SVC: Keith, thanks for joining us on the SVC Podcast from Corona Integrated Systems in Birmingham and New Orleans, where you’re the VP of Sales and Engineering. We’re going to talk about a corporate client that you did a job for, Business Interiors, and this looks like a pretty hefty project with multiple conference rooms and multi- purpose rooms. Before we get into the details of that, tell us something about Corona Integrated Systems.
Keith Gibson: Corona Integrated Systems came about in 2009. Previously it had been Home Systems for 14 years. Joe Corona was running the business and he decided that he wanted to buy the company and do his own thing. When I came aboard a little over a year ago, we decided that we were going to just shake things up a little bit. I had the commercial experience, and so we were going to branch out and move into commercial and residential. That’s where we are right now.
Tell us a little about Business Interiors. What did they want to come out of this installation with?
Business Interiors was getting out of a high rise where they occupied multiple floors. They bought a building in downtown Birmingham that had been an automotive garage. It was just concrete slab floors, old brick walls, but they really wanted to turn this into a showpiece because a lot of the office environment equipment they sell is very high tech. They started carrying a product called DIRTT, which is a unique moveable product. When we think of finishing a house or an office space, you put up drywall and your 2x4s and your framework, it can’t move. [DIRTT has] electrical that’s inside the wall, soundproofing, a lot of unique finishes and surfaces, whether it’s glass or wood. It’s an expensive investment that allows you to have the opportunity to make changes and not lose that investment over its lifetime. So as the business changes, the rooms themselves can change as well.
This was a pretty big project. You had multiple rooms and a couple of different conference rooms?
Yes, seven conference rooms and then we had two large mixed- use areas. Each one of these shared similar needs and capabilities, but they were all different in their own aspects.
OK, so you didn’t have an identical cut-and-paste configuration in all of them.
I wish. They ranged from huddle rooms all the way up to large training facilities. When you get into the mixed space areas, they not only demo products but they also use it for large meetings when they have really big clients come in, they can bring in everybody. There’s enough space to have super large meetings and still be able to conduct it like a training and still have that interactive feel. It’s not too large with the feeling like you’re in a cavernous cave somewhere.
What capabilities did they have in the conference rooms as far as the equipment and what they can do?
They have five offices throughout the southeast, so our main priority was to integrate the different offices so they could basically beam in, so to say, and be able to see what was going on in the rooms. If they had a guest speaker come in that they couldn’t get to all the locations, we had to be able to have that interaction among all the facilities. That was priority number one. The second priority was to be able to integrate the current IT system so that they could immediately pull up files.
If they had a group that was working on a large project, all the team members needed to be there. They could have 20-plus people and have that interactivity where they could all be working on designs at the same time and making changes on the fly.
All right. Now on the other end of that scale, the huddle rooms are pretty simple by comparison.
They were pretty simple. The thing about the huddle rooms, you don’t have to have a lot of speakers. You basically need a small monitor. We chose to go with the Kramer VIA products. In the huddle rooms, we went with Connect PROs. The reason for that is that capability of somebody just coming in, sit- ting down, logging in, and showing whatever needs to be seen among the group. That gave them a lot of flexibility because they could just work on the fly, get a meeting done, and get back to their offices relatively quick. The nice thing about that is that they don’t book the huddle rooms, you just go in and work when it’s available, so it frees up a lot of the problems normally associated with trying to book a conference room, trying to get every- body’s schedules together, etc.
And you had two multi-purpose spaces?
We did. We have two large spaces that are backed up to each other and separated by a large DIRTT wall that goes from the floor to the ceiling, which is about 30ft. tall. On one side we have a large U-shaped conference room, but it’s still open so people can walk in and out. There are projectors, and there’s a flush-mount 90in. screen behind a painted piece of glass. It’s very hard to describe and you probably wouldn’t appreciate it until you actually saw it. Then on the other side, we have a large 90in. monitor that’s sunk into this wall behind a piece of painted glass. That actually covers a huge area that’s about 35ft. wide and about 80ft. deep. Now, granted, if you’re at the back, you’re not going to be able to see what’s going on on the screen, but for the most part, when they entertain clients—they’re in the south, so SCC football is huge—they’re actually able to come in and throw parties with their clients and there’s a kitchen right there on the side, so they can cater, host, do whatever they need to do, and they use that space to bring in more revenue.
I understand that there were some, let’s just say, evolving design specs. How did those affect what your team was doing in there?
We got into the big process late in August. They were looking to have the building completed by Christmas of last year. The DIRTT product, it is kind of like a living organism. It moves and changes. … So as we were planning everything out and had the bid done, there were changes that would happen weekly, monthly, etc. As we’re working with this moving organism, so to say, we were having to make changes on the fly. One of the biggest changes that we had to do was— once we kind of got to the close—we found out that the credenzas that they have that free-floated on the wall wouldn’t house the gear that we needed. It was only 12in. deep, while the gear that we had was your typical 19in. wide and anywhere from 20in. to 16in. deep, so it just wouldn’t work for the majority of projects that we had. I had to do a lot of looking around and we had a short period of time, so I just started looking for products that were outside of our normal line of work. That’s where the lighting cube product came in that we ended up integrating in a lot of the conference rooms.
Now what did that amplifier have that you needed? Was it just the size; that it would fit into a very small space?
Mainly it was the size. The other thing that was a main benefit was it had built-in amplification, it had multi-zone, and it had dedicated mic inputs, which was a great little tool and it’s a really small form factor. If I’m not mis- taken, it’s about 8.5in. to 9in. deep and probably 6in. wide and 4in. tall.
That’s correct. The best part about it was it had RS-232 controls and so it worked with our control system that we were using flawlessly.
Yeah, it looks like it’s got a lot of things. I saw some of the specs on those. It’s 70W RMS per channel, five configuration presets, remote mute by contact closure, auto standby after two minutes—that could come in handy. It’s a very small unit, but it does a lot of stuff.
It really does. The funny thing was you can bridge the two different zones, which is nice and what we ended up doing. But looking for- ward in the future, this is a great product for small restaurants, small offices, etc. It took a month of scouring the Internet and looking in Europe for products that we don’t normally see in the United States.
And they’ve also got a digital signage network in this facility?
We do. One of the things that we wanted to have when you walk in, because there’s so much glass in this environment, that when you stand at the front door you’re able to see a variety of panels throughout the complex. Digital signage was key, and we used a product called Media Sign Pro and basically connected it to a matrix so that it could be used throughout the facility. No matter where they were at, they could easily have the digital signage up and going. This way they are able to have that little special feeling that you have when you walk in and somebody is acknowledging who you are.
How does the Media Sign Pro software work?
The Media Sign Pro basically works off a Macintosh computer. We actually chose a Mac Mini. The reason that we chose it was just because the learning curve was so simple. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out; very little graphics knowledge is required in order to make it look spectacular. Is there a better product out there? Of course. Higher resolution? Yes. But for what we needed, it fit the bill and it looks great.
I wanted to talk about the conference rooms and how they’re controlled. It’s not all the same copy-and-paste identical system is it?
Yes and no. You know, the whole reason we got this job to begin with was that the owner had used us before. We actually installed a Savant automation system in his home, so he was familiar with that particular product and he liked it and he wanted to know if we could use it in this facility. Of course we said yes, we could make it work. It was a little bit of a challenge. Savant is mainly a residential product now and we were actually able to go in and integrate all these rooms together, even though it’s not a cookie-cutter system. There’s a lot of unique pieces and parts that go along with it. But we integrated it well. It’s very simple and easy to use, and doesn’t require a lot of training. You can just pick up your phone or your tablet and have that control.
And I think they had some preference for existing speakers. Did that make an overall difference in the sound of the space compared to the new speakers that were installed?
It did. In the past, they’d used the space temporarily as an event space. The place was so large they had just used inexpensive, Niles outdoor speakers. The problem was they had barely been used. It was an 8Ω-based system and they were using the large amplifier to drive those, a multi-channel amplifier. But we found out that there was some bridging and some other little surprises along the way. We also put in a variety of new speakers. We did some pendants and some other speakers from other manufacturers for 70V applications, and we were actually able to tune them and get them pretty close, via EQ, to sound- ing like they were all the same even though they all have different characteristics.
We mentioned earlier the Ecler CA200z amplifiers and these things are very small, especially for what they do. What do you have for sources going into those amps?
It really depends on the room, but for the majority of them you’ll have a computer that’s been supplied by the IT department. Then we also have the Kramer VIA products, whether it’s a Connect PRO or Collage. Each one of those has its own unique capabilities. For example, with the Collages, basically you have camera capabilities, you have external microphone capabilities, etc. We used, for example, in [the owner’s] conference room, a Vaddio product, so we actually have hanging microphones from the ceiling. He didn’t want anything on the table; he wanted everything to be overhead. We used the Vaddio piece and incorporated that with the Ecler product. And then we had cameras that go into the Kramer piece so that there is a two-way communication for when they need to do videoconferencing with clients or other properties that they have across the south.
What kind of a timeline were you working under? Did you run into anything that maybe threatened to put you behind?
Well, sure. By the time we actually got signed on to the job it was the end of October and they were already closing up walls. Now granted, the DIRTT product is unique because it is like a Lego System; you can pull the walls off and on relatively easy with just a simple tool. But they also have a flooring system that raises things up just like an IP flooring system; but the uniqueness about theirs is it’s only about 4in. high. We were actually able to run wires and do things as changes occur relatively easy. Nobody wants to go back and rechange, but it allowed us to have a smooth transition to the changes that were being thrown at us. We were able to get a lot of stuff done relatively fast because of the simplicity of the DIRTT system.
Yeah, that’s great when you can pull the floor up and put it back. Not always able to do that.
No. And the unique thing is that these are carpet tiles, I guess, on top of the flooring, so it makes it really, really simple when you had to do runs. In fact, our installers would get frustrated because it’s not as easy to get through drywall, get up into hot attics when they can just pull the floor and go that way. So there are definitely some benefits with the DIRTT product.
Now have your guys done installations in any live performance venues or is it mainly just residential and corporate?
Live venues and live performances spaces are a lot different than what you would encounter in a residential or commercial environment just because the live space is constantly moving and changing depend- ing on performers, etc. Once you have the majority of your bulk product in place it’s a lot easier to make changes and move. For example, if you’re running snakes from front of house over to monitors or flying speakers, it’s a lot easier to say, “OK, I need an extra cable here,” and to go run that and make that change that you need to do compared to a real installation where you actually may have to go cut through 2x4s, run across attics, and then clean up your wiring, etc. So there is a little bit more thought involved than I would say for a live space.
I would think that you had to provide some kind of training to the clients. My experience has been that as you move up the ladder of hierarchy the people tend to get a little less tech minded.
Well, that’s true. The good thing about the Savant system [is] the ease of use. I can hand it to anybody that works in the building and say, “OK, this is how you set a scene or this is how you turn on the lights or turn everything off when you leave the building.” It’s super simple, and the functionality of anybody to be able to pick up their own device, whether it’s a phone or a tablet, and to have that control, makes things a lot easier. You don’t have to delegate certain responsibilities to certain people. If somebody comes in, say, at 5:00 in the morning, they can turn everything on and have it operational—and that’s the real benefit of it.
So you got this one done and it sounds like everything went all right. So what’s coming up next for Corona Integrated Systems?
We’re working with a government contractor getting ready to start a project in Florida that we’re looking forward to. The great thing about doing business with people like Business Interiors is that once their clients come in and see what we’ve done, it opened up a lot of other possibilities. We have a lot of clients that are coming in from Business Interiors as a result of doing this project where they’re saying, “We want the same thing—or maybe we want it better.”