Backstage running lights have historically comprised an A-lamp in a bulkhead-style fixture. With the European launch last year and the North American debut at this past USITT, the Blues System — manufactured in the UK by Global Design Solutions Ltd. and distributed exclusively in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East by TMB — has brought solid-state lighting to a theatre near you.

What It Does

The Blues System represents a new approach to performance worklights. Using an LED, these units are intended to replace bulkheads, fluorescents, theatrical fixtures, or any other light sources currently used for running lights. Manufactured from UV-stable polycarbonate, the units have a compact and robust design, and with its IP67 rating, installation is possible in most environments. The units are rated to 10 joules of impact at 5'. Because they are entirely solid-state, the Blues System produces little heat and eliminates the need to ever change a lamp — or the gel in it — again.

The Blues System comprises a range of fixtures and power supplies. First, the units come in more than just blue. They are available with either a blue, white, or red LED; in the BlueBeam version, white is available in cool or warm white. The BlueDome is an omni-directional, dimmable LED unit suited to low-level applications. Domes are available in either opaque or frosted-clear. The BlueBeam is a directional, dimmable LED unit suited to high-level installations. Beams are available in 5°, 10°, or 20° beam angles, making illumination from 1' to 50' possible.

The BlueBeam and BlueDome can use a 0V to 10V dimming connection. Onboard dimming allows each unit to be adjusted to suit its surroundings. Light levels and blackouts can be easily managed. For larger installations, the BlueDrive product allows units to be integrated seamlessly into worklight/performance lighting systems.

Also available are eDome and eBeam, non-dimmable LED units, designed to provide emergency-lighting solutions.

A range of controllers and accessories are available to simplify the installation options of the Blues System range. All units are powered using a 12V signal, and the operating voltage can be anywhere between 11V to 36V. The only limit to the number on one circuit is the power supply. The units are limited to 2.7W consumption to protect lamp life. Available accessories include various baffles and louvers, plus J-box adapter plates for the American market.

The units mount directly onto standard conduit systems, plastic or metal, both in the US and around the world — reducing installation time and materials. This makes installation, whether new or retrofit, extremely easy. RoHS- and WEEE-compliant for minimal environmental impact, the range is flexible, compact, and energy-efficient, with a zero maintenance working life of 15+ years.

Matthew Lloyd, managing director of Global Design Solutions Ltd., sees the market for the Blues System broken down into two main sections — theatrical and architectural — and the flexibility and longevity of the units are pushing designers to find new uses. “It allows customers to install a system running for approximately 12 hours per day that they will not need to come back to for at least 15 years.”

“Blues System is truly one of those ‘Why didn't I think of that?’ new products,” adds Chris Curran, TMB's architectural sales director. “It solves many backstage lighting problems, as well as offers options that were previously impractical.”

How It Came To Be

GDS specializes in product development while supplying technical and design consultancy to the entertainment and associated industries. The company came up with the idea in 2004 when a customer inquired about a robust worklight that evolved into the conduit mounting with an LED light source. “The system developed from there into our first installation in August 2005 in the Bristol Hippodrome, one of the UK's largest touring venues,” comments Lloyd. “Since then, we have won the PLASA Innovation Award.”

What's Next

GDS teamed up with TMB in February to reach markets in additional territories. “With TMB's enthusiasm and commitment, we are getting great exposure into both the entertainment and architectural markets,” says Lloyd. GDS continues to develop the current range of products and introduce other accessories and new products to complement the Blues System. “We are also adapting certain accessories into other specialist products for the theatrical market, such as cue lights and mobile worklight boxes,” adds Lloyd.

What End-Users Have To Say

“The Blues System is a well-thought-through system that was clearly designed by a team with a good background in the theatre and a thorough understanding of what was required,” says Steve Roberts, consultant with Carr & Angier Theatre Consultants (www.carrandangier.co.uk). The one feature that he really likes is the long lamp life: “We no longer have to worry about theatre staff having to access fittings on the underside of galleries after every few thousand hours of use,” he says. At this point, there isn't anything that Roberts would like to see improved. “GDS gave us the opportunity to comment on the product range before it was launched and has taken many of our comments onboard with the production versions,” says Roberts. “GDS did its homework and came up with a product range that is cleverly designed to be simple to install and provides excellent results.”

Jim Meyer, LC, specification sales with the Seattle-based Lighting Group Northwest (www.lightinggroupnw.com), chose the Blues System for its size, durability, and light output. “They have a really nice punch,” he says. Meyer uses both the Beam and the Dome. “If you put the half-eyelid accessory without the lenses on, that thing will blast 50', and you really can't see a glare. One problem with a lot of LEDs is glare, and when you put lenses over them, they lose performance, but this product seems to be able to handle both.” He also likes the flexibility for so many applications. His wish list for future developments includes different lensing and cut-off options. “I hope there are some new housings and other lamping configurations coming,” he adds.

Nick Ewins, operations director with UK-based Fagan Electrical (www.faganelectrical.co.uk), chose the Blues System because of its uniqueness and longevity. “You can put Blues into places you can't put other products because you don't have to get to it to do maintenance,” he says. “It is easy to install. An electrician can make it work without commissioning, and the customers love it.” There are a few improvements he would like, including a few more accessories. “But in reality, they need to keep the product simple,” he adds. “I think the system is undersold because people don't know how good it really is. You don't get enough information just through the literature, but the minute you take one of those little battery demo boxes up and hang it or point it down over a fly floor, it sells itself.”

“It is an extremely versatile range that can be housed in so many ways that architects and designers can make the finished, housed fixture unique to their applications,” says Bruce J. Bandy, system integrator, Barbizon Lighting Company (www.barbizon.com). “I have now specified the product as an architectural improvement, practical and safety illumination, and as part of an art-deco design piece.” There are two features that Bandy really likes about the Blues System: “The simple fact that you can power 55 units from one power supply — that's so hard to find in the LED world. Also, the different color choices have gone over well with my clients. The 3,200°K white has a great appeal as an incandescent replacement with an 18-year lamp life.” When it comes to improvements, Bandy finds that his needs are always met. “I have yet to find a use for which TMB and GDS have not only found a solution, but have improved on the idea,” he says. “I have requested custom housings, and the ideas came professionally drawn up within hours. The IP rating means it can pretty much go anywhere, like in 2m of water. They are indestructible; we literally drove a truck over it and connected it, and it worked like a charm.”

For further information, visit www.gds.uk.com and www.tmb.com.


Michael S. Eddy writes about design and technology. He can be reached at mseddy2900@hotmail.com.