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ETC and ArcSystem bring high-tech lights to Silicon Valley

When the San Jose McEnery Convention Centre needed a new lighting system that could support the multi-use, high-production-value conventions their clients expect, they turned to ETC. Now they have a lighting system as advanced as the industry around them.

“The previous sodium light fixtures were from the ‘80s,” says Gabriel Nemeth, director of event operations.  “Advances in technology and changing client demands put us behind the times.” This was particularly true for trade shows that demand a space that serves multiple functions, with some sections being used for keynotes and others for trade show booths. Clients would ask for dimmed lights over the keynote area and bright light in the tradeshow sections – something the old system couldn’t do, costing the client more money to get the effect they wanted.

The sodium fixtures were also unflattering. “It felt like you were in an old warehouse or a big box store,” says Tim Foster, director of production at Team San Jose. Foster, Nemeth, and their team wanted the cooler, bluer colour temperature lighting of 4000K to give the space the feel of natural sunlight.

Finally, whatever new system they adapted had to work on 277V power, so the convention centre wouldn’t have to install an expensive transformer. With their needs outlined, Team San Jose Chief Operating Officer Dave Costain entrusted General Manager of Convention Center Operations Ewell Steiner, Nemeth and Foster to make it happen.

For guidance to a solution, Team San Jose turned to Mike Wunder, CEO of Wunder Lighting and Controls, Inc. in the Bay Area. Wunder pointed them to the GDS ArcSystem*. “There were a lot of positives with ETC and GDS,” says Wunder. In addition to being able to give them the 4000K color temperature, individual fixture dimming, and operate at 277V, the output from the ArcSystem fixtures was high enough that they were able to reduce the number of fixtures they needed to install. “Because of output we were able to use 300 fewer fixtures – a significant amount.”

“The ArcSystem fixtures were easy to install and we were knocking out four or five rows of fixtures a day because they were they were so user-friendly,” says Curtis Barkle of Stronghold Engineering, the electrical contractor on the project. Barkle and Stronghold were responsible for demolishing the old ceiling structure, prepping and updating the ceiling infrastructure, then installing 554 ArcSystem Pro Eight-Cell fixtures. “When the fixtures arrived they were exactly as anticipated, making it quick and easy to install and wire the system to the client’s expectations. The on-time completion of this project could not have been possible without the help and coordination of ETC and Michael Wunder.”

Team San Jose also credited the help of San Jose Public Works Senior Engineer Tony Andary and Associate Engineer Huimin Mu for allowing the whole renovation to meet a very tight timeline. The end result wasn’t just user-friendly, it was user ecstatic.

“Every lighting designer who’s come in here in and tied into the system has told me this is one of the coolest buildings they’ve ever been in,” says Foster. Lighting designers love the ability to control individual fixtures, whether for large sections of the hall like a keynote, or to dim the house lights above a booth to highlight the special lighting for one particular client.

This granularity of selection is possible thanks to ETC’s advanced control system. “From the get-go we knew we were going to use ETC control,” continues Foster. “Nobody understands large lighting control systems like ETC.” That control is achieved using a Unison Paradigm® architectural system networked through the building, sending control signal to the fixtures as well as managing and monitoring the Echo Relay and Sensor IQ panels, which provide 277V power. Access to the system is provided through Paradigm’s 7-inch and 18-inch touchscreens, which Team San Jose can customise for each show. “I think for me one of the highlights of the system is controllability, “adds Nemeth. “Controllability of either a whole hall, a row of lights, or an individual fixture, with flawless dimming from 100 per cent all the way down to zero. I think it’s unprecedented.”

Designers aren’t the only ones who are happy. Accountants love not having to pay for extra equipment or more set up time. “Clients tell us they’re seeing cost savings on everything from equipment rental to trucking and labour because they don’t have to bring in additional gear. All of those costs are gone, and the savings are showing up,” adds Foster.

Broadcasters love the colour temperature and the extra lumens from the fixtures. “They wanted to get as much light as possible for broadcasting,” says Wunder, who raves about the end result. “It turned out stupendous. The light output is amazing and, because of the fixture design, there isn’t any annoying glare.”

“The selling point now is all about imagination,” says Nemeth. “Whatever our client wants to do, they can do with this system. If they want to do something traditional, we can do that. If they want to stay away from the traditional, do something different, they can do that.”

In the end, the San Jose Convention Center got the high-tech lighting system that befitted the Silicon Valley venue. “We’re in the middle of the epicentre of innovation,” says Foster. “We should take advantage of the most advanced technology on the planet. And we felt we did that by partnering with ETC.”