As our client base grows steadily, it is fascinating to see how different integrators approach projects. Having spent 20 years on the installation side of the fence, it is really interesting to see companies doing things very differently to how my own experiences have seen things done.
Sometimes, I see processes that I am just blown away with and wish I had thought of them; sometimes, I see integrators doing things in a way that is less than ideal (I know, I often made the same mistakes at some point!).
One thing is certainly true from my own perspective though. In general, the integrators who have the facilities to pre-build and test systems deliver their systems more quickly and accurately than those who do not. It also brings large benefits to me as the Crestron software programmer.
First off, I can totally accept that many companies are not in a position where they can build and test off-site. It does require having the facilities to do it properly and that often comes down to physical space.
But, for those companies that do have the space and options for pre-building racks, the benefits can be great. I know there are now several companies offering the service of building racks for installers, so it is not always something companies have to tackle themselves.
Logically, it also means that the installer needs to be using wall-mounted patch panels to land all of their cabling. Again, there are companies who do not do this and I accept that. Personally I think that the advantages of patch panels for neatness, flexibility and performance outweigh the additional costs. Several installers I work with print out 1:1 drawings of the patch panels and then mount the drawing on the wall at the exact height of the panels on site to help them cut all looms to the exact length required.
I love working with companies that can do it. I will usually visit their facility a week or so before the racks go onto site. I get to configure and test the systems (usually) from the comfort of a desk and chair (that in itself is enough to sway me!).
I can ensure that all network addresses are correct and firmware versions are what they need to be before moving on to confirming all audio and video routing is what I expected it to be.
I can test most of the core functionality of my software and ensure that systems are switching as they should. I can pick up any issues with my software and be in a position to resolve those issues before the racks are on-site. Similarly, if I see any issues with cabling or signal routing being different to the engineering drawings I can discuss why the change has been made and whether it needs to be corrected or if I need to modify my software to suit.
It's far easier to change a bit of software to reflect an engineering change when I am at the client's facility than on-site during the final phases of a project (with all the additional pressures associated with that).
Even on large projects, it takes only a few hours in the client's facility testing the core equipment to save considerable time on site.
Overall, I think there are massive advantages to installers who do have the ability to pre-build their racks. These advantages certainly also apply to Crestron software deployment as well. I can walk out of a client's facility knowing that my code is good, the engineering is good and that the next time I see those racks on-site, I can be working on getting everything commissioned far quicker.
If you are considering developing your rack pre-build facilities and even just want to chat about how it can benefit software deployment and testing, please contact me for a chat.