J. R. Clancy's SceneControl 500 Comes to the Rescue at Philadelphia's Verizon Hall

When the spectacular, 2400-seat Verizon Hall opened in Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in 2001, its state-of-the-art automated rigging system seemed like the right choice to move the massive acoustic canopies as each concert required.

Before long, however, the hall's manager, David Thiele—now the Kimmel Center's vice president of facilities and operations—determined that there were significant issues with the rigging. The hardware components initially functioned properly, but the software did not.

“We discovered early on that the software was not reliable,” he said. “We had a series of problems with software bugs that had to be solved. There were unusual error messages that couldn't be cleared without a phone call to the manufacturer's main office.”

As time went on, Thiele noted, the manufacturer's ability to help him waned as well—and then hardware problems began to arise. “We found out that the drives that controlled the action of the winches were no longer manufactured,” he said. “The manufacturer said they were going to stop supporting them. I couldn't get the drives fixed cost-effectively.”

A single, reliable supplier

With the rigging system in his nearly new concert hall already obsolete, Thiele needed a solution and a supplier he could trust. He began his search by looking at the other performance halls in the Kimmel Center, and found an answer quickly.

“We had a J. R. Clancy system in the Perelman Theatre,” he said, referring to the Kimmel Center's 650-seat proscenium theatre and recital hall. “My intent was to have a single source for everything. The system in the other theatre was more robust, more reliable. It made perfect sense to go with Clancy.”

Larry Eschelbacher, J. R. Clancy controls engineering manager, led the team that examined the system and determined the best course of action.

“There were things in the system we could not agree to maintain,” Eschelbacher said. “The variable speed drives for the acoustic ceilings, speaker clusters—we had to tear all of those out and replace them with new drives. The banners and travelers were fixed speed with Alan Bradley remote I/O, so we could interface them with our controller.”

Eschelbacher explained. “We didn't know how much spurious movement was noise from the drives, and how much was the software, so in the end, the least expensive option was to pull them out.”

The old variable speed drives were replaced with better quality vector drives specifically designed for overhead hoisting. For their new control system, Thiele and his staff chose the SceneControl 500, J. R. Clancy's advanced automated rigging controller. This console uses high reliability PLC technology, specifically designed for use in electrically noisy industrial environments. This replaced the home/office grade computer provided by the original supplier; eliminating the electrical noise issues.

The transition from the faulty system to the new equipment went off without a hitch, Thiele said. “The process went really well. Larry did a really great job ferreting out what had to happen,” he noted. “We found that there were gaps in the information with the drawings from the as-built system. Larry was very judicious in making sure all the bases were covered. The installation went very smoothly, and the system works really well.”

With a new, well-proven system in place, Verizon Hall's rigging problems are over, Thiele said. “It's important to me to know that Clancy basically adopted this system, and not only made it function reliably and accurately, but is also standing behind it.”

More information on the SceneControl 500 and other J. R. Clancy automated rigging products can be found at www.jrclancy.com.

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