Growth of Systems Integration
Two decades ago, when Sight and Sounds first started, our systems were fairly simple by today’s standards. At the time, we thought our systems were very advanced, fitting televisions into custom cabinets, slotting components into shelving behind doors, and installing flush-mount speaker systems. Back then, the focus was on Audio-Video. Now, we also integrate with Lighting, HVAC, Pool & Spa, Security, Access Control, Landscape, and other subsystems. The scope of our work has multiplied by a large factor, due to the control systems that we represent, AMX and Control4.
Given the incredible growth of our integration capabilities, the design challenges have grown with it, but the core needs have remained the same. Customers still want to know where products are best placed within a commercial or residential environment. Contractors still want to know how our products will coexist among the other thousand products within the building structure. Cabinet makers still need guidance on dimensions and other requirements.
Computer Aided Design (CAD)
If technology has enlarged the scope of our work, it would be a natural decision to investigate technological solutions to solve the growing complexity of our jobs. Since many architects and builders have adopted computer aided design (CAD), it makes sense to have a common medium through which we can effectively insert our integration infrastructure.
In the past, the design process has been mostly linear, like a chain of events that dictate a common work flow. For example, the architect drew up a set of plans, these plans were reviewed by the client, designer, and tradesmen; the project moved to the build stage; then contractors broke ground. With the advent of CAD, the workflow has become more non-linear. Yes, eventually, trades people will rely on an eventual plan to dictate the scope of work, but the process of creating this master document has become more "fluid."
For example, an architect has a great idea for a set of windows that overlook a special vista. The design work is based on the view that this design element provides. Instead of printing a copy of the plan, the architect sends a copy of the CAD file to the lighting designer. The lighting designer reviews the file, adds the fixtures and locations within the CAD workspace. This same file may be sent to the designer, since special wall applications and cabinetry may be applied to make the most of the architect’s vision. With each practical inclusion, the architect’s original plan will inevitably require adjustments from its original version.
Instead of scrapping the original drawing, the architect merely adjusts the working file to accommodate changes. CAD allows for specialists to contribute their knowledge and expertise onto a shared file system. Files can be worked back-and-forth between various entities to build a more accurate plan. Additionally, the work flow can be much less regimented, focusing more on the specific requirements for the unique job at hand.
How We Fit In
We are part of this modern design process. For example, we receive CAD files with furniture layouts and lighting designs. Our software contains scale-accurate stencils of touch screens, speakers, displays, detectors, and equipment racks. We can place graphical representations of our products and associated infrastructure onto the working file, then send the file back to the design team as necessary.
This provides huge benefits by knowing specifications and locations before a single nail has been driven on the jobsite. For example, many clients need to see what an HDTV display will look like in their future custom cabinetry. We can place a scale-accurate representation of the exact HDTV we have specified onto the CAD drawing elevation, then email the drawing for the designer’s review. The designer can see precisely how the display will look, making the necessary adjustments to the overall design.
Manufacturer's Graphic Stencils
CAD technology helps tremendously in areas such as Home Theater. Since there are so many unique design elements available for Home Theaters, we can apply all of the elements, such as row platforms, seating, stage elevations, screens, curtains, projector housings, lighting details, acoustic treatments, and speaker placements. Companies such as Premiere Home Theater Seating provide unique stencils of their seating designs, so we can layout rows of theater seats that are scale accurate to the exact model.
This also applies to the system rack. We can create a scale-specific layout for the most complex racks, running very large estates. Middle Atlantic provides scale-accurate stencils of rack enclosures, rack shelves, and associated hardware. We can place racks within the specified utility room or closet area. The objective is to realize the job requirements and limitations long before the build process. The ability to create a virtual representation of our work provides a critical medium through which we can make necessary adjustments, keeping the job on-schedule and on-budget.
Tracking Critical Data
With all of the design benefits, CAD design technology also has the ability to track data. Each stencil, whether it is a wire connecting a speaker to an amplifier on a schematic or an on-wall LCD touch screen from an elevation, labor hours and associated costs are linked as data behind the graphics. For instance, if an in-ceiling speaker is placed onto a lighting plan, the associated install time, build phase, and manufacturer’s data is stored on a specific database relative to the job. This data can then be exported to programs like Microsoft Excel, where we can calculate estimated time to successfully complete our work during the various build stages.
Our relationships with architects, designers, builders, and trades people have improved greatly with the ability to communicate in a graphical, virtual, and data-related CAD environment. We can provide more ideas with less complication and miscommunication, and most importantly, we can offer a much broader palette of ideas.
I consider my job much like a chef who throws the spaghetti at the wall: I offer unique and sometimes abstract solutions for consideration. Applying these ideas in a graphical medium helps to see which noodles fall and which ones stick. CAD make this all possible. Bon Appétit.
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Technology to Simplify Technology
This is a drawing from a Home Theater System we designed from the architect's base CAD file that contained the room structure only. (click image for larger size)
Dimensions Solved in Virtual Space
This Home Theater stage drawing included a custom-built masking system shared between two screen manufacturers. (click image for larger size)
Graphical stencils help designers and cabinet builders visualize and modify their designs in the virtual work space. (click image for larger size)
Sophisticated Systems Get Organized
This rack system runs a 18,000 square-foot estate. Middle Atlantic's "Rack Tools" program allowed us to design the system rack and associated framework long before the contractor built the room. (click image for larger size)
Since the graphical stencils contain data links, we can track critical information to establish labor time, scheduling, and associated costs. (click image for larger size)
Important jobs require well-organized schematics. This allows jobs to run more efficiently while providing "as-built" reference documentation. (click image for larger size)