NASA isn’t the only place where a digital control room can be found, as they have become essential to industry, military, government and public utilities. And though few control rooms reach NASA’s in terms of complexity, the general formula is the same from room to room. The goal is to provide and condense a staggering amount of data, accelerate decision making and enhance collaboration so that the best solutions win out. In other words, creating a setting where the team works as one. The keystone to this approach is the addition of audio and video technology, done with an expert integrator’s guidance.
Outfitting a Digital Control Room
A/V solutions are about getting the most out of every bit of manpower. In this way, A/V solutions aren’t magic bullets themselves, but enable people to work harder, faster and smarter, and do so in a way that just adding more people to the room can’t. Clearly, this is a valuable approach to building a control room, which is why A/V solutions are practically mandatory. The question is – what solutions and what technology? Although there is a bottomless well of A/V products on the market, the formula is mostly set when it comes to digital control rooms. With few exceptions, they include the following:
1. A prominent, highly controllable video wall – The video wall is the focal point of any digital control room, and for good reason. Front and center, an expansive screen allows for visualization of just about anything. Network health, power status, assembly line efficiency, weather data, financial trends and graphs, equipment/machinery health – there really is no end to what a video wall can display, and modern ultra-HD screens can do so with incredible clarity. So much clarity, in fact, that they can be easily read by anyone in the room, from any position. A/V integrators can optimize placement as well, ensuring minimal glare and superior viewing angle capability. Whether a team member’s workstation is just a few feet away from the wall, or sitting in a command center on the other side of the room, a clear video wall means everyone is on the same page.
When paired with a quality video wall processor, the wall can be readily organized as the situation changes. A processor ensures compatibility with a range of video formats and allows users to arrange the wall as they see fit, turning it into a giant canvas. Items can be resized, moved and scaled as needed, so when high priority alerts come through, they can be given the space they deserve.
And with the proper software, real-time data can be streamed to the wall. This feature is extremely helpful for control rooms geared for manufacturing centers, power plants, financial centers and various other settings.
Put it all together, and a video wall is an effective means of keeping the entire team informed and working together.
2. High power workstations with KVM switching capabilities – The video wall provides a needed snapshot into the situation, and workstations allow engineers and team members to address alerts as they come up. The most effective workstation is one that comes with maximum real estate for engineers to operate with. Two or more monitors is a must.
Also, control rooms should be fitted with sophisticated KVM switching so that workstations can be accessed and monitored with maximum efficiency. This setup is ideal for control room managers that need a constant view of everything that’s going on. KVM switching also allows team members to access multiple workstations from a single location, driving up collaboration and speeding up solution processes between team members.
3. Control room controls – At the risk of going full recursive, control rooms also have to be controlled, even if it’s only to promote maximum productivity. Control interfaces come in an impressive variety of form factors, and can be accessed from desktops, mobile devices, wall panels and touch panels. Both local and remote control options should be made available, so managers can manipulate room settings wherever they are. That’s convenient if an employee needs access to a locked room or if there’s a power failure.
Most companies and institutions prefer to preconfigure all of their room controls and opt for one-touch operation. One button press sets the light and audio, switches on the video wall, allows access to the command room and connects everything. It’s a much faster way to bring everything online in a hurry.
4. Audio additions – Some control rooms need streamed audio, particularly if they are used for surveillance tasks. Most, though, don’t require audio piped in from the outside world. However, improved audio technology can help team members communicate with each other faster and with their workstation in front of them. This way, everyone can collaborate using the data and media they have access to.
There’s no need to go overboard with audio input hardware. Simple desk mounted microphones with touch controls allow users to quickly select who they are going to talk to and at what volume. Quality microphones can be had at little expense, making them a cost-effective addition to the control room. Outputted audio can be sent to headsets or to speakers mounted throughout the room. The latter approach is most helpful when sending audio to the command room, as it is typically shielded from sound in the control room proper.
The Integrator Advantage
Although the standard digital control room layout may seem simple to piece together, the truth is that it will take an experienced integrator to pull off. There are several reasons for this, including installation challenges and cost savings. The chief reason, though, is compatibility concerns. A/V technology is notorious for interoperability and compatibility issues, and without brand and manufacturer knowledge, those issues are likely to rear their heads during a control room setup.
Integrators excel at mixing and matching components to create a seamless whole. As such, contacting an integrator prior to building out a digital control room should be considered an absolute necessity.
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