Theatre Green BUILDINGS Toolkit – Maintaining and Replacing Technical Equipment

With thanks to Christian Wallace at Charcoalblue

 

Technical Equipment Toolkit

This toolkit has been created to advise you on all aspects of Theatre equipment (installed, loose and touring), whether that be a lighting fixture, speaker, winch, or anywhere in between every piece of equipment used has a carbon footprint from its manufacturing (embodied carbon) and use (operational carbon). Further to this, you also need to consider how to maintain your equipment and what to do when you need to replace it.

How is your equipment manufactured and where

Theatre equipment is often very complex and made from hundreds if not thousands of component parts. Every one of these component parts uses energy and resources to be created.

Whilst its currently impossible to know where every component part comes from and its associated embodied carbon its worth starting to consider this especially if you’re looking to upgrade your equipment.

Understanding what embodied carbon is and how its calculated is an important part of this knowledge. Embodied carbon is all of the CO2e emitted in the creation of a single built asset, this includes the energy used to extract and transport raw materials as well as emissions from the manufacturing processes including the transportation of the asset to its final destination. Component parts can be extracted in one continent but made in another and then fitted into the equipment in yet another continent. Due to the sheer number of parts and where they are made is making calculating the associated emissions very tricky currently as there is no method at the time of print to monitor this.

Whilst most manufacturers are not able to calculate embodied carbon currently there are certain standards looking to be put in place globally that will ramp up this requirement. For example, The EU Digital Product Passport (DPP), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Life Cyle Assessments (LCAs) are being used more and more for larger scale manufacturing. By 2027, the use of DPP’s by all manufacturers looks to be coming into legislation so there is a lot of work to be done by all to get ready for this.

Another guidance that some lighting manufacturers are looking into is the CIBSE and SLL TM66 – “Creating a circular economy in the lighting industry”. This memorandum looks in what the circular economy is and how it applies to the lighting industry. It is worth exploring this guidance to help you understand the theories and strategies behind the circular economy.

How does it work and how do I keep it going?

Most theatres and arts venues will have infrastructure or installed equipment that hasn’t been replaced possibly since the building opened. Around 10-15 years is beyond the expected lifespan of most electrical equipment (if maintained and inspected regularly) so how do you assess what action to take on a weekly, monthly or annual basis to keep your venue running smoothly? 

You know the equipment in your theatre – you use it every day. Some is frequently moved about and rigged/derigged. Some never moves but is powered 24/7. What can you do to increase the lifespan of your equipment, minimise downtime, avoid unexpected repair bills and improve sustainability? The following section gives you hints and tips:

Planning Maintenance

Maintenance of equipment is an essential part of running a building sustainably, and it should be given the appropriate time and budgets that are needed. Poor maintenance doesn’t only mean inefficient equipment which needs early replacement. It can also mean poor quality, kit that doesn’t work, or – at worst – ‘show-stopping’ moments and dissatisfied audiences.

Maintenance takes time. Programme your maintenance time to work out how many staff you need and develop a maintenance schedule. 

Plan how much time is needed to undertake maintenance that can only be done when the theatre is closed (LOLER checks on pit lifts / flying systems, EICR (Electrical Inspection Condition Report) on your electrical installation). Most Stage Engineering systems will require a third party to carry out the tests and maintenance, so it is vital to plan ahead to allow time and space for these statutory checks.

Often overlooked is the requirement to have a dedicated clean and tidy space to maintain equipment. If an environment is created to enable even the simplest of jobs it is more likely to be continued. A clean space with necessary storage for spare parts and space to dismantle equipment safely and securely can be key.

Basic maintenance

Always follow manufacturer’s instructions, which vary between product to product. If an item is within a warranty period, any major faults should be referred to the supplier and/or manufacturer for advice and repair, don’t risk invalidating your warranty by attempting repairs yourself during a warranty period.

Complete a risk assessment to make sure that conducting maintenance on a piece of kit is safe to do so, and you have all necessary PPE, training, competency, time and the appropriate tools for what you’re going to be doing.

Keep your kit clean

Theatres get dusty. Whilst you’re never going to win the battle of the dust, it is worth protecting items by removing dust from them on a regular basis.

Dust can be removed from items easily with a vacuum cleaner and a new/clean dry paintbrush– this is always best done in the open air or in well-ventilated spaces. Doing this will extend the life of your equipment, especially any item that has open sides, or a fan inside it (amplifiers, PCs, some moving lights). Over time, dust can cause components to fail, especially moving parts. Many cooling fans in equipment can be cleaned, so taking the time to clean the dust from inside and outside electrical items (if you can get inside), will make them last longer. A broken fan in a piece of equipment or a dust covered PCB within can cause components to overheat, perhaps rendering the piece of equipment beyond economical repair. So, with items that are critical to the operation of your venue, take the time to give them a clean, to make sure they last as long as possible.

Carry out safety tests

As part of any maintenance regime, you should be following the Code of Practice – In-service Inspection and Testing of Electrical Equipment (5th Edition 2020) (ISITEE – published by the IET – formerly known as Portable Appliance Testing).

Doing your ISITEE will ensure that your equipment is electrically safe to use.

Repairing equipment

Knowing how to maintain and repair equipment that contains user serviceable parts can put off the need to replace it. It’s as important as the equipment itself and should be a consideration in any purchase.  Anyone on the team with an electronics or engineering background may understand how equipment works at component level and be able to help with repairs if given suitable training. Many manufacturers offer comprehensive deconstructed parts diagrams. These spare parts range from mechanical parts, screws, nuts and bolts to whole circuit boards and more depending on the brand. Some manufacturers and suppliers may also offer free or low cost maintenance training and is well worth researching if you have a large stock of the same brand of equipment.

If a set of powered loudspeakers have stopped working, but the speaker cones seem fine, the cost of replacing the power supply board or other circuit board may not be too expensive. Equally if a loudspeaker cone is damaged these cones often have a new cone installed – although this needs to be considered against the manufacturers recommendations and how ‘show critical’ the equipment is. Repairing an item is far more sustainable than replacing it and lessens the impact of disposing broken equipment to landfill.

For older equipment that is still being used frequently you may find replacement parts more difficult to find after a while. Second hand stores can sometimes come in handy as you may be able to find spare parts or even a complete replacement that can be used for parts, so it is always worth looking around before accepting equipment has reached the end of its life expectancy. 

Maintenance Contracts

If you are not able to undertake repairs or do your ISITEE (appliance testing) or periodic electrical inspections yourself, you can seek a reputable provider to help. Choose a company that works with theatrical technical equipment and installations on a regular basis (local hire companies are always a good first option). There are companies that will come and do ISITEE for less than £1 per item but may lack the specialist expertise theatres need. Some hire companies offer a full-service maintenance contract, which would be suitable for venues that don’t have skilled in-house technical staff or have limited time or resources to undertake this work in house.

The cost is likely to be balanced by less frequent whole sale replacement. Effective maintenance is essential to running a theatre sustainably – repairing equipment is more sustainable and better use of materials and resources.

Think long term for repairs and upgrades

Planning for repair, upgrade and replacement should ideally begin as soon as equipment is purchased and installed. Installers can provide advice on expected lifespan. Maintenance can ensure you achieve it. Warranty periods can be monitored and also extended, with budgets planned long-term to manage your assets as sustainably as possible.

 

Monitoring equipment in use will give you early warning of major repairs and ultimate replacement. It can also flag up other problems. For example, if lights that you expected to last 8 years are all failing after 4, is there an environmental, operational or maintenance factor that is contributing to the failures?

Planning Checklist

Life span

  • Ask manufactures / distributers about warranty periods and if the product offers an extended warranty
  • Ask manufactures / distributers about expected life spans, e.g. hours of use or expected number of duty cycles
  • Ask manufacturers what provision they have for the replacement, re-use or recycle of component parts
  • Research common points of failure and/or common issues with maintenance or operation of the equipment
  • Locate and store detailed exploded diagrams of your equipment for expedient identification of faults and required repairs
  • Ensure where the equipment is stored or located (for installed items) has the correct environmental conditions. For example; if the room you house your equipment racks in is hot and dusty the equipment is likely to fail more quickly.
  • Artistic life span. How long is this equipment going to be relevant for before its outdated?

Training

  • Ensure your technical staff are trained in operating the equipment, aside from safety issues, improper use can be a contributing factor in equipment failure
  • Make the most of manufacturers’ dedicated training programmes for the equipment you buy. If it’s not freely available, ask for it as part of your purchase negotiation. 

Maintenance

  • Replacement parts – are these easily accessible and/or generic, or manufacture specific components
  • Understand if you are capable of maintaining this equipment yourselves or do you need outside assistance? If it’s not something you can maintain yourself, make sure you have appropriate annual budget allocation for the required maintenance
  • Monitoring the conditions of UPS systems to avoid damage to equipment and planning for correct disposal of batteries.

Replacing Equipment

Whilst it can sometimes seem like a fantastic idea at the time you must consider the impact and longevity of any new or refurbishment installations.

A high number of projects over past decades and locations have spent vast sums of money (and steel, timber, electronics) on movable seating systems, complex lifts and variable acoustic devices which have never been used and, decades later, are stripped out.

Having sufficient space provides optimal flexibility. However, if you fill that space with stage machinery for format changes, flexibility or future redeployment diminishes. While there are instances where this approach is justified, such as a forestage elevator in a bustling medium-scale theatre, which proves its worth as hard-working stage machinery, the decision should be weighed against frequency of use. If the machinery is only utilized infrequently, it might be more cost-effective to employ crew to construct a forestage or orchestra pit from rostra as opposed to dealing with the maintenance and replacement costs associated with the forestage elevator.

If you’re not sure, build a manual system in such a way that a motorised system can be added in the future – as the use of the building evolves.

To help make this decision, consider the ongoing costs which apply to stage machinery systems. 

The 40/20/10 rule provides helpful guidance:

o             60% of the capital cost is mechanics, which can generally be expected to last 40 years

o             30% is drives, lasting 20 years

o             10% is computer control, lasting 10 years

Hence, over the 40 year lifespan of the system, the computer control will need to be replaced 3 times and the drives once.

Factor this into an annual budget for “planned replacement of components”, along with the expected annual maintenance cost (around 4% of capital cost) and see how it compares to estimated crew labour cost.

Choosing New

There are several factors in choosing new equipment sustainably:

  • Make sure it’s durable and will provide maximum years of life before needing to be scrapped.
  • When looking at options, check to see if there is any information on the carbon footprint of manufacturing the equipment – and of delivering it, sometimes across the world.
  • Speak with the company who is supplying your equipment about what packaging the equipment is coming, can the packaging be reused, can it be returned to the supplier, is it biodegradable? Check on its energy consumption in use.
  • Understand what steps the manufacturer may have taken to reduce the overall weight of equipment and accessories to help reduce energy needed to transport the equipment.
  • Avoid over-specifying.
  • Consider if the equipment can serve multiple functions, reducing the need for multiple equipment (can a network switch be easily set up with virtual networks, as opposed to a separate switch for each sound or video network, can a sound system be redeployed in alternative locations etc)
  • What upgrades or expansion are possible. This follows the circular economy model of designing for disassembly but also expansion/adaptation. Can the manufacture offer upgrades or swap outs of mother boards or engines etc.
  • Do you need to purchase all of the equipment at once? Investigate long term hires with suppliers. Some suppliers offer discounted rates of the equipment following a fixed term.
  • Review what after sales service and extended warranties are possible – these can be a good indicator of the anticipated life cycle of the equipment.

Rehoming and recycling old equipment

There are plenty of options to consider before sending old equipment to landfill.  

Depending on the condition of your equipment you can sell it to other venues or second-hand retailers. Any profit made from these sales can sometimes be put towards offsetting the costs of the new purchases.

If you can’t sell your equipment, can you give it away to other venues to be used as spares or even to local community groups or schools who can benefit from this type of equipment?

By nature we’re creative, so why not look at your old stock of kit and see what can be salvaged and reused into something entirely different. Turn a parcan or spin dryer into a plant pot, turn a speaker into toybox, why not create some outdoor artwork from old hemp lines, old hook clamps use for PPE coat hooks. There is so much we can do with our old kit!

There will be of course some equipment or parts of it that nothing can be salvaged from, this is when you need to speak with your local theatrical lighting and AV supplier about WEEE Recycling. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive requires countries to maximise separate collection and environmentally friendly processing of these items. In the UK, distributors including retailers must provide a system which allows all customers buying new electrical equipment the opportunity to recycle their old items free of charge. For more information on this click on the government website.

 

Lighting

There is no doubt that there are electricity usage cost savings from LED-based general light fittings in day-to-day usage.  You can easily calculate the amount of hours a light is on and then use this to calculate the cost saving between, say, a 100W tungsten light and a 14W LED light over a specific period of time, showing the cost saving associated with the use of LED general lighting products.

Many venues are considering changing to LED stage lighting. This is an expensive capital investment but can be a good move to be more efficient in energy use.

An LED equivalent of a traditional 1kw Parcan or Fresnel lantern, uses around 150watts of power, 85% less energy than a 1000watt tungsten equivalent. LED fixtures do require more components in manufacture than traditional tungsten. HOWEVER, for most theatres, the in-use benefits of LEDs over Tungsten outweigh the carbon footprint of manufacturing.

Another benefit of LED fixtures is that they reduce the overall heat loads within a performance area, therefore reducing the energy demand for cooling. Benefits of reducing energy are not limited to income power supplies, but can reduced need for water cooled systems and other resource heavy cooling components.

Converting from Tungsten to LED

LED luminaires are fast becoming the go-to fixtures of choice for many venues with a wide variety of type and range of quality.

Newer, premium fixtures with increasingly improving LED arrays are able to provide superior colour rendering mimicking that of their tungsten counterparts.

With a reduction in power consumption as described above, switching to LED is a way to reduce a production’s footprint.

However, there are some issues to be aware of:

  • If you have relatively new tungsten fittings, it may be worth assessing deferring the switch to LED.
  • Tungsten lamps are still being manufactured and many lighting designers prefer to use tungsten over LED so speak with your regular lighting designers about their thoughts before investing in LED.
  • LED fixtures are more complex than traditional fixtures, and can require additional programming time, especially from a toured show file.
  • Over time and depending on usage, LED colour rendering (CRI) may slowly degrade, meaning the light’s colour will not be the same on year 10 as it was on year 1. To help manage this some manufacturers commit to 50,000 hours of use before this starts to show. Other Manufacturers have designed a replaceable engine into their fixtures, increasing the lifecycle of a fixture significantly
  • The data available for LED efficiency over time is limited, as the technology has progressed at a fast rate since it’s infancy.
  • LED fixtures need regular attention to ensure they run at their optimum conditions, ensuring a longer life.
  • Tungsten fixtures only used power when on, LED fixtures are on ALL the time so think about power management strategies to ensure your energy used does not increase by leaving LEDs on all of the time.

Luminaires with an LED source would not require dimmer racks as the intensity of the light is controlled within the fixture. Relay or non-dim racks could be provided within the infrastructure to support which tend to be cheaper. It’s worth considering, when designing a venue, if dimmed fixtures might be required. Not having the ability to bring in legacy or hired equipment might mean higher purchase or rental costs to fulfil your lighting design.

If you have a large stock of tungsten profiles it may be possible to retro fit them with an LED source. This type of product enables you to keep using the bodies of your tungsten fixtures by only changing the back end of the fixture. This cuts down on waste and carbon emissions so is thoroughly recommend as an option moving forward.

Equally, some manufacturers are able to provide a replacement or recalibrated LED emitter array to further extend the units life – your supplier can advise on options for upgrades and replacements.

It is worth noting that whilst there are many advantages to using LED fixtures, this requires extraction of rare virgin minerals to create the LEDs and should not simply be dismissed. These minerals are finite so we as an industry must make every effort to minimise the amount of equipment and therefore minerals being used each time a new product is launched. Using your equipment for as long as possible and finding ways to reuse and recycle the likes of LEDS will help limit the over extraction of these minerals.  

 

Summary

We are in a technological revolution. New products are produced every year, offering possibilities directors and designers may not even be aware of. If that technological arms-race means throwing away workable equipment, then it is not sustainable.  We have a duty as theatre makers to be responsible with our upgrades and not simply purchase the next new shiny product when its released.

When thinking about the equipment you own and what upgrades you think you might need, ask yourself what the equipment you currently own can still do for you. Make your equipment last as long as possible through careful management and maintenance. Repair, rather than replace. If you need to upgrade working equipment, then make sure you find it a new home.

When upgrading or purchasing new equipment do lots of research, find out where the equipment comes from and how it’s made. Check its expected lifespan, and put a plan in place for maintenance and future replacement.

Sustainable theatre-making requires us to look at the whole life-cycle of equipment, from manufacture to disposal, ensuring throughout that we’re working as sustainably as possible.