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Helicopter systems aid theatre safety

14 June 2011

With theatres striving to create breath-taking spectacles and leave the audience gasping for more, there is often world-class engineering behind the scenes. Now a British company is offering technology to ensure safety when excited performers and heavy machinery share the same space.

Many stage props and almost all backdrops are lowered from the fly tower - usually quickly between scenes, but sometimes this is during the actual performance. Either way, safety and reliability are essential.

“Until recently, the sets were manually controlled with a technical stage manager watching everything from the wings and giving instructions by radio to the winch operators above,” explains Tony Ingham of Sensor Technology. “Speed is of the essence during scene changes, but you have to be confident the winches won’t fail, which could easily damage the set or injure a person.”

Winch loads can be constantly monitored using Sensor Technology's wireless enabled LoadSense load cells (originally developed for monitoring cargo nets carried under helicopters). These transmit load signals in real time to a control room computer, enabling the crew to react instantly to any problems.

LoadSense is proving so sensitive that it can provide a feedback signal to close the control loop on a vector drive controlling the winch. Normally theatre engineers use sensorless vector drives, which offer good dynamic performance without the complications of wiring in a feedback sensor. Sensor Technology is closing this loop, improving system integrity and enhancing safety by a significant margin.

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