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Electric Winch VS Counter Weight Rigging

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by MikeyHP, Mar 9, 2009.

  1. MikeyHP

    MikeyHP Member

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    I use a Electric Winch system in my PAC and love it... It can Have cues set in it and I can control the rise and lower speeds. I have never delt with counter weight systems and was wondering what every one else prefered.
     
  2. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Most people will say if you can install a winch system that has high speeds lines with the same accuracy and speed as a counterweight system they will do it. However, installing 90 winched linesets on 6" centers is not an easy thing to do. If I ever get to build my new theatre, and thats a big if, I will be pushing very heavily for a winched system due to safety factors. Now, if you have an install of utility winches that move at 15' a minute then that is useless. In the 70's, mixed systems of "lighting bridges" on winches and standard linesets were common. I don't think too many people will argue with winched electrics. However, winched linesets for scenery if done wrong can cost 4x as much as a standard lineset and make the space 10x less usuable.
     
  3. MikeyHP

    MikeyHP Member

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    The arcitect for my school must have not thought through the design process for my school... our procenium is 16' tall and the distance to the top of the tower is 32'....
     
  4. kiwitechgirl

    kiwitechgirl Well-Known Member

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    If you can get a system that's as good as the one in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, then yes. But there's one recently been installed in a refurbished venue not far from here and it's useless as the winches which have been installed are designed to lift heavy loads at low speed, rather than flying scenery in and out. It's fine for the electrics bars, but what a waste of money for everything else, and they've gone back to how they used to do things before the refurb - flying scenery on handlines. On the flip side, several other venues have had single-purchase counterweight systems installed recently as part of their refurbs and everyone is very, very happy with the results. I'd never go double-purchase though, having worked in a few double-purchase houses; too much of a drag not being able to fly from the floor if you want to (all the new single-purchase systems being installed around this neck of the woods have the ability to move the brake rail from deck to gallery if you want to), and having to load double the weight is of course a pain. Personally I'd rather be dealing with counterweights because it just seems to me that a really good flyman can be in sync with the show in a way that automated flying can't.
     
  5. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    At the same time another argument can be made. Rigging companies are beginning to advertise how unsafe counterweight rigging is. When that is done, clients are starting to look to other options to get scenery in the air. Unfortunately, this means many venues are getting low speed winches to haul scenery. However, they are getting a much safer system. There is nothing worse then having to bull line in or out a huge wall with 20 of your closest friends. With a counterweight system you have the risk of a runaway, you have twice or somethings 3x the amount of the load hanging over your head.

    Both systems have their flaws, but for the safety factor I will go with winches every time. I am going to be interested to see what happens in this area in the next 20 years.
     
  6. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    We have low speed utility winches and opted for that approach for both cost and safety, being an amateur, all-volunteer community theatre. We don't fly much in the way of scenery, in part because productions that might benefit from that style of staging aren't our typical repertoire. On the very rare occasion we need to fast fly a drop we will hang pulleys and a secondary batten off one of the winched battens and use the hemp and sandbag method, or rig a kubuki drop, or fly horizontally.

    As for the cost of electric winches versus counterweight rigging, in order to retrofit our space for a single purchase system it meant raising the roof to provide space for a fly loft. While the footings and steelwork were originally designed to accommodate the loft, the cost to renovate the structure more than offset the cost of motorizing. In our space we were looking at about $8,000 CDN per line for a counterweight system plus about $750,000K in structural changes versus $13,000 per line for line-shaft winches.

    If I were doing it from scratch and had an unlimited budget, I would opt for high speed electric winches over a counterweight system, knowing the calibre of people likely to be using it. Whichever system you opt for, please remember to factor regular inspections into your operating budget.
     
  7. Chris Chapman

    Chris Chapman Active Member

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    I have a 30 line, single purchase set in my space which we maintain nicely. My question for the winch houses is all about maintenance. Does the install company have to maintain the motors, or does the in house staff do it? The mechanical maintenance of the winch systems seems to be the only fly in the ointment of winch systems. That fly being in educational spaces you may have unqualified folks maintaining the motors. Of course you can have the exact same problem in a counter-weight space too.
     
  8. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Most places I have worked in with winches an outside company maintains them. One venue had an electric with a bad brake that would keep the electric from moving half the time. All winch systems are designed to fail safe, so you never have an issue with something moving out of control. If it is broken, it does not move at all. Maintenance is an issue with these systems. There is a lot more to go wrong, but at the same time you need two less guys at load in/out.

    I see winches kind of like an elevator. It takes a specialized person to maintain these systems. Most venues are used to have elevator inspections, this falls in the same category.
     
  9. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    I have an electric system, which is great with students. Complete lock out abilities, much safer, and much faster. Not to mention, I no longer have to climb up to the loading gallery every day to check arbors when students are finished. For community and educational theater, I'd go electric.

    For professional, it's a tough call. The downside is that when the computer or motors decide not to work, the rigging won't move at all. During a recent strike one pipe decided not to fly out, so we had to load out around a stuck pipe. I've had several problems with mine, and while the company is great and very fast at addressing problems, a stuck pipe the day of a show would be a disaster.
     
  10. iLightTheStage

    iLightTheStage Active Member

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    This reminds me of my theater back in high school: two counterweights downstage on the newer stage extension, and all of upstage electrics were winch. However, it was a handheld winch motor, and would take 10 minutes to get a batten to working height, 15 minutes to raise it back out... and the noise was deafening. Even better is when the motor would break, and you'd have to spend the next 30-45 minutes with the hand crank.
     
  11. willbb123

    willbb123 Active Member

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    My 2 cents
    I work in a professional theater with 26 double purchase, 1 single purchase (main rag), and 4 electric winch electrics. I think of works well for our professional setting. The fly rail is on our half cat, about 8 feet above the deck, so there is no reason for someone other then our crew. For some shows we train someone other then our crew to run the rail, but there is always a trained member of our crew in the space. Our crew is the only people that can rig and load weight. The only reason an untrained person is ever on the cats or load rail is to hand me weight.
    They are building a community theater space in the next town over. I don't know the specs so I don't know what kind they are getting, if at all. I also don't know if there is going to be a permant crew (if there is I will probably be asked to be on it, other then the university I'm the only LD local). For ease and safty they should probably get a motorized system.
    Motorized systems have there advantages but also there problems. This is going to sound dumb, but I really like flying by hand, I love making large set pieces move by pulling a rope.
    I always tell people I train, it is very safe when used properly, but there is no small accident. If something were to go wrong, chances are someone is going to be dead. It's sad and scary as hell, but you have to have respect for the fly system. You really do have peoples lives in your hands.


    Posted from my iPhone
     
  12. fredthe

    fredthe Active Member

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    We had 16 linesets of high-speed motorized rigging (well, the 4 electrics are low-speed) included as part of a high school theater renovation a couple of years ago, and having worked with them I do think they are the best option for flying in an environment where you don't have well-trained operators or permanent staff to do the flying, such as high schools or community theaters.

    There were several reasons given by the theater consultant for going with the motorized system.
    - safety (as has already been mentioned)
    - ADA compliance (someone in a wheelchair can theoretically operate the system)
    - They had to raise the roof for the fly system, but with the winches they didn't leed to raise it as high (compared to counterweight,) which reduced some costs as it kept the roof low enough to not require a fire curtain. (Which we sill wanted, but didn't get)

    It's unclear if this really saved any money over a counterweight system. For the same money, if we'd gone counterweight we'd probably have been able to get lines for our legs and borders... but I think the safety aspect overrides that.

    Others have mentioned maintenance... one thing we learned is to plan in access to the motors. Ours are hung from the beams on the fly loft roof, and they only access is to bring in a portable lift, or scaffolding... which adds to the cost of the annual inspection.

    Speaking of inspections, our controller will display an "Inspection required" warning every year.

    Even with the automated system, we still only let students (or anyone else) who have had specific training operate the system. With an automated system, it's easy to get a false sense of safety and just push the button without paying attention... even if the batten will stop when it hits someone's head, it's still going to injure them. The training is about 50% the mechanics of using the system, and 50% safety. We've even put the controller on a 3' platform, to give the operator a better view of the stage when running the system. (So much for ADA)

    -Fred
     
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  13. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Which system do you have? I would really love to hear some reviews of each system.
     
  14. fredthe

    fredthe Active Member

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    We've got the J.R.Clancy Powerlift system, with the SceneControl 500.
    The specifics are 4 electrics with 20 fpm/2,000 lb hoists, 11 general purpose 0-180 fpm/1,200 lb hoists, and one 0-180 hoist plus motorized travel for the main act curtain.

    The controller is quite powerful, with a touch-screen interface for setting up moves, and then hard up/down/go buttons for the actual move, and joysticks for varying the speed. The user interface computer is Windows XP based, but Windows is very hidden. In addition, the computer does not directly control the hoists. The system includes industrial controllers (think elevator controls) in both the controller and winches, which actually control the motion in conjunction with the hard controls. Talking with the folks from Clancy who came to comission the system, they are *very* safety concious in everything they do; and this shows in the overall system design.

    With the controller, you can write cues, very much like on a lighting console. In fact, it's effectively a tracking console... so if you set the height of a piece in que 3, move another piece and record que 4, then go back and change the position of the original piece in que 3 it'll proerly track at the new location to que 4. There are even the semi-equivalent of 2 que stacks, and you can do auto-follow on cues. It's also possible to save multiple shows. (We have one "show" defined that only has the Main Act Curtain available, for times when that is all that needs to move)

    The controller screen shows a 3-d view of the theater space, and you can program different viewpoints. The screen even shows the pipes (and pieces, if you program them in) moving... but the start-up screen, the manual, Clancy, and our own training always emphasises: Always maintain direct visual contact with moving sets. Do not watch the screen.

    The load sensing works quite well, when properly configured. The "learn" mode works well, but the top-level user can tweak the sensing when necessary. The only complaint we've had on the laod sensing is that if the lowest-level user is logged in (one that can only manually move a piece, or run a que) and the system load-faults, you need to log in at a higher level to clear the fault. I inderstand that Clancy is considering changing this in future versions. (Though, it is an additional safety feature, ensuring that someone knowledgable has a chance to determine what caused the fault before clearing it.)

    Precision of the moves is very good, with pieces ending up within better than 1/4" of where they're programmed. You can also program acceleration and deceleration when needed (though the defaults are good for most things). Limits are also settable on a per-show basis, so for example you can set a pipe with a drop to not fly in farther than it should, even in manual mode. (There is also a system limit based on maximum full pipe travel, and an additional hard limit switch on each winch.)

    The controller is very powerful and capable, since it's designed for controlling much more than a simple fly system (such as moving variable acoustic panels.) It's more than sufficient for a high-school application.

    As for the winches themselves, all I can say is they work. But of course, that's all that's expected of them. If you listen, you can definatly hear them (though generally only in a quiet theater)... but this may be partly due to the fact that we've left the covers off of them. Since they are inaccessable, having the covers off means that at least some sort of visual check (with binoculars) can be done from the ground. (I note that Clancy now lists the cover as an option)

    As I mentioned before, the controller will come up with an annual inspection warning, so it will nag people to do the inspection.

    In our theater, the safety of the system is enhanced by only the adult theater staff having the key to the system, and only a few, trained students have the lower-level passwords. Only two of us have the system-level passwords, which allow you to reset system limits. I also like the fact that we don't have to worry about students going "what happens if I drop this stage weight?"

    Feel free to ask questions about anything I might have left out.

    -Fred
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2009
  15. naharnahekim

    naharnahekim Member

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    Whenever this question comes up, the issue of safety is raised (and rightly so). My question is, statistically speaking, how dangerous is a counter weight system? In other words, does anyone have a number or comparison that we could assign to describe the level of unsafosity? How many people per year are hurt/killed by counter weight fly systems?

    I ask because there was comment in another thread concerning safety and the NEC code. Someone asked why something or another wasn't included in The NEC. one of our members who works on the code replied essentially saying that the thing in question didn't actually happen that often so it wasn't really a concern.

    I wonder if the situation might be the same with counterweight systems and their level of safety.

    I'm not saying that they aren't potentially dangerous, just wondering how often actual incidents occur.
     
  16. kiwitechgirl

    kiwitechgirl Well-Known Member

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    I think that's a very valid question - maybe a quick poll of CB members who work in flying houses? I'll start...in ten years in various flying houses - hemp, a very, very old single-purchase house with no loading gallery so you had to load weight at gallery level (there were only about three people allowed to load weight in that venue!), and quite a few modern single- and double-purchase houses, I have never seen any weighting or de-weighting accidents except for the odd black fingernail where a weight has hit it, and I have only ever seen one accident (in the aforesaid old single-purchase house) which automated flying may have prevented - a starcloth data cable got tangled with something, and so when the bar was flown out, it pulled tight; the flyman kept flying and because the batten was wooden, old and brittle, it snapped before the data cable did. I've seen one runaway, but ironically it wasn't a counterweight bar - it was a hand-winched tab track and the clutch let go, causing the bar to fall. I've never witnessed a counterweight bar runaway.
     
  17. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    It happens, it happens a lot. I have seen two dropped weights over the past year, both in professional houses.

    Just on CB... do a search of Runaway. This just from the first page. These systems are dangerous.

    http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/what-went-wrong/8149-runaway-lineset.html

    http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/facility/10449-runaway.html

    http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/what-went-wrong/10790-could-have-been-runaway.html

    http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/what-went-wrong/7393-rope-broke-off-arbor.html

    http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/what-went-wrong/3722-runaway.html
     
  18. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I have not seen any issues with counterweights in any professional houses. The 3 high schools and 2 university stages that I worked in which were equipped with a counterweight fly system in all had at least one impact crater from dropped bricks on the deck or tensioners below the arbors. Every theatre has a story to tell but none have any serious injuries to report.

    From my experience, proper training and supervision is a big contributor to the safe operation of counterweight systems. Motorized rigging has its hazards too. So does dead hanging, which I think is even riskier than either counterweight or motorized systems. There's a lot to be said for being able to do most of the work and inspection at ground level.
     
  19. Chris Chapman

    Chris Chapman Active Member

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    I've been doing Tech since 1984, and in that time I have only had cursory experience with runaways. My College Venue had one (circa 1992) and professionally there was one in a load in I worked in Chicago at an ancient hemp system that was not maintained (circa 1994). I've worked in multiple counter-weight houses since 84, and was originally trained on counter weight.

    The common idea in all of this thread is to avoid the serious/dangerous/deadly accidents that come with counter weight comes back to training, supervision and maintenance (Especially in the educational setting.)

    We know about the "Golden Triangle" of scenic construction, I consider that to be the "Golden Triangle" of rigging. Except that the rigging triangle needs all 3 sides. Not having one of those three points will lead to an accident. But that goes for a Winch System as well.

    Any form of rigging has inherent risks built into the system. It's all about minimizing those risks down to an acceptable level. Like Aircraft cable vs. rope, cable clips vs. nicopress... etc.

    Training...Supervision...Maintenance....
     
  20. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    I personally believe that counterweight systems are safer for a show run. There is something to be said for one person per move and having something physically watching what they are moving. The same thing can be said for a winch system as well, which is why deadman switches are usually all over the place.

    The real danger comes in counterweight rigging when you are striking or loading. A dropped brick can be prevented to and extent, though things can happen. The danger for me is when you have a 700# wall sitting on the deck and are trying to get it out. Its the time between the load is on the ground and the load is in the air when counterweight rigging loses and winches win.
     

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