Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Lessons Learned: AVL

Last time we talked about some of the lessons I learned in the construction process. This time around, we’ll consider the AVL install. 

Think Things Through

Another way to phrase this is, “Have a Plan.” I was able spend a good month and a half on the design for these rooms—and these were simple rooms. I spent many hours pre-visualizing the systems, researching, talking with my integrator, and playing around in Sketchup. And when I say have a plan, to me that goes beyond knowing the major components. For me, I want to know exactly how all those components fit together, what connections they use and how much wire it will take (and what type). The more you have figured out before  the walls start coming down (or going up, depending on what you’re doing), the better shape you’ll be in for the install. 

This is not to say you won’t miss things. I feel like I hit this one at about 90% or so. The second to last day of the project, we discovered I made on critical error in ordering connectors. I forgot that when using PowerCons, you always match the plate and cable end (Power Out to Power Out; not Power Out to Power In). Of course, we can’t get those out here on the West Coast for some reason, so I had to come up with an alternate plan for the opening weekend. It wasn’t the end of the world—though I did beat myself up more than I should have—and we made it through. Otherwise, all the time I spent sitting in my office working out the details paid off.

Order Early

This is another one I feel we did pretty good on. I placed all the AVL equipment orders within the first week of the build, knowing we didn’t need it for a good 3-4 weeks. As we learned last time, companies are not stocking like they used to. I bought out Markertek’s complete inventory of XLRM connectors at one point when I ordered 80 of them. We didn’t think our GB2 would arrive in time; I was told it would not be here until this week. Thankfully it showed up in the last few days of the build.

Unless you live very close to a major AVL supply house, get your orders in early. It’s amazing how much stuff you’ll go through (we ordered a 1 1/4 miles of Gepco 61801, for example), and you can’t be waiting for connectors to show up because you forgot. 

Have a Staging Area

This goes along with Order Early. As all the gear and parts start coming in, make sure you have a place to keep it all. We set aside part of a room full of cabinets to receive all our stuff. When we needed something, we knew where to get it. This system worked well for us until we actually got to installing. Because we were working in 3 rooms on 2 floors, some stuff got misplaced. I know we spent (or perhaps wasted) a good couple of hours looking for stuff that was right in front of us. 

Next time I do one of these projects, I’ll come up with something similar to a gang box used by electrical contractors to house all our stuff once we’re on site. 

Always Order More

I’m usually good at this, but I did miss the mark on this for a few items. I was trying to be really careful on the budget so I ordered exactly what we needed when it came to connectors and plates. As we got into the project, a few things changed, and we needed more stuff. Unfortunately most of what I needed I was getting from the East Coast, so we paid more than we should have in overnight shipping. 

Looking back, it would have been cheaper to just order a few extra plates, rings and connectors. The truth is, when it comes to things like XLRs, video connectors, cable and heat shrink, you’re going to use them eventually, and it’s always good to have stock, so don’t worry about ordering 15-20% more than you think you need.

Hire an Installer

I’m a good installer, and we have several people on our team who can do install. However, I didn’t want the liability, nor did I have the time to install our speakers and wall-mounted TVs. I don’t really like hanging things over people’s heads—especially PA’s—because it’s not really my forté. Yes, I could do it, but the truth is, our installer, Todd, did it better and faster than I could have. 

This was a simple install, so we had him do the PA’s and the TVs. We pulled the cable, terminated it all and built the racks. We actually built most of the racks in our loading dock a few weeks before we needed them (because our gear had come in earlier than we needed), and they were ready to roll over when we were. 

Given that Todd spent 27 hours there doing that work, I think I can extrapolate that it would have taken me a solid 40+ hours to do what he did. And since I finished my stuff at 11:30 PM on the Friday before opening weekend, I’m not sure we would have made it without him. 

Don’t be afraid to bring in help for stuff like that. Because we did a lot of the simple work ourselves, we saved a ton of money. By hiring out the harder stuff, we got it done. 

That’s what I learned when it came to the AVL install. What lessons have you learned when doing installs?

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6 Comments

  1. Tallorderaudio@gmail.com

    Mike,

    Great little post about planning. It makes all the difference on installs big or small!

    My previous employer had receiving and pre-project staging down to a science. We had about 50 clear "Rubbermaid" bins that we could tape a note to on the inside as to what project the parts inside were for. All received items were tested within 24 hours, referenced to the PO# on the packing list, which then told the receiving people which project bin to place the item into. For larger items (speakers, amps, displays etc.) they were again labeled with a tag (as to not ruin the box in case of return) and placed either on a shelf next to the bin or in a specifically cordoned off area in the warehouse. Also, all relevant documentation (flowcharts, rack risers, equipment list, etc.) were placed in a folder in the bins.

    Regular stock items such as XLR's, zip ties, etc. were of course just there on a shelf for the crew, but again, a check list of items (every single connector, zip tie, rack screw, etc) was placed in the documents and had to be signed off by the PM and lead installer before the stuff was crated up and shipped to the site. We really hated getting overseas on a project only to be missing something mundane, yet critical. (yet, it still happened sometimes)

    This level of organization was awesome because the entire build team could be swapped out and everyone knew exactly where every component was, every time. As a result of these processes, we could order, build, ship and install an entire project in less than 4 weeks with only a few guys on each crew.

    Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. (am I allowed to say that?)

  2. Tallorderaudio@gmail.com

    Mike,

    Great little post about planning. It makes all the difference on installs big or small!

    My previous employer had receiving and pre-project staging down to a science. We had about 50 clear "Rubbermaid" bins that we could tape a note to on the inside as to what project the parts inside were for. All received items were tested within 24 hours, referenced to the PO# on the packing list, which then told the receiving people which project bin to place the item into. For larger items (speakers, amps, displays etc.) they were again labeled with a tag (as to not ruin the box in case of return) and placed either on a shelf next to the bin or in a specifically cordoned off area in the warehouse. Also, all relevant documentation (flowcharts, rack risers, equipment list, etc.) were placed in a folder in the bins.

    Regular stock items such as XLR's, zip ties, etc. were of course just there on a shelf for the crew, but again, a check list of items (every single connector, zip tie, rack screw, etc) was placed in the documents and had to be signed off by the PM and lead installer before the stuff was crated up and shipped to the site. We really hated getting overseas on a project only to be missing something mundane, yet critical. (yet, it still happened sometimes)

    This level of organization was awesome because the entire build team could be swapped out and everyone knew exactly where every component was, every time. As a result of these processes, we could order, build, ship and install an entire project in less than 4 weeks with only a few guys on each crew.

    Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. (am I allowed to say that?)

  3. jblasongame@gmail.com

    I have made it a habit of adding a 12% buffer in budget proposals for unforeseen and unknown things that I know I'm going to run into with a project. I'm honest about the cost or time of a project, I'm not blowing it out of proportion, I'm just doing this because experience has taught me that even sitting down and building a system flow diagram and outlining everything down to the connectors needed, you still miss some small items. I also have those documents photocopied and ready for people who are helping, that way they are able to follow along and you can delegate chunks the system to them without taking a ton of time to explain the where and how of getting the work done. And it becomes a reference "as-built" for the future of what you did. I wish the integrator for the building we are in now made system flow maps when we moved in, especially for our lighting grid. It's a mess and I don't have the two weeks of time it would take to make a map of the circuit numbers and where they terminate on our dimmer racks. But it really needs to be done!

  4. jblasongame@gmail.com

    I have made it a habit of adding a 12% buffer in budget proposals for unforeseen and unknown things that I know I'm going to run into with a project. I'm honest about the cost or time of a project, I'm not blowing it out of proportion, I'm just doing this because experience has taught me that even sitting down and building a system flow diagram and outlining everything down to the connectors needed, you still miss some small items. I also have those documents photocopied and ready for people who are helping, that way they are able to follow along and you can delegate chunks the system to them without taking a ton of time to explain the where and how of getting the work done. And it becomes a reference "as-built" for the future of what you did. I wish the integrator for the building we are in now made system flow maps when we moved in, especially for our lighting grid. It's a mess and I don't have the two weeks of time it would take to make a map of the circuit numbers and where they terminate on our dimmer racks. But it really needs to be done!

  5. mike@churchtecharts.org

    One thing I've learned about projects is that it always takes longer. Here is my favorite way to communicate this:

    Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

    Brilliant!
    mike

  6. mike@churchtecharts.org

    One thing I've learned about projects is that it always takes longer. Here is my favorite way to communicate this:

    Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

    Brilliant!
    mike

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