Review: Manzanita MK3 BMS- Conclusions

Somewhere along the way in this review it dawned on me I was working with simply the best BMS system available.  There.  That’s my conclusion.  Please remember this is the first working BMS I’ve looked at, so it’s been a great learning process, and also note I said BMS system.  The Manzanita is a complete system-based concept of not only battery management (including charge management), but cell, pack and overall data logging.  I went back and looked at other products available, and there simply is nothing out there like it.

I’d love to be in a position to test the reliability and function of the system, but there’s just no way I can do it.  However, you can take a quick look at who’s using it and judge for yourself.  It’s a big list, but if you narrow it down to motorcycles, it’s a list with names you’ve heard before: Chip Yates.  Killacycle.  Motocycsz.  I could go on, but I risk talking out of school…  I’m not sure what the sponsorship/support arrangements are…  They’ve cut their teeth building systems for cars, systems that are simply the highest performance packages out there.  You can bet that, if you’re tapping the Elemental Forces to power your motorcycle, the Manzanita BMS system is going to be the most bulletproof system you can get.  Yes, I’d love to get my hands on one and try to break it, but honestly, I can’t imagine doing anything to it that, say, Chip Yates hasn’t already tried to do… (photo above: Chip Yates and the Swigz team with Gene Seymour)

It’s clearly a pricey system, but you can’t even say pricey compared to any real product.  The closest package out there is the Elithion BMS, and it doesn’t have the same features or functionality.  The other products available, probably the “Mini-BMS” is one of the more popular, may be great products, are a lot cheaper, but are simply not in the same class.   To get similar features you have to combine them with other products, like the Cycle Analyst or CellLogger.

Besides being a great set of features, the MK3 is built in the US, and it’s built by the folks at Manzanita…  not some off-shore manufacturer.  I’ve been told they use all the highest-grade components, and I have little doubt that’s true.  In electronics, price = reliability, period.

So, bottom line?  I’m sold.  When you consider the cost of your batteries, the fact that you may change out your battery systems and need some flexibility in this investment, and the cost of your whole effort (as in building and racing a competition bike), as well as the notoriously bad reputation the BMS has as a point of failure, it seems to me that a system like this is where you need to suck it up and put your money- hobby builder or not.

Stuff I learned.

OK, I’m going to show you this shot at the risk of freaking Gene and the boys at Manzanita out…

…but this, my friends, is just what a BMS is designed to alert you to, and keep you from doing to your cells.  I set up a little drain test using my headlight and kept an eye on it for a while.  I then went in to make a cup of coffee, and came back to this display.  This shows a couple of things…  first, it underscores the fact that voltage in a lithium cell is a bad indicator of SOC (state of charge).  The cell was showing lower than the others when I went inside, it dropped of the cliff in about ten minutes.

Second, it demonstrates one key point you need to understand about a BMS, that I did not understand.  There is no BMS out there that will shut off a cell if it gets dangerously low.  It’s simply too hard to do, considering the current the cell is handling, but used properly, you can set the BMS up to cut out the throttle or controller if the alarms are triggered.  I thought, mistakenly, that the thing would shut out that cell by itself.

It is, however, a great example of how the display works to show both the relative cell levels as well as their session history.  (I only pray that Gene doesn’t look too close at the low voltage on that #1 cell… yes, my friends, you read that right.  .739V. I may have bought my first Headway cell…  )

Other stuff I learned?  Basically, if you want a BMS, there are a lot of smaller, cheaper products out there that will simply balance cells.  If you want an integrated BMS system, this is the only one, and a damn good one.

Conclusions?

Besides everything else, I want to underscore the support and accessibility that Manzanita has demonstrated.  If you’re a race team using their products, you have about a 90% chance of seeing Gene Seymour show up at the pits to check in on you before the race.  It’s a small company, and the literature doesn’t have the polish and glitz of a product from Apple or Sony, but you get the information you need in a good, concise package.  If that’s not good enough for you, you get the phone number of the guy who runs the company.  Game over.

In a landscape where you need a good, reliable and affordable BMS to protect your (huge) investment in lithium, it’s been a situation where there has simply been no complete, turnkey system available, until this.  This system clearly sets the bar.

There’s talk of some increased functionality coming down the road- SmartPhone interfaces, enhanced programability, like that…  but at this point I haven’t heard any rumblings about any lower-priced systems, and I don’t expect to.  When the manufacturing scale ramps up, we may be seeing some price drops simply from production scale, but that’s just conjecture.  …but my final word?  A+, and worth every dime.

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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