Review: Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 2- Intro and Documentation

A BMS is one of the more expensive parts of the drive system, and it protects the most expensive components- the batteries.  Considering the complexity and chance for failure and damage if the device isn’t used properly, the documentation for the system is really important, and for the vast majority of BMS systems out there, really sadly lacking.  (Clearly, if you’re looking for a work/travel opportunity, tech manual translation in China seems like it’s a wide-open market.)

The Manzanita documentation is refreshingly complete and detailed.  Available from the download page of their site, the manuals are well illustrated, dated, and not only do you get the contact information for support on the last page, you get the name, address and phone number of the Manzanita owner- Rich Rudman – in many cases the lead designer for many of the products.  In all the year I’ve worked with technology, I’ve never, ever seen that kind of personal access and accountability for a product.

The three manuals I worked with were the main product- the MK3 series (shown above is the MK3x8, probably the more popular unit for someone building a big pack, but the unit I was playing with was the MK3x4, the smaller kit), the Rudman Bus Display manual (the small display shown below), and the software manual.

Here’s a look at the Table of Contents for the basic MK3 module:

CONTENTS
GENERAL OVERVIEW
DIMENSIONS AND SPECIFICATIONS
KEY FEATURES LIST
OPERATION
– Photo of BMS Board Face With Callouts
– LED Indicator Guide
– Dissipation Heat Sink
– Built in Fuse
– Connections
THE REGBUS INTERFACE
-Pinout Description
BMS INSTALLATION
WIRING THE MANZANITA MICRO MK3X8 BMS
– Voltage Sense Wiring
– Temperature Sense Wiring
– Reg Bus wiring
– Reg Bus Cable Construction
CONNECTING WITH THE DIGITAL INTERFACE
– Connecting with a Laptop or Windows Based Computer
– Dongle / Terminator (DT) Box
REGULATOR ADJUSTMENT AND COMMANDS
– Command Usage and Document Conventions
– Commands List
– Detailed Description of Each Command
MANZANITA MICRO CONTACT INFO
APPENDIX
-Voltage Sense Wiring With Bottom Mount Connection

We’re looking at a short, succinct 28 pages of detailed, pertinent information on the configuration of the unit, some additional information about wiring setup, because of the importance of making a good, solid harness, and some very detailed programming information (which, for the most part, is going right over my head…  However, I have no doubt if I had a need for working on the programming side, I could make a call to the boys and get some good help.)

The one thing I feel is pointedly missing is a “Troubleshooting” chapter- what to look for if stuff isn’t working right.  A short few paragraphs of an overview of how the system works would be kind of helpful too, just from a perspective of understanding, in one sound bite, how it all fits together and works.  That said, reading through all the separate manuals and messing with the parts and pieces gets you a good overview pretty quickly.  You still may be missing a few key concepts, though.

The display manual was also fairly complete and informative, but with a couple of small omissions.  Although the language describing the screen was clear and concise, it would be really nice to have a simple screen shot of the actual display with some callouts.

That said, the screen’s not that complicated.  There were a few minor details, like how to move back in the menu tree in a couple spots, and again, a troubleshooting page (at one point I got a strange lavender bar on one of the cells, which turned out to be a com issue that went away after a restart…  but there’s no mention of it in the manual), but, again, compared to anything else I’ve seen (or not seen, because it simply doesn’t exist), the documentation is very workable.

Manzanita has been putting this stuff together for quite some time now…  I’m pretty sure this product has been in production for at least five years, and it is, without apology, a premium priced product.  Looking at the documentation and support, it pretty clearly shows a commitment to making the thing work, and helping the buyer to understand it, install it, and get the most out of it.  It keeps the Engineer-ese to a minimum, does not presume a too-high foundation knowledge of the new user, and ranks high in the “good, warm feeling” department…  something pointedly missing in this market.

The whole system is basically comprised of the BMS module, the Rudman display and the SOC Head- the unit that is the brains of the data-processing and control features.  The BMS module can operate as a stand-alone, but the shunting capabilities of it by itself are limited to some fairly modest voltage and current limits.  That is, they will protect the cells to a point, but after that, they depend on the SOC Head to take the protection to the next level.

Using the SOC Head and the display, you get the bar graph and readouts, as well as some under/over – voltage alarms.  You also get, when you’re using the Manzanita charging systems, the ability to tell the charger what’s going on at the cell level and moderate the charge.  If the cells are getting overcharged, for example, the basic BMS module, without any of the add-ons, can tell the charger to lay off, or shut off.  If it needs charge, it can ask for it.

Although this charger communication feature is designed for the Manzanita chargers, it’s open to any charger system that is designed to communicate this way.  It’s in no way proprietary, and Manzanita has kept it, essentially, an open architecture.

One more little bit is the Dongle Terminator…  a simple USB interface for connecting the system to your Windows computer and running the MK3 RegScanner software.  (By the way…  I tried running the software on my Mac with Parallels running WinXP- no dice – some key component was AWOL..  I’ll get screenshots from the Manzanita guys from a Windows machine rather than wasting time trying to troubleshoot it.)

Next up- the parts and pieces.

Read more:
Review: Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 1
Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 2- Intro and Documentation
Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 3- The Display
Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 4- The Board
Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 5- the SOC Head
Manzanita MK3 BMS, Part 6- Component Matrix
Manzanita MK3 BMS- Conclusions

Manzanita Micro site here.

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