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Proportional valves boost control for lighting experts

Proportional valves boost control for lighting experts

Lighting engineers demand an increasingly high level of precision and automation to wow audiences. But until now, one of the entertainment industry's most enduring effects has remained stubbornly resistant to complex control. Emerson has worked alongside Martin, a world leader in dynamic lighting, to create a new breed of smoke machine that has revolutionised the logistics of live performance.

Smoke machines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the small to stadium filling. They are used to produce a range of effects from fine haze to dense fog - but output and gas consumption have always been harder to control. Most smoke machines are attached via hose to a CO2 gas canister off-stage. A typical canister has a basic regulator which is used to control the pressure of the gas. It can be difficult to adjust the pressure during a performance, so most users are forced to set the pressure and simply leave it running.

The goal for users is to reduce CO2 consumption and associated costs without harming the quality of effect. Using Emerson's ASCO valve technology, Martin's Ready365 smoke machine both significantly reduces gas usage and dramatically improves performance.

The idea of using proportional valves to control gas flow was initially dismissed by Martin due to cost constraints, but Emerson devised a compelling alternative. The manufacturer demonstrated that by using ASCO valves supplied without control electronics, Martin could incorporate Emerson's leading technology while maximising the value of its own in-house electronics expertise. Rather than being forced to use expensive off-the-shelf competitor technology, Martin was able to combine ASCO proportional solenoid valves with the lighting manufacturer's propriety electronics.

The ASCO proportional valve configuration opened up exciting possibilities for Martin. Unlike conventional smoke machines with manual valves, the Ready365 is remotely operable, giving an unparalleled level of control over the timing, level and duration of the effect. This enables a lighting engineer to manage the device in real-time from the main console. The Ready365 can even be programmed to automatically maintain or adjust effect levels according to pre-set parameters.

The Ready365 is designed for use in a range of venues, up to and including large stadiums. The high output and flexibility of the device means optimum effect levels can be achieved quickly, before remotely reducing output to the desired level using the ASCO proportional valve. Competitor machines, with lower output and inflexible controls, must be turned on earlier to reach the same levels but continue producing excess smoke and wasting CO2.

Although CO2 is relatively inexpensive, transport costs can be considerable. Inefficient smoke machines not only waste gas, but reduce operation time; the inconvenience of sourcing and fitting multiple replacements can easily outweigh the cost of the gas itself. Also, in many instances, particularly for smaller events and equipment hires, individual users will not have access to replacement CO2. In these cases, the length of operation and cost to the user depends on how much gas can be conserved during use.

The unit has been in high demand since production began in June. Sales have been excellent; Martin exceeded initial projections for the year within just four months and quickly returned to Emerson to order more components.

The Ready365 has already been used in numerous events and high profile occasions, including the 2013 BAFTA awards and the Royal Shakespeare production of Richard II, starring David Tenant.

Nick Scully, R&D manager for Martin, comments: "We wanted an established brand with a proven ability to supply OEMs and the expertise to assist during the design phase. Emerson has been incredibly supportive. They took the time to understand what we were trying to achieve and weren't afraid to challenge our thinking. Thanks to their flexibility and insight we've been able to conceive, create and launch a new concept quickly and efficiently. ASCO valves have revolutionised our machine. The resulting product is completely unique - differentiating us from the competition, while keeping production costs down.

"From a technical perspective, we are very impressed. Having undertaken extensive calibration of the Ready365 device, the precision and repeatability of the ASCO valve is quite remarkable. It meets our high specifications with ease."

Chris Walsh, UK sales manager for Emerson, adds: "Flexibility is a valuable commodity. Rather than forcing our customers to work around us, our extensive range of proportional valve technologies allows us to tailor each solution to individual requirements. Collaboration, persistence and technical expertise have enabled us to deliver an innovative solution on time and within budget."

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