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2011 Week 10, 11, 12 rollup

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2011 Week 10, 11, 12 rollup

It’s been a few weeks, let’s see if I can remember the highlights…

North Carolina USITT

I had great time in N.C. In Winston-Salem, I gave a quick demo of our Stagehand controllers and SpikeMark software to a group of people attending the USITT Professional Developer Workshop on automation. The group was a mixture of college professors, tech directors, and students and they all seemed to appreciate the demo.

Although we didn’t have a booth at the USITT show in Charlotte, I swung down for a few hours and met up with some of the guys from Vortek (now part of Daktronics) in the hotel lobby.

Rentals, rentals, and more rentals

I don’t know if it’s the reduced rental prices or just a flurry of automated productions, but there’s a constant stream of rentals coming and going. Mostly Revolver rentals, but some winches too, heading out across the country to high schools, colleges, and regional theatres. The increase in rental activity is motivating us to hone our rental system a bit. Historically, we’ve done a lot more sales business than rentals so our workflow is tailored more towards making new equipment than renting existing gear. But we’re fast learners and have spent the some time over the last couple weeks getting our check-in, prep, ship-out cycle tuned to the new demands. We’ve also had to grow our rental inventory a bit more to meet the rental orders, but I think we’re at the proper inventory levels… at least for now.

New video clips

Santa Fe Opera and Mystic Scenic Studios sent in some videos of our gear in action. Take a peek at our gallery for the latest clips.

See you next week!

2011 Week 9 recap

North Carolina Trip Approaching

As I mentioned last week, Jack Miller from University of North Carolina School of the Arts was kind enough to invite Creative Conners down to the Professional Development Workshop to demonstrate our system as part of the Stage Automation class. The workshop is two days of training that takes place in Winston-Salem prior to the USITT conference that’s happening later in the week in Charlotte.

School of the Arts own one of our systems already, so the plan was to just show up and demo our SpikeMark software and Stagehand control using their equipment. However, it turns out that I am going to meet with some other companies after the workshop and need a way to demo the system in a hotel room/lobby setting. As you can imagine, lugging 5HP winches around isn’t ideal for this scenario. In the shop, we have a bunch of little 2-axis rigs that have miniature motors but full Stagehand-OEM control boards. We use these as testing units to test new software features and simulate larger shows on a workbench. If a theater encountered a bug, or anomaly while running a show, we like to load their show file and recreate the environment using these miniature motors for simulation and the log files as a guide. Since these test units are compact and powered from 110vac, I figured taking one of them with me to North Carolina would both allow for a little more gear to play with during the PDW workshop, and let me to show off the software and control during a hotel lobby sales pitch. So we spent a little time this week tidying up one of the test units to be presentable and getting it fitted into a Pelican case for air travel.

Web Site Status Report

Ian has been working hard on the next version of the Creative Conners web site. There is no visual difference to the new site (yet), but he’s been making good progress in retooling the backend to make it easier to add our full catalog of products to the site and move it one step closer for online ordering. Why is this so important? Well, it turns out that we sell a lot of products, like over 100 different products. But, if you looked at our site you might think that we sell maybe a dozen. Our price sheet for 2011 lists everything, but that’s hardly an effective marketing tool. With the new site, there will be almost no friction for us to add all of our products, and any new products, to the online catalog. Ian’s pushing to get the first iteration public by March 18th which is an ambitious goal. Like all “simple” software projects, it’s grown a little more complicated since we started in January Smile

The other pain point of the site that we are working on is developing more learning tools. The first step is to get a little more explanation on the site about how you can make scenery move. Basic explanations of winch tracks and turntables with clear diagrams and helpful tips would do a lot to ease anxiety for TD’s facing their first automation project on a tight timeline. Catherine, the technical writer who revised the SpikeMark manual, is turning her keen eye toward this challenge and I can’t wait to see how it develops. Her initial sketches and outlines look great!

I’ve been pitching in on the coding for the site whenever possible. Writing code is one of my favorite things to do, though finding useful blocks of concentrated time can be challenging. For any other fellow geeks out there that are interested, the new site is being built with ASP.Net MVC. We use Microsoft’s .Net framework for developing SpikeMark as well, so it’s convenient to keep using some of the same tools for web development. Some of our other internal tools have been written Ruby on Rails, but I’ve personally grown a little less excited about both Rails and Ruby. I imagine at this point in the post, my last reader has fallen asleep so I’ll stop waxing poetic about programming languages and platforms.

Have a great week!

Quick Tip–Synchronizing Motors

A question that comes up frequently is, “How can I pull a piece of scenery with multiple motors and make sure that they are synchronized?”

It’s a great question.  A common scenario is a full-stage (or mostly full-stage) wagon that needs to track upstage/downstage.  Driving large turntables with multiple motors is another instance where you may want to use multiple motors to act as a single motor.  Using multiple motors in either situation lets you distribute your horsepower more evenly across the load.  Could you do it mechanically?  Sure, but using a piece of cable is a lot easier than building a bunch of mechanical linkages.

The answer is simple.  As long as you are using a variable frequency drive with AC motors, just two-fer the motor into the drive.  A couple of points to be aware of:

1.  You are still limited to the total horsepower of the drive.  A 5HP freq drive will only push 5HP worth of motors (maybe 2 @ 2HP).

2.  You should protect each motor individually from overload current.  If you have two 2HP motors powered by a single 5HP inverter, there’s the chance that one motor will draw 5HP worth of current.  Using a motor starter in series with each motor, that is appropriately rated, will protect each motor from overload.  Though I confess, I have be known to skip this step on quick-hit shows, YMMV.

3.  While you two-fer the motor and brake lines, you still only use one set of limit switches and one encoder.

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