Design Tools for Custom Installers
Design Tools for Custom Installers
One significant sign the custom installation industry has evolved is the existence of applications designed to support the trade. Proposal applications, accounting and design tools have emerged as the business grows in complexity and matures. Design tools specifically have been employed more frequently than before.
In examining this trend it is useful to understand what benefit the use of design tools offer a custom installation company. Key benefits being –
- Accurate engineering of complex projects.
- Documentation to support accurate and efficient installation of the systems.
- As built documentation for future servicing of systems.
- Effective integration of technology into architecture and communication with other trades.
- Value added services.
Accurate engineering of complex projects. For the past decade systems have grown in complexity. No longer is a custom installer simply installing speakers, running speaker wire and volume controls or even audio keypads. Today’s typical systems include several disciplines or sub-systems which are installed in the project. Each discipline has many elements that must be considered in engineering. Improper or incomplete engineering of the systems may result in costly oversights or even systems which will not work. Accurate engineering using available design tools will prevent such occurrences.
Documentation to support accurate and efficient installation of the systems. Each discipline requires its own infrastructure cabling, equipment storage configurations, hookup configurations, programming and more. Attempting to accomplish the successful installation of such systems with no design documentation will lead to disastrous results. Installers in the field may interpret the purpose of the design inaccurately or install incorrect materials, equipment or install equipment in wrong locations.
By employing design tools the Designer can -
o Provide accurate plan view drawings which document a systems installed locations within a project and communicate the appropriate wiring infrastructure.
o Create equipment storage drawings assuring proper placement, ventilation, ergonomics and verifying space allowances.
o Verify sight lines, speaker placement, and other device placement.
o Point to point wiring diagrams for accurate connectivity.
As built documentation for future servicing of systems. A custom installation company doing several projects and with a number of installation teams has a potential service issue. When updates, servicing or other attention is required on a completed project a service tech may be called upon to service a system they have never seen before. Without accurate as built documentation, a substantial amount of “troubleshooting” time may be spent on familiarization. As this may not be billable time, it is important to keep that time to a minimum. Accurate as built documentation allows any service tech within the organization to efficiently service the project and pinpoint the service need quickly.
Effective integration of technology into architecture. Today’s systems are installed in fine homes and commercial environments. The designer is called upon to integrate display devices, control devices, speakers and entire systems into millwork and other architectural elements. Use of design tools enables the designer to accurately design specifically how systems can be integrated and what the requirements of other trades for this integration. Failure to properly communicate these design parameters could result in costly mistakes and blame.
Value added services. Minimally, the above benefits offer added value of the custom installer able to offer these services. When in a competitive environment a custom installer who can deliver these services distinguishes itself from less capable companies. If price competition is an issue, the custom installer offering design and documentation can demonstrate this higher value as a reason not to match price. When examined further, these services offer a billable and highly valued service offering. Many educated clientele will demand engineering and documentation as a part of the deliverable.
Examples of design and documentation software in use.
Traditionally, design and documentation for the systems integration industry falls into the following categories –
- Single lines
- Single lines are generally used to show the overall design purpose of a system. Single lines do not necessarily separate individual wires but show how signal and connectivity flow from device to device. These are very useful as system overview and design & planning. Recent developments in some software packages have made these more useful as a sales support document as well.
- Plan View
- Plan view drawings provide a layout view of systems within a building. These are used to document the locations of equipment and systems in dimensioned locations and also to document the wiring infrastructure of a system. Plan view drawings are used in some design software programs to generate wire connection lists and labels as well.
- Elevation drawings are provided for several purposes.
- Equipment storage and rack drawings are traditionally the most frequently used by custom installation companies. These drawings help calculate the specification of the equipment storage and rack equipment as well as provide a plan for the equipment layout as it will be installed.
- Sight line studies. Video systems must verify acceptable viewing angles and uninterrupted sight lines.
- Equipment Placement. Audio, video and other equipment generally must be installed within architectural elements. Elevation drawings, dimensioned and notated are useful for these purposes.
- Room Design. Elevations of rooms, specifically home theatres, can be used to build out the architectural elements as well as the acoustical treatments in a room.
- Elevation drawings are provided for several purposes.
- Schematics or Point to Point wiring diagrams show the individual connectivity of a system. These designs can assure the proper connection and thus the functionality of a system and its programming. Schematics are usually most detailed and technical of all design documentation provided for the custom installation industry.
Considerations when selecting design software
When a custom installer is shopping for software applications there are several considerations.
Appropriate. The installer must analyze their business and what type of systems they provide or want to provide. Whichever application is selected must adequately provide documentation for these systems. Some applications have been focused more on one or another aspect of the business. Some lean toward proposal creation with documentation and design as a secondary function. Others lean toward design and engineering with little or secondary emphasis on other elements of the business. Some have well integrated design, engineering, sales and management. All available programs offer demonstrations and some level of trial.
Adaptation. Look at how well the application fits the system integration industry. While many generic drawing and engineering programs are available, we have found applications which are focused on the industry offer the highest level of efficiency and functionality.
Training. Any application with enough power to serve the needs of a custom installer may require some training. Look for an application that offers several training options. Some applications offer classes, on-site personnel, live web training as well as interactive training. Having numerous choices makes implementation easier to accomplish.
Scalability. Some applications offer the integrator the ability to outfit their team with the right set of engineering tools and grow into higher levels of functionality. This is useful when implementing new functions within a company, allowing a company to grow as needed.
Support. Look into the support infrastructure of an application. Is there on-line and live support? Is there a user’s forum or community? How many other industry people and manufacturers support the application? Are there any consultants providing support? The implementation of design software into an organization is an important step which will require some support.
Track Record. How has the application developed and grown with the industry?
When a custom installation company takes the step of implementing design software and thus a design process into their operations this represents an important development. The company can now expect higher levels of efficiency. This is a result from –
o More accurate proposals which are a result of well engineered systems.
o More efficient installation which is a result of project documentation.
o More effective customer service which is a result of as built documentation.
o More accurate programming which is a result of schematic design
o Higher customer satisfaction which results from smooth installations due to accurate designs in general
o More profitable, which is a result of all of the above.
Our experience in using, training, consulting and implementing design software in the system integration industry has been very positive. We have experienced the benefits described in this article as well as helped many companies realize the benefits as well. It is important to remember that the impact of implementing design software into an organization is significant. However, these programs are not magic. It takes commitment and resources to make a successful implementation. When the right application is implemented with dedication and planning your company can achieve a previously unattainable level of success, by design!
Sam Cavitt is the principal of Media Envrionment Design, a D-Tools Certified Partner. For more information please visit http://www.medesign.tv/