Monday, July 22, 2013

Kate Lucibella: Automation and the Pacific

This past week I was lucky enough to spend some time with OSF automation programmer Jennifer Hanson and electrical designer Ryan Poethke.   Jennifer was kind enough to take me through the typical OSF automation training as well as a walk-through of the operating system as well as the physical pieces that are used on a regular basis.

The software and operating system are developed entirely in house so the program can be designed and tweaked to do exactly what is needed of it.  There were some similarities between the system we use at STC (Raynok) but for the most part it was a completely different way of looking at automation.  I found the OSF program to be very intuitive and very user friendly.  After only spending about a half hour with the program I found I could easily navigate around the menus and caught onto programming pretty quickly. Unlike the Raynok system, there aren't really any drop down menus but pop up menus that can move around the home screen that allow you to look at different axis’ and cues and all the information for each.  The biggest difference for me what once a cue executes, the program automatically advances to the next cue.  On a Raynok system you have to manually advance to the next cue.

So what happens if you have to rerun the cue you just took? There’s a button for that! Here’s a picture of the automation console: 

The “re-run-current” button allows you to retake the cue that was just executed.  In order to take any cue on the console you need to be holding down the “enable” button. So in order to execute a cue, you need to hold down the enable button and then push the “Go” button.  This safety makes it difficult for something to get pushed by accident. The console also allows you to stop a cue mid-progress (you do not have to hold down the “enable” button to stop a cue), go back to a previous cue with the “cue back” button (this does not execute a cue but sets up for the next execution), or in case of bad things happening; immediately stop everything with the “Emergency Stop” button.  E-stops also shut down communication to the drives (the brains of automation) so when operators walk away from the console, they can push the E-stop as a safety measure.

The only major advantage of the Raynok system over the OSF system was that Raynok allows for position based cuing.  OSF automation software only can do timing based cuing. Both of these cuing methods are used for autofollow cues, where multiple things happen within one cue.  For example, there is a lift and a sunroof.  The sunroof is open retracted into the deck and the lift is all the way up at deck level.  In the next automation cue the lift wants to move down to it’s storage position in the trap room and the sunroof wants to close.  In position based cuing you can tell the sunroof not to start closing until the lift has moved down to a specific measurement.  In timing based cuing you tell the sunroof not to start moving until x number of seconds have passed.  The advantage of position based cuing is that it has its own safety built in.  If something happens to the lift and the lift never reaches the assigned distance for the sunroof to start moving, the sunroof will not move.  In time based cuing, if something happens to the lift and it doesn’t move the sunroof will still try and move when it has reached x seconds that were written in the programming.  You can see why position based cuing is a big advantage.  OSF is working on developing position based cuing for their software as we speak.

A couple other interesting things about the OSF automation system.  Most of their systems are run off belts.  Rather than using cable or chain, most axis are belt driven.  The belts are ribbed and have steel running through them.  This basically eliminates any stretch and allows for much more accurate tuning and consistent cuing.  They also use sensor safeties to protect scenery and props from getting run over and destroyed.  If something breaks the line of the sensors, it automatically stops the system.  Within the software, there is a way to override the sensors manually in case one of them were to go out for some reason, the performance could continue, just without the safeties. 

Ok, that was a lot of info about automation.  They’re software and system are pretty amazing and I was very lucky to get a chance to talk to their entire automation department about various elements of the system. 

And just to balance it out, here’s a picture of the Pacific Ocean: 

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