If the image that comes to mind when you think of a control room is Houston’s sprawling Mission Control during the time of Apollo Space Missions, you are not alone. Except for the size of the room, it’s still a fairly accurate image. Yet, today’s control room technology has increased in power, sophistication and versatility in ways that could not be imagined in the days of the first moonwalk. Its video walls, in particular, have become more than just oversized TV monitors.
Depending on the industry, control rooms are being asked to do more than “keep an eye” on things. Utilities use control rooms to manage the generation, distribution and transmission of power, water, or gas. Broadcasters use them to control numerous incoming and outgoing feeds. Call centers use them to track communications that can entail billions of calls daily.
But while the technology has changed over the years, the control room is still an operations center whose function it is to bring together multiple data sources in real-time. What sets apart a good one from a mediocre one is how efficiently they can do this and how well the visual display system can handle the data, graphics and streaming video it is fed. The best systems present the data in a controllable format that can be displayed at any size, in any part of the wall, for use by multiple operators. The result: a company gains absolute control of its environment 24/7, and potential issues can be quickly recognized and dealt with swiftly and efficiently.
At its core, a control room features three major components:
- An observation room – usually found in larger control centers
- A video wall - displays ultra-high resolution graphics and data applications, large maps, schematics, SCADA applications, and multiple videos, with projectors, screens, and structures
- Display control system/video wall controllers – the hardware and software that manages the various audio and video feeds and displays them on the video wall
The many advances in the range and sophistication of video wall technologies and video wall controllers over the past decade have created a virtual cornucopia of opportunities for businesses to better monitor operations and make faster decisions in response to real-world developments, regardless of where it comes from or in what form it is received.
Learning to Share
At its fundamental function, a control room is all about sharing: sharing up-to-date, accurate information in a timely manner. That can be extremely challenging in today’s work environment, where the workforce might be distributed across hundreds of miles and data coming in through various devices, in various formats, and at different levels of accuracy.
Control rooms, therefore, must serve as more than a place where problems are looked at and decisions made to solve those problems. They must also serve as knowledge management centers. They must be able to acquire information from every possible source, with all possible speed, and present it to the decision maker in the clearest, most manageable form. This will better allow the decision maker to fully understand the physical, legal and environmental impact of any decision they make. In the end, the decision must not only achieve the immediate objective of solving the problem, but also supporting business objectives, meeting customer and government demands and expectations, and protecting the company’s reputation and credibility.
While success in meeting these challenges clearly goes beyond technology, the right technology can provide the critical tools necessary to make the right decisions. All the process improvements, personnel training, infrastructure upgrades, communications improvements, and brilliant people in the world can’t make the right decision if they don’t have the right information, presented in the right way, at the right time.
This is where control room technology becomes a critical component of today’s power company. In designing the new generation of control rooms or enhancing current spaces, bringing in the right vendors can make all the difference. Companies like Christie, who bring more than 30 years of experience at every level of the process – from the site selection, to the design, to providing and integrating the hardware, to servicing and maintaining it – can make the process easier.
Room to Grow
A typical power company control room video wall can include graphic and data applications, large maps, schematics, SCADA applications and multiple videos. Companies like Christie can help power companies choose from visual technologies that include ultra-high resolution flat panels, cubes, projection systems and a new generation of hybrid tiles like Christie MicroTiles that create highly flexible and versatile video walls.
Christie control room monitoring solutions include the Christie Phoenix, a network-distributed information management system. Video wall controllers like the Christie Phoenix allow multiple users, in multiple locations anywhere in the world to share and interact with control room information from virtually any device, giving them the precise information they need to continue to make fast, informed, mission critical decisions.
When all the elements fall into their proper place and the design, technology, and integration are done right, the result is a company gaining absolute control of its environment 24/7. Potential issues are quickly recognized and dealt with efficiently even under the most stressful circumstances and most challenging environments.
Seeing the Light
But creating a more efficient control room doesn’t always involve completely gutting an existing facility and building a new one from the ground up. Upgrading the video wall can achieve big results. A perfect example of this is Invenergy, a company that develops, owns and operates power generation and energy storage facilities in the Americas and Europe, including 65 wind farms as well as 19 solar, battery and natural gas projects in North America. Its operations center, the Invenergy Control Center (ICC), monitors, maintains and schedules power for Invenergy’s fleet of generation facilities.
Invenergy replaced its outdated video wall in Chicago with a new system that utilizes 10 Christie FHD552-X 55-inch flat panels and five Christie Phoenix systems. The new wall provides the same size of displays as their previous wall, but the ultra-narrow bezels makes the distance between pixels from panel to panel only 3.5 mm. The five Christie Phoenix systems offer the flexibility to expand the display with operational or market-related data in whatever size needed whether across the full dimension of the wall or just one display.
Achieving the functionality and flexibility it needs, Invenergy is considering the many ways to use the video wall, including displaying data from sites in Poland and Scotland via its new wall in Chicago.
American Water, the largest investor-owned water utility company in the United States, is another example where a company didn’t need to make extensive technological upgrades to achieve substantial results. American Water provides high-quality water and wastewater services to more than 14 million people in more than 1,500 communities in the U.S and parts of Canada. Thanks to the Christie Phoenix and a Christie LCD flat-panel video wall display solution, American Water now has the capability to simultaneously monitor its security systems across the U.S. in one centralized location
At American Water, the Christie Phoenix system is collecting data from various physical and digital sources throughout the utility’s service areas, including streaming video and audio, desktop captures, online information, local cable television feeds, and facility systems. The captured information is simultaneously being fed onto a Christie display wall. From the display wall, information can quickly and easily be integrated, customized, recalled and shared from multiple locations and sources with high accuracy and reliability. Installed under the guidance of Class Craft Audio Video, the system is energy and space efficient, has low operating costs, and promotes efficient security monitoring operations.
Taking the Long View
The master control room of an average utility can be a stressful environment. Utilities must manage their resources carefully to minimize costly disruptions to service. The people who staff an operations center need clear information to make informed decisions on critical issues – ensuring consistent and uninterrupted service for their customers. A well-designed control room display system can increase the efficiency and productivity of energy sector teams by ensuring accurate and timely information for engineers, technicians and analysts.
While visual display systems have become much more versatile and user friendly, it takes more than simply mounting a flat panel on the wall, placing a cube against a corner, or aiming a projector at a designated location to achieve the desired results. A key consideration, when selecting the visual display for the control room equipment, is the quality and reliability of the components, as well as the level of support that will be provided by the vendor to front-line staff.
The video wall's operating life is not simply the length of time it can display an image. It is the period of time over which it operates without performance degradation. In other words: how long will the video wall continue to display images in the same manner as it did on the day the solution was implemented before it needs to be replaced? Check to make sure that the rear projection systems, display cubes or enclosures, as well as the video wall controller hardware and software you install are purpose-built to ensure reliability. Are you working with proven technology, designed specifically for 24/7 control room applications?
Among other questions a customer should ask: Is the equipment tested and proven to operate reliably and consistently over time? Can the systems show native HD content and standard content in a variety of viewable formats that can be dynamically configured in size and aspect ratio, to account for a wide range of content? Are there built-in redundancies to reduce down-time and performance interruptions? How user-friendly is the equipment? Does the architecture allow for fast response to failure correction? What service and support can you expect from the manufacturer, after they’ve installed the components?
Breaking it Down Before Building it Up
As mentioned earlier, the timely delivery of power, water, natural gas and other utilities relies on accurate and usable information. Working with partners like Christie can ensure you have a complete, integrated video wall system that meets your goals, while still providing flexibility and a path to future upgrades, holding costs down, and minimizing or eliminating downtime.
To ensure your control room meets your needs, consider the following criteria for video walls:
- It integrates with your existing hardware and software infrastructure, letting you capture and analyze real-time information from multiple inputs in a variety of formats.
- It provides a high quality video display, ensuring an ergonomic work environment for operators. It operates reliably in a 24/7 environment, with long-life, low-maintenance components.
- It delivers purpose-built solutions for your specific needs, with system configurations and sizes that are tailored to your specific design requirements.
- It uses precisely the technology you need, whether it’s UHP lamp-based or LED-based illuminated display cubes, 1DLP or 3DLP projection engines, or a customized display solution.
- It is easy to maintain, such as Christie’s LED-illuminated display cubes and modules. Christie displays feature dust-sealed optics, 60,000 hour MTBF and no consumables to replace, making them virtually maintenance-free.
- It features components that can deliver superior long-life performance
- It reflects the highest level of performance at the lowest cost of operation
Every company is different, even within the same industry and dealing with similar issues. A modern control room must be designed specifically for the critical elements pertinent to each company’s need. It must provide a comprehensive overview of their personnel, systems, security, environment, resources, and technologies. Emergencies can evolve rapidly and a minor incident can quickly escalate into a major environmental disaster if the technology is not in place to help the decision-maker get ahead of the problem and solve it. The best control rooms provide immediate access to information, gathered from multiple sources and sites, and are able to integrate them quickly so that the necessary decisions can be made in a timely manner.
The right partners to help you implement the right technology can make all the difference.