Allentown PA for the official unveiling of the company’s first controllable DC centrifugal pump, the Vectra M1 and L1. Last Friday’s live Google Hangout Q&A with Tim Marks afforded us the opportunity to pull back the curtain to see how Ecotech had made this so much more than just another controllable DC return pump.
Check out the video to see the whole interview with all the details about the new Vectra pumps, and for full pump specifications see our previous post regarding what kind of performance and pricing these pumps will carry. But if you just want to drill down into the nitty gritty of what is really going to make these pumps stand out, we’ve boiled down the top ten things you should know about the Vectra DC pumps.
#1 Generic body – The whole reef world seemed to gasp at the notion that Ecotech Marine released a centrifugal pump that actually looks like a pump. There’s only so many ways to build a pump, there’s a reason their external shape is so familiar. To that end Ecotech used a readily available mold to enclose their Vectra M1 and L1 pumps and focused their efforts on what is inside, and how it is driven. For starters the Vectra pumps have 36 volt motor windings compared to 24v motors that are commonly used, but the real secret sauce to the Vectra is how it is driven.
# 2 QuietDrive – Ecotech Marine has been researching and developing a centrifugal pump in some shape or form since before the Radion was released, but they were never quite pleased with how the motors performed, and especially how loud they were. With their breakthrough QuietDrive driving technology announced earlier this year, Ecotech realized they could use QD for all manner of DC motors and the Vectra pump was put back on the development table. With QuietDrive the Vectra pumps run virtually silent, and the are endowed with all of the smarts and controlling features that come with being connected to the cloud.
#3 Ecosmart Live – Also known as ESL, Ecosmart Live is the cloud controlling platform that allows users of Radions and Vortech pumps to seamlessly control their devices from practically any connected device. ESL opens the doors to an incredible degree of control and this feature set is equally important to the operation of any return pump.
And don’t even get us started with alerts! An ESL connected Vectra can notify users of all kinds of states of their return pump, it can sense the health of the power supply and determine if it should be replaced before it fails, it can notify users of an imbalance of flow due to blockage and it can definitely let users know if the pumps stops working.
#4 Calibration – The first thing that comes to mind when ‘calibration’ is mentioned is that you think the Vectra pumps will be ‘calibrated’ in the literal sense of the word. On the contrary, with calibration you can personally calibrate your Vectra pump to your own aquarium. What this means is that when you first set up the Vectra pump, you can set the ‘Zero’ point not to be your pump completely off, but to run at the specific speed for your tank’s plumbing and head pressure to just barely get the pump trickling through your aquarium.
Being rated at 2,000 and 3,000 GPH, the Vectra pumps can push more than enough water flow than most reef aquariums need. So likewise, on the other end of the spectrum you’ll be able to set a couple different maximums for your Vectra’s operation. There’s an ‘audible’ or operating maximum where you would like your pump to top out during normal operation, and also a ‘physical’ maximum where your aquarium’s drain can’t physically handle anymore water. Through the smart settings of the Vectra pump you’ll be able to access both the calibrated minimum and maxima to do other cool things.
#5 Feed Mode – It’s hard to get fired up about feed mode, a function that’s been available in some way shape or form for decades on our reef aquariums. But with the smart calibration modes of the Vectra the new Feed Mode paradigm is not for your pump to shut off, but to slow down to barely a trickle. With this smart feed mode the Vectra stays on but ramps down which prevents water from back-siphoning into your sump, possibly overfilling it or stirring up unnecessary detritus.
#6 Integrated Storm Mode – For us the Integrated Storm Mode is the one “killer feature’ of the Vectra which makes it stand head and shoulders above any other controllable DC pump. Up until now “storm mode” has been nothing more than a show, an aesthetic gimmick with a flicker of the LED lights to replicate lightning.
With Ecosmart Live controlling the Radion and the Vortech pumps, and now the Vectra return pump, “Storm Mode” is about to take on a whole new meaning. Imagine that your LED lights flicker and simulate lightning, notifying both you and your fish that a storm is about to commence. Your fish go and hide, and maybe some trained corals and anemones close up due to the reduced lighting.
Then the Vortech pumps ramp up, creating a very strong chaotic flow throughout the aquarium that kicks up sediment and stirs up detritus in all of the places where it normally accumulates. Then the Vectra pump ramps up from Audible Maximum to Physical Maximum to aggressively flush away all the detritus, funk and uneaten food directly into the filter. Doing an actual storm replication once is cool, but imagine a daily “wash cycle” for your reef that keeps any detritus and nutrients from building up in the first place! Now we’re talking real, tangible progress in smart aquarium husbandry.
#7 Float Switch – Another really cool feature of the Vectra pump is the inclusion of a “swithc port” right into the base of the QuietDrive driver box. Ecotech doesn’t make a float switch for this port yet, but users will be able to DIY float switches and other sensors into this port to give the Vectra feedback in the case of high or water levels, preventing any run dry scenarios or overflowing events.
#8 Battery Backup – As the heart of any aquarium system, the return pump is one of the most critical components keeping running water alive and oxygenated. The greatest aquarium disasters occur when the return pump fails for some reason or other, and with a battery backup Vectra users will be able to avoid lots of trouble and heartache.
The interplay of tank return height and head pressure will all factor into how long you can use a Vectra pump with Battery Backup. However, one example would be to have a Vectra M1 running at minimum speed to trickle water through the aquarium and down to the sumps consumes only 8 watts. At that power level you could “run” your tank and biological filter at a tiny rate to eek out a whole day of backup power to your Vectra M1, so you could easily get half a day running at a more generous water flowrate, even with the battery backup.
#9 3rd party controllers – With legions of WXM modules out in the world, it will be no problem for the Vectra to communicate with third party controllers such as the Apex. This feature won’t be seen quite at the launch of the Vectra pump but it should follow suit fairly shortly after Ecotech actually starts catching up with orders and the actual production of the Vectra pumps.
#10 Vectra S1, XL1 and NW – With the heart of the work in researching and developing the Vectra M1 and L1 DC Pumps, the door is wide open for Ecotech Marine to diversify the Vectra line of DC pumps into more models. A Vectra S1 and a Vectra XL1 are almost guaranteed to come to market some day, but for now Ecotech is focusing on getting the first two models out into the world.
Of course for us the Holy Grail Vectra would be the needle wheel version, the “Vectra NW1” if you will. The prospect of having a needle wheel pump as intelligent as the Vectra to truly optimize protein skimming when you need it, turn it down when you don’t, and interoperating with the built in float switch is literally a wet dream. However, this dream will be quite a ways off and for now we should just be happy that the Vectra DC pump will start shipping and powering reef tanks very very soon.