A show of power
With 21 halls totalling 200,000 square metres (two million square feet), the NEC in Birmingham is the biggest exhibition centre in Britain and seventh largest in Europe. The flexible, flat-floored, interconnected halls offer endless possibilities for all types of exhibitions and events.
Until recently, providing power to the tens of thousands of stands built every year was a complicated and labour intensive process involving thousands of metres of temporary cables being installed by an army of electricians. All that has now changed thanks to a fully automated control system designed and installed by Gloucestershire-based Severn Controls.
Severn Controls proposed controlling the entire power supply via a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system using bespoke software that would provide greater flexibility and allow many more functions to be automated. A simulation of the SCADA system was created to demonstrate how the power supply would be configured to enable operators to control all panels, sockets, meters, etc. The system proposed would allow NEC to switch power on and off, allocate single or 3-phase current, limit supplies and monitor power consumption. The on-screen demonstration so impressed the project team that Severn Controls was awarded the contract with an order value of £2 million, to fully automate the power supply to seventeen of the halls within the NEC.
The new electrical infrastructure, called Plug & Play, is part of The NEC’s £40m venue improvement programme and represents an innovative yet technologically proven solution to exhibition stand-wiring. The new electrical infrastructure will not only comply with the latest European safety standards, but will create the platform for the dynamic and robust provision of electrical mains to exhibition organisers and exhibitors at no extra cost.
Previously, the operation was entirely manual. Power was supplied via busbars located within a network of service subways running underneath all the halls. Ducts running at 90 degrees to the subways carried power cables to exhibition stands.
When wiring contractors received the exhibition floor plan showing where stands were located and sockets were required, they marked the location of each socket on the floor of the hall, lifted the nearest duct cover and inserted one end of a power cable into the duct and then went into the underground subway to connect the cable to the busbar. Setting up manually could take up to two weeks and only then could carpets be laid and stand contractors begin to build stands.
Then, before the exhibition opened, the contractor re-entered the subway, put in the fuses and turned on power to the stands.
Contrasting the old with the new not only highlights the significant advances in control technology since the 1970s, but also demonstrates the enormous potential of the Severn Controls’ SCADA system.
Using PLC and SCADA packages supplied by Mitsubishi Automation, Severn Controls created a fully automated system. In addition they then created a bespoke booking/configuration utility written as a vb.net web application (SQL 2005 Database).
The entire NEC is now pre-wired. Sixty-five electrical distribution panels are installed within the subways and almost 4000, 63A sockets permanently fixed in the various ducts. The sockets are hardwired back to the distribution panels and their locations accurately marked on the SCADA screens. Pulling points are provided in the floor enabling extension leads to connect the electrical supply to power points on the stands. NEC mains teams report that the new system is far more flexible than the old, because fixed sockets are so much easier to locate, and faults are easier to find and rectify.
But the most significant advantage of the new system is the ability to remotely control multiple functions via SCADA. Operators in one of two control centres (more are planned) work on 42″ screens displaying an aerial photograph of the NEC. Overlaid on the image are icons representing every panel and socket in the twenty-one halls. This gives the NEC unprecedented flexibility, because while the layouts for exhibitions are being created the information is simultaneously entered into the database.