The Lightrack from Strand Lighting, a Philips group brand, isn't just a dimmer rack, and it isn't just a power distribution rack. Lighting rigs, in general, have become heavier with automated lighting and LEDs and lighter on conventional fixtures. These rigs require more constant power distribution and less dimming. Lightrack fulfills those requirements in one package that is smaller, lighter, and quieter than the current standard of rolling dimmer racks. This system allows a variety of power and dimming modules to mix and match. It allows rental houses and production companies to meet specific demands with just the right combination of components.

What It Does

The Lightracks are portable lighting control racks that offer a range of dimming, constant, and relay modules in a small and lightweight package that boasts nearly silent operation. Power modules are available to operate 120V and 208V automated lights or provide standard dimming using IGBT dimming technology for silent loads. Modules are all interchangeable, and all feature Socapex outputs. All Lightrack systems feature processors with DMX in and out as well as Strand's ShowNet network and Vision.net architectural control system inputs.

The racks come with the processor at the top and the main circuit breaker at the bottom. There are two racks, one with room for four modules in the middle and one with room for eight, packaged in a chassis that you can purchase and place inside any 19" road case, or you can buy the chassis in a road case from Strand. The four-module unit features a 400A main circuit breaker, while the eight-module rack features either a 400A or 600A main circuit breaker. There are also two duplex convenience outlets for plugging in accessories.

Cam-Lok power feeds feature in and out connectors with reversed ground and neutral 12×2.4kW dimming, and 12×20A constant and relay modules feature dual Socapex outlets for both 120V and 208V modules. 208V modules feature a special pin arrangement to prevent damage if you accidentally plug in 120V loads. Lightrack IGBT Dimming Modules contain an on-board, intelligent microprocessor that adjusts and maintains proper voltage and current in response to changes detected in the load and electrical service, which serves to extend lamp life. They also provide 800µs filtering for quiet loads and no lamp sing. Additionally, the microprocessor automatically suppresses surges and protects against short circuits. IGBT dimmers significantly reduce neutral harmonics when configured to operate in Low Harm® mode.

“There are the obvious benefits of using IGBT dimmers in that they are very quiet,” says Gordon Pearlman, director of technology with Strand Lighting, Philips Lighting Group. “You can put this rack right on the stage, fully loaded up, and you still can't hear it standing right beside it. That happened by the way that we cooled it, by using these motorized impellers and using one for every module so you don't have to have enormous fans.” The relay and constant modules have no fans for completely silent operation.

Key advantages of the Lightrack are size and weight. The chassis with no road case measures 19"×19"×26" for the four-module version, going up to 40.25" high for the eight-module version. In the road case with doors on, it measures 21"×30"×34.5", going up to 48.25" high for the eight-module. Fully loaded with dimmers and in a road case, the four-module unit weighs 240lbs, and the eight-module version weighs 435lbs. The chassis frame-only weighs 65lbs for the four-module and 235lbs for the eight-module. A 12-way dimmer module weighs 25lbs, and the 12-way constant module weighs 19lbs. “It is about a third of the size and weight of our competitor's rack,” says Pearlman.

How It Came To Be

The idea of a portable version of the Entertainment Technology IGBT dimmers was kicked around for years by Pearlman and his fellow engineers. The concept moved to the front burner when Q1, now Epic Production Technologies (www.epicpt.com), made a specific request to Pearlman. “I have to give a lot of credit to Marc Raymond,” says Pearlman. “Three or four years ago, Marc came down to Portland, and we brainstormed on what we could possibly do. He really wanted something that was small enough and light enough that he could fly it over the stage.”

“We asked, ‘Why is a dimmer rack a dimmer rack?’” says Raymond, chairman and CEO of Epic. “These days, you have a lot of devices that you need to distribute power to on one rig. Some need dimmable power; some need switchable power; some need constant power; and some use 208V, some 110V.” Pearlman adds that calling it a dimmer rack is not quite accurate “because it is a dimmer rack when you stuff it full of dimmers, but you can stuff it full of power distribution, and then it's a power distribution unit, or you can mix and match.”

After a lot of discussion, they finally came up with this concept of a module that goes all the way through. “That is the really unique thing about it,” says Pearlman. “You see the module both on the front and the back of the rack. You pick up your power and data on a bussway down the left side of the rack; this allowed us to not have to worry if there was a 220V module or a 110V module in the same place because the connectors changed out as you changed out the module. Another enormous issue about building a rack like this is interconnects. You want to keep interconnects to the absolute minimum. The idea that the thing flowed all the way through was the big concept.”

When you put the module in from the front, down the left hand side there is a 2½" plenum that runs from the top of the rack frame to the bottom. The key to making this all work is a connector that can be keyed for the right module. “Down the plenum, it has four or eight very slick German connectors that were designed for the robotics industry, so you have power and data on the same connector,” says Pearlman. “It is a blind-mate connector, and it mates beautifully. If it hadn't been for finding that connector, the whole project never would have happened. It's a connector with two large pins that line it up as it goes in, so you can literally pull modules out and plug back in other modules anywhere you want in the rack.”

When it comes to equipment racks, everyone has a preference or requirement of what should be inside. “We talked about how these ought to be packaged,” says Raymond. “I suggested to Gordon that the basic unit itself should be self-contained and capable of rack-mounting into anybody's choice of a rack-mountable touring case. Customers may want to combine them with certain accessories. The unit is so compact that there is very little real estate for bells and whistles. The thought was rather than put a case around it — although that is something that Strand will do — let customers put it in their own, make it the size they want and capable of taking whatever additional accessories that they want, in the color that they want.”

“From the time that we decided to manufacture them until we shipped the first one was about eight months,” says Pearlman. “In addition to Marc Raymond and his team, who really participated in the development, we also went around to a lot of production houses and dealers.” The Lightrack was officially launched at LDI2007, where it received honorable mention for Best Debuting Lighting Product.

What's Next

“There really aren't a lot of changes planned,” says Pearlman. “It is doing everything that the customers seem to want. We are making some design modifications from user feedback and talking about a 240V version for Europe and Asia. What we haven't shown, as yet, is a module with a patch bay on it that is about ready to ship.”

Raymond is eager to see the patch module in development. “There are times where you just need to patch some portion of a rig, and having one or two patching modules that you can just slide in for those dance towers, a unique front-of-house position, or to maximize cable management will be helpful,” he says. The 3×50A dimming modules with single 50A stage pin plug outlets should be shipping by press time.

What End Users Have To Say

“The primary reasons we bought them was for their reduced size and weight,” says Jerome Dunn, president of Houston-based StageLight, Inc. (www.stagelight.com). “The idea that a customer can pick up a 48-way rack, put it in the back of an SUV, and drive off is a great feature — no need for lift gates anymore. The other feature we were impressed with is the ability to remove a bank of dimmers and swap it with a bank of constants. I understand that, soon, we will have the ability to remove a bank of the 2.4kW dimmers and replace it with a bank of 6.0kW dimmers. Being able to provide a single rack of mixed 2.4kWs, 6.0kWs, and even constants is a great customized service to provide our rental customers who otherwise would have to rent multiple dimmer racks or packs.”

Chris McMeen, vice president of sales with Scharff Weisberg Lighting, LLC (www.scharffweisberg.com), has been using IGBT dimming since its release in the Bak Pak form for Vari-Lite's VL500 and VL1000. “I had been bugging them to do full racks for quite awhile,” he says. “When Strand merged all of that technology into its product line, and they came out with the full Lightracks, I was pretty excited. I picked them because they are quiet, have low fan noise, low filament noise, reverse phase control, and are lightweight. I was really able to sell a specific client on them because they had a very small area for a dimmer room and were able to put 200 dimmers in basically a coat closet.”

McMeen raises the point that he would make a few modifications. “The biggest thing is probably the patch issue,” he says. “I would like a separate patch bay, and I would like to see a two-way DMX out. I think that it is a great product, and with the green push that is going on out there, being able to transport them in smaller vehicles is a plus.”

For more information, visit Strand's website at www.strandlighting.com.