Five Things They Don’t Teach You at Automation School: Rule 1

Welcome to our series of Five Things they don’t teach you at Automation School.  These are some of the key things I have learnt through a career working in the crazy world of entertainment automation.  Either as a workshop technician, automation show operator or in recent years as the CEO of an automation company.

So let’s get straight into my first rule.  For this I am going back to a Paris Motor Show many years ago.  The event I was working on was a pre-show press launch for a number of new vehicles for a major car company.  One of the two big reveals was a car travelling along the floor on a big automation rig.  The rig could move forwards and backwards of course, rotate the car and also tilt the whole car up at an angle while rotating.  An impressive effect and a hefty steel automation rig to achieve it.

The rig has to start moving forward first until it passes through a doorway, once through the gap it starts to tilt up and rotate at the same time.  I built a nice timed cue to make sure it could clear the door safely before tilting and rotating.  The rig was preset and left to wait for its big reveal moment.

The time came at last so with one last check of the gear I went to standby and on cue started the sequence.  Except nothing moved, there is a second of confusion and then I realise that the weight of the combined rig and car has caused the metal drive wheels to sink into the special paint surface covering the concrete floor.  I uttered an urgent whispered command of PUSH and several crew were straight there with shoulders to the rig to get it moving.  That does the trick, the rig has started moving and the doors have started opening.  The problem is we have lost a few vital seconds while it was been stuck.  Too early the rig starts tilting and rotating while still in the doorway.  With millimetres to spare the back end of the car swings around and clears the doorpost.

So what is rule #1?  Simple, don’t get so focused on the detail that you miss the big picture.  I was so focused on checking the inverter drives were working and the programming was right that I hadn’t considered the simple issue of the floor it was all sitting on.  It isn’t easy to keep an eye on both the big and small picture at the same time but the best operators can do exactly that and that is what sets them apart from the rest.

Keep an eye out for rule #2 and see you soon.

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