How to Avoid Common Automation Problems

A look at 3 common problems and solutions for automation installs.

Fred Harding

Automation is a concept that’s fascinated me since I was a kid watching The Jetsons. The idea that machines would do all I needed to have done at the push of a button struck a chord.

Effective automation in the commercial world needs to pass several tests. It needs to be intuitive, so that anyone can perform the task without intensive training. It needs to be logical, so that when a device turns on, the accessory devices to it are also in the ready state. It doesn’t have to be expensive, although it certainly can be.

Here is a look at 3 common problems and solutions for automation installs.

Trip-Up: The Projector Factor
Simple automation applications that routinely cross my desk include projection screens tied to projectors. The idea is that if you’re going to use a projector, chances are good that you’ll want the screen in the correct position. Using triggers off of projectors to drive relays is a simple automation technique that installers frequently deploy. If the projector doesn’t have a trigger output, you can add a black box from any number of manufacturers to sense the state of the projector through current draw or light output to activate a trigger.

Photos 9 Essential Apps for Projector Installs

In the projection application, you may want to consider the room where the system lives. Windows or interior lighting may wash the screen with light, making the projected image unsatisfactory. Taking that trigger voltage and commanding drapes to close or open, or room lights to dim or darken, might make sense. Understanding what the room will be used for ultimately makes automation command structure logical and intuitive.

Trip-Up: Folding Walls
In many hotel applications, rooms are divided up into smaller areas using fold-out walls. When a large group needs to meet, the folding walls are all put away, making one large space. Automation in this context can allow the smaller rooms to each have their own audio program present as needed, yet when the space becomes unified, only one audio program plays. Deploying contact closures on the folding walls affords you the ability to know when the rooms are divided or not; proper equipment choices can then be made to poll those closures and room combine or not.

Trip-Up: Noise Control
In bar and restaurant installations, ambient noise is changing throughout the service period. As the crowd noise increases, the facility manager doesn’t want to sit riding the volume control. An ambient noise sensor will allow you to monitor the sound pressure in the room and automatically adjust volume up or down as needed.

Ambient noise sensors include some sort of microphone, deployed in a logical place in the facility. Don’t put it next to the air condition or fan, as it will trigger off of that. Placed discreetly, the microphone will tell the processor to raise or lower the volume at a measured or rapid pace as needed. The rapid pace is used when heavy equipment is being turned on and off and paging needs to consistently be heard.

In the hospitality example, we would use the measured pace to adjust to maximum or minimum levels we had preset. By installing this type of automation, the bar owner, staff and patrons all enjoy a pleasant experience without constant control interaction.

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