PowerAssist Counterweight Automation System


JR Clancy

The new PowerAssist from JR Clancy allows you to automate existing counterweight rigging sets, as well as add motorized rigging to new projects in a cost-effective manner. It eliminates the need to handle counterweights to keep sets in balance and reduces the risk associated with out-of-balance sets. The PowerAssist was chosen as one of the 2006 Live Design International Products of the Year. All the judges agreed that the product really offers another option between motorized and manual systems.

What It Does

“PowerAssist is a simple way to automate existing counterweight sets,” says Tom Young, vice president, marketing for JR Clancy. “We are essentially replacing the rope lock and the floor block with a motorized winch that uses the existing counterweight arbor and counterweights to allow the winch to be lower in capacity than if it had to carry the entire load. Also, it uses the existing hardware to actually lower the price to the end-user and minimize the amount of rework that has to be done in the users' theatre.

PowerAssist has been designed as a product for mass production, providing features and value in a cost-effective winch. It is about half the cost of installing a new motorized set. By reusing your existing blocks, battens, and lift lines — if they are in good condition and rated for the load — reducing both equipment and installation costs. “It is also a way of taking what has been, historically, a custom product and turning it into something that is more standardized and rational in terms of its cost,” says Rod Kaiser, JR Clancy special projects manager.

There are two main product lines in the PowerAssist product range: the PowerAssist, a single winch unit, and the PowerAssist Pro, a two-winch version. “The PowerAssist is a small unit that actually fits underneath the locking rail that allows you to motorize a single set with a set capacity of 2,000lbs and a fixed speed of 20 FPM,” says Young. “We see this as something that could be used for lighting sets, which we think is very important because those are typically the sets that get raised and lowered the most and have the greatest number of changes in terms of what gets added to or taken off the batten and therefore rebalancing the counterweights. And then, we have a unit we are calling PowerAssist Pro. This is actually a two-axis unit. It is less than 12" wide, so you could motorize two adjoining sets on six- or eight-inch centers with a single unit. If you wanted to motorize an entire theatre, you would put these units side-by-side all the way down the locking rail. The PowerAssist Pro allows you to have two winches in the same enclosure; they can have different speeds and capacities. We are offering speeds of 25 FPM fixed or 125 FPM and 175 FPM variable speed models with set capacities of 1,000 or 2,000lbs.” Kaiser adds that “theoretically, you could have every two-winch unit be something different.”

For installation, the floor blocks are removed, and the PowerAssist is anchored to the floor, as there is an upward pull equal to the capacity of the winch. It's designed to fit around the existing lock rail, so no modification is required. The hand line is replaced with a unique, patent-pending drive line that is positively driven by the winch and that will work with the existing head block, assuming that it is in good shape and rated for the load. The variable speed dual winch weighs approximately 500lbs, and the fixed speed, single unit weighs approximately 250lbs.

The arbor is loaded with counterweight that matches the winch capacity. This doubles the winch's effective capacity.

With any rigging system, you want the operator to have a line of sight to the line set that is moving. The design of the PowerAssist takes this into account. “They all have local control on the face of the panels, actually very close to where the rope lock was,” says Young. Basic units have local controls with Up/Down pushbuttons on the face of the unit along with an E-Stop and a key-operated On/Off switch. “Also, these can be remotely controlled with either the SceneControl 100 or the SceneControl 500 rigging automation consoles, which provide fixed or variable speed position controls and with the 500, the ability to write cues,” he adds.

How It Came To Be

Young explains the thinking behind the development of the PowerAssist. “We were looking at automation products, and we were having discussions with users,” he says. “We had a lot of talks with users that wanted to automate systems but couldn't afford to tear out their entire, existing counterweight system and replace it with our PowerLifts. We realized that if we could get around the problem of ‘how do we have a positive drive system that can use the existing head block?’ that we could offer a pretty economical way for people to motorize either just a few sets or an entire, existing system.”

Development on the PowerAssist began about a year and a half ago. Making an easy to use automation system was a goal. “We wanted to step back a bit from the next generation of motorized equipment, and this was a way of doing it more simply,” comments Kaiser.

What's Next

When asked about the future plans for PowerAssist, Young answers, “We are looking at other control options.” Kaiser adds, “By using the positive drive, the client has the option of adding additional features, such as encoders that could do position readouts, load sensing, and a range of other things.”

What End-Users Have To Say

“We are trying them out on fixed electrics on some of our college projects currently in construction where there are conscientious but minimal staffs,” says Adam Shalleck, AIA, principal theatre consultant with the San Francisco-based The Shalleck Collaborative, Inc. “Lighting will be able to be more simply managed, which, in turn, will improve how shows look, adding a high value for a low cost. Properly taught, students will benefit from the experience in safely operating motorized systems. We can see plenty of other applications in other types of facilities as well.”

Stephen Placido, ASTC, vice president for theatre consulting with the West Palm Beach, FL-based TSG Design Solutions, Inc., has four PowerAssist units specified for his Marathon High School project. “We had originally designed custom sprocket drives for our electric sets, and the contractor requested to replace that with the PowerAssist, and we agreed to the substitution,” he says. “In this case, we liked the idea that it was a serial-manufactured complete unit instead of a custom designed unit. We get product uniformity from job to job and from contractor to contractor. The other side, which is less important to us but nonetheless important to some, is that they tend to be less expensive to install, in terms of the electrical infrastructure and in the amount of time the rigging contractor has to spend onsite. That specifically is why we thought it was the right choice for this job.”

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