Beckhoff offers maximum scalability and flexibility in performance-based control design
Audico Systems is a Finnish company that has been specializing in high-quality audiovisual solutions and lighting design for over 30 years. Based in the city of Espoo, its impressive portfolio already includes a whole host of high-profile reference projects, from the installation of all AV technology for the Olympic Stadium in Helsinki, right through to the integration of an entire AV and lighting control system for the Oasis of the Seas® cruise ship. When the time came to overhaul the technology at the regional theater in Vaasa as part of a major renovation program, system integrator Audico was awarded the contract to design, install, commission, and program the technical installations in addition to providing operator training. A CX5130 Embedded PC from Beckhoff forms the central control for all building and stage lighting, as well as for power distribution.
The Wasa Theater is one of the oldest playhouses in Finland, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in November 2019 following extensive renovation work. While it may only appear to be a small, regional theater at face value, with seating for just 272 in the main auditorium, it now boasts some truly state-of-the-art technology. This includes not only an immersive sound experience afforded by the very latest in audio technology, but also a brand new lighting control system, which illuminates the stage with as many as twenty projectors and thirty moving heads.
Modular and scalable: Adapting to performance requirements with the Beckhoff controller
"The regional theater in Vaasa is an excellent example of the modularity and scalability of the Beckhoff control system, which applies right down to each individual component," explains Audico Project Manager, Tapio Järvinen. "This allows us to design and dimension the perfect control system to suit our customers' individual project requirements." The 240 relay channels in operation at the Wasa Theater represent a relatively small amount, as larger stages can easily accommodate many times that number. What's more, multiple end devices can be connected to a single relay output depending on the customer's requirements, ranging from classic sockets and on-stage control boxes through to 19-inch devices. This system makes it possible to control all typical devices associated with an entertainment application, such as lighting and lighting effects, or any kind of AV and multimedia devices. "Depending on the performance requirements of the project, all we have to do is scale the control up and add a few more I/O modules. The software tool always remains the same," observes Tapio Järvinen. "It doesn't even matter if plans change along the way, as this modular system is incredibly flexible." This scalability in terms of both performance and design mean it is also ideal for integration into existing systems and therefore any kind of retrofit. "Another major advantage from our point of view is that, with the Beckhoff controller, we are completely free to choose the method of control that suits us best. Whether we opt for a centralized or decentralized solution comes down entirely to the project, the structural conditions, and customer requirements," notes Tapio Järvinen.
Flexible lighting control via lighting control board, Panel PC, or push-button
Theaters often have separate systems to handle show lighting, backstage blue lighting, auditorium lighting, and working lighting outside of performances, which always means extra work when it comes to maintenance, servicing, and operation. "In the Wasa Theater, we implemented a lighting control system that can also be operated independently of the lighting control board via control panels and push-buttons for even greater flexibility," emphasizes the Audico Project Manager. The show and stage lighting, the building lighting, and the power distribution all run on a Beckhoff Embedded PC CX5010 with TwinCAT automation software. The CX controller functions more or less like a logic control center – that is, it receives the commands from the show lighting (which in this case was activated by means of an MA lighting console) via the EL6851-0010 DMX slave terminal, processes them in the control logic, and switches the respective outputs as required by the lighting control board. In addition, the CX also controls the functional building lighting in the foyer, restaurant, halls, and side rooms of the theater via the EL6851 DMX master terminal and the relay terminals.
The lighting can be operated via the three Beckhoff multi-touch Panel PCs in the CP37xx series in addition to the lighting console. User levels are defined in the logic for the respective buttons in the HMI, which determine who has access to individual functions and when. This feature makes it possible for the various groups of people working at the theater to carry out operating functions of varying scope: These range from switching the lights on and off, dimming them, or selecting a specific lighting scene that the actors want to call up for a rehearsal, and more in-depth commands that the stage electrician can execute, right through to full access to all functions for the lighting technician or designer.
Visualization takes place on the three Panel PCs via TwinCAT HMI in the browser. The TwinCAT HMI server on the CX controller supplies the three multi-touch Panel PCs with data for the user interface. As for communication, this takes place via a separate VLAN in the theater network, with one VLAN configured for each technical system.
In addition to the lighting console and the Beckhoff Panel PCs with multi-touch screens, conventional light switches can also be integrated into the control logic. In show mode, these switches can be locked to prevent unwanted control commands. "The KL2641 digital relay output terminal is very popular in entertainment projects, as it is capable of controlling the mains voltage for the lighting and sockets directly," reveals Tapio Järvinen. The terminal offers yet another advantage by providing the option of manual operation, which can come in very useful in the start-up phase when power is needed but the control system is not yet fully powered up, or in the event of an emergency, for example.
Simple system integration, flexible retrofitting
"Further advantages of the Beckhoff controller include how easy it is to integrate into other systems and its flexible communication options," enthuses Audico Project Manager, Tapio Järvinen. "Even if the building automation system is from another supplier, for example, the Beckhoff controller can easily communicate with it via BacNet or Modbus TCP. We can also control the DALI lighting installation. On this project the choice of DMX channels was limited, which meant it was necessary to form lighting groups and switch the lighting in a certain section of the building all at the same time, for example. Incidentally, we did not carry out any energy measurements in the Wasa Theater; however, this is becoming increasingly important and requested by many customers. For us as a system integrator, it is a huge bonus to be able to retrofit the Beckhoff control system just the way we want."