Automated Rigging

in Buyer's Guide

For a PDF of the Mar. 2009 PLSN Buyers Guide, CLICK HERE.

In his book, Stage Rigging Handbook, Jay Glerum jumps right in with both feet discussing the four Ks: Know the rigging system you’re working with; Keep the equipment in safe and working order; Know how to use it; and Keep your concentration. Whether you have or use a manual counterweight rigging system or an automated rigging system with remote control, we can’t pick and choose among the four Ks because none of them are optional. And lately, much of the rigging in theatres and performing arts centers has been moving towards automation. 

An automated rigging system is a combination of electric motors, gearing, brakes, and controls, and they offer many advantages over manually operated counterweight systems. They can make battens dance like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and, once they’re installed and programmed, they demand little effort for their labor. They eliminate the need for a flyman on the rail lifting heavy iron counterweights, dealing with rope locks and moving the battens.

More importantly, when they’re used correctly and maintained properly they can be safer than counterweight systems. The task of balancing the load is handled by a computer in many cases and there are no rope locks to deal with and less chance of a batten running away. But that doesn’t mean that they are immune from problems. It only means that there are a different set of issues to deal with.

For that reason, automated rigging systems typically have certain safety features like dual brakes, redundant limit switches, and emergency stops and some have load sensors to detect overload and slack load conditions. But the bottom line is that we’re still lifting objects over people’s head, and that should never, ever be taken lightly. As Glerum says, a motorized rigging system doesn’t give the operator any feel for the load as in a manually operated system, so special care should be exercised when using automated rigging. The operator should always maintain visual contact with the moving parts or use a spotter, and the system should be regularly inspected by qualified personnel, including all of the rigging components, lubrication, the hydraulic system, all limit switches, brakes, emergency stop controls and the control system.

With proper care, an automated rigging system can provide years of trouble-free service and raise your production values at the same time. For an overview of some of the latest automated rigging systems offered today, click here.