May 23, 2016

The Rack Building for Audiovisual Systems standard (F502.01:201X) is being developed by an international team of AV experts whose combined experience encompasses manufacturing, building, designing, selling and installing racks.

We talked to both the team’s moderator Tim Troast, Director of Product Management at U.S.-based manufacturer Middle Atlantic Products, and Nick Pidgeon, Managing Director at Visualization Limited, a British company that provides outsourced AV rack building and installation, about the forthcoming standard.

Where are you currently in the process of developing the standard?

Tim Troast: We're still early on in the process. We have an outline and a first rough draft of what the standard will be. We're currently building out the thermal management section of the standard, so we can provide ample implementation and reference documentation to guide rack builders and integrators on best practice for managing heat on a rack. It's one of the more complex sections and ultimately will serve as a framework for how we approach all the other sections of the standard. Next, we're going to tackle cable management and later we'll get into locating the rack; for example, not placing the rack against the wall where the air is trying to escape, and providing enough airflow into and out of the enclosure. Once we get through the first draft, we'll be exposing it to some "friends of the family" to evaluate what's been written and to make sure it aligns with the thinking of industry leaders and serves the needs of the customer.

Who is the standard aimed at?

Nick Pidgeon: Myself and my team are who this standard is for: the guys on the ground who are building the racks. People building racks need a standard to work to, to avoid a situation where everybody is making it up as they go along and every rack is different. At Visualization, we aim for uniformity. You wouldn’t know which engineer built the rack because they all have the same configuration.

What problems will the standard solve?

Tim Troast: Like any good standard, it will provide confidence that the consumer of the system is getting a quality, high-performing product. It will provide the user a level of comfort and a solution that might not necessarily be in their skill set. They might not know the intricacies of how AV rack-building works, but to have a standard that allows you to say, "Your solution was built in line with the industry guidelines and requirements," provides a level of assurance to the end user that the firm they're working with is a quality firm that follows industry best practices.

Nick Pidgeon: It draws a line in the sand. If you're going to build a rack, these are the fundamentals that need to be considered and here are the guidelines on how all racks should be built. Future serviceability of the system is important. If you don't follow the proposed standard, then it's hit and miss whether serviceability is an option down the line. There's also longevity of the equipment; to ensure that it's built well so that it doesn't overheat, for example, or so the cabling can be easily traced back.

What does the standard address and what does it not address?

Nick Pidgeon: It's very much the building of a rack that it addresses; the hands on. What it doesn't address is specifying the correct rack or the environment that the rack is going into.

Tim Troast: As we evolved the standard, we had to decide what was in scope and out of scope. To get a valuable standard in a reasonable time frame, we made the decision at our first face-to-face meeting (Integrated Systems Europe 2016) to focus on the actual building of the rack and not the design of the rack.

In laymen's terms, the design of the enclosure takes into account the actual electronics that the rack is handling as well as the subassemblies, the cabling, the heat load, the airflow, the power distribution and power requirements; those are very complex subjects, which, coupled with the actual building of the rack, would create a standard that would take significantly longer to write and would be more difficult to implement. So we decided that the standard would be focused on the building of the rack, to give rack builders a frame of reference to build an enclosure and manage it optimally. Things like where to put the cabling inside the enclosure so as to not block ventilation and not to let crosstalk occur between power and signal; not what type of cable but how to position the cables within the rack. It's truly focused on the execution of the build, not the holistic design and build of the enclosure.

Is this based on any existing standard?

Tim Troast: Within the AV market there is no existing standard like this. There are standards on the IT side and on the telecommunications side. We are referencing information from standards that exist in parallel trades as much as possible, drawing from standards, white papers and other accredited documentation to provide reference material when and where appropriate. But there is no similar standard in the AV industry.

Why was it important to formulate the standard at this particular time?

Nick Pidgeon: From a rack-builder's perspective, it feels like it's overdue. The fact that it rose to the top of the pile, from the Standards Steering Committee's point of view, also suggests that many other people felt that a standard is needed. I think we've all experienced, at one time or another, racks that have been poorly built and end users not getting the value they deserved. As an industry, we want to educate the integrators and clients as to what to expect, so they don't get a second-rate product.

What kind of diversity do you have in the team that is developing the standard?

Tim Troast: We were looking for a solid representation globally and across a large number of disciplines and organization sizes. So diversity in the team was very important. We have people from AVIXA and people from within the industry.

See the group roster at the end of this article.

What has been interesting about working together?

Tim Troast: Some of the terminology gets us tied up in knots on occasions. For example, in the U.S. we call the signal cable a "cable," and the ties used to fasten them we call "wire ties." But in the U.K. they fasten wire with cable ties. We’ve been finding all kinds of different nuances from the different regions, and it’s been a challenge trying to identify how we globalize these terms.

Nick Pidgeon: The different time zones makes it interesting. Trying to get everyone together on a particular day, so we can work through some of the issues. After our initial face-to-face meeting at ISE (Integrated Systems Europe), we've been meeting virtually every couple of weeks, for an hour at a time, normally on a single element that we’ve all researched. Having three to five different views on the same topic means there is a lot to work through, but the end result is a good amount of thought and a maximum effort before something is finalized in the standard.

I've been learning about things I never expected to have to consider, such as seismic issues. That is never a consideration in the U.K.! Also, earthing and bonding of the rack has been interesting. There are references in the U.S. that are believed have come from the U.K., but they are only loosely adhered to here. It has been challenging trying to put that across as a global value. Another interesting aspect is, we have realized as a group that there’s another standard that needs to be written, that looks at the design of the rack, and now we’re all hankering to write that one too. 

Here's the group of experts working on the standard:

  • Tim Troast, Director Product Management, Middle Atlantic Products (U.S.)
  • Jay Franetovich, CTS®, Application Engineer/Product Manager, Middle Atlantic Products (U.S.)
  • Nick Pidgeon, Managing Director, Visualization Limited (U.K.)
  • John Bailey, CTS-D, CTS-I, Vice-President of Technology, Whitlock (U.S.)
  • Jason Brameld, Technical Director, Torpedo Factory Group (U.K.)
  • Jason Rouzaire, CTS-D, CTS-I, Vice President, Audio Visual Division, IDEAL Systems Asia Pacific Limited
  • Ann Brigida, CTS, CStd, Senior Director of Standards, AVIXA
  • Michelle Truong-Streffon, CTS, AStd, Standards Manager, AVIXA
  • David Samura, Audiovisual Technical, ICT Section, International Criminal Court
  • Catalina Vallejos, Standards Resources Coordinator, AVIXA
  • Loanna Overcash, Standards Developer, AVIXA

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