Who Needs Serviceability Anyway?

inputs on back of display

Readers may know that one of my favorite Facebook groups is “AV Install Nightmares,” where industry pros post pics of horrible things they’ve encountered in their workday. Often, the backstory to these pics is that they “inherited” a project when the old contractor vanished/quit/got fired and now they must pick up the pieces and make it all work.

One particularly notable example recently, and the inspiration for this column, was the AV system in an ice rink.

For reasons known only to the original contractor, rather than run more than two lines, the amp was mounted at the top of the vaulted ceiling over center ice, right beside the speakers. Control was a relay switch in the announcers’ box to turn the amp on and off. Seldom has there ever been a more blatant example of Things Designed By People Who Know They’ll Never Have To Service Them.

Now imagine having to have the rink drained and rent a scissor lift to replace a dead amplifier. Spoiler Alert: The original poster didn’t have to imagine, because that’s exactly what they had to do. Moments like that are headshaking, because, at least for many of us, we were trained correctly, and taught to factor the ease of service into our designs.

It was actually my grandfather who said (among other things) “Expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed.” When working out the system design, serviceability is as important as usability.

Ask yourself “How can this break, and how easy will it be to fix?” And if the answer is that you’re going to have a drain an ice rink and rent a scissor lift then maybe you should rethink some of your choices.

Sure, that’s a dramatic example, but it highlights the need to easily access your hardware if you must swap something out.

Here are two more examples from personal experience.

We had installed a motorized ceiling lift for a 50-inch plasma TV. Well, the AC power box in the enclosure failed. The good news: It was modular. After cutting the power off at the breaker you could disconnect it, remove it and replace it with a new one.

The bad news: The only way to remove the module was from the inside of the enclosure and required first dismounting the TV and its bracket. It then required someone left-handed with long arms like a gibbon to stand on a ladder and wriggle up into the top of the enclosure with a right-angle socket driver to disconnect the leads and remove the bolts holding the module in place. Fortunately, we had a left-handed installer who was tall and lanky, and actually bore more than a passing resemblance to a gibbon. He was able to get it done, but he wasn’t happy about it, and it took longer than we thought.

As the saying goes, “Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment.” In hindsight, if we had known what was required to service that particular hardware failure would we have still specified that brand of lift into our installation? I mean, maybe. It did have other attractive features.

In another instance, we had a video scaler (remember those?) in an AV rack that was glitching. According to the support desk person, the solution was simple: Press the reset button. Except I couldn’t find the reset button. Normally if there is one, it’s on the back of the unit. I couldn’t find it in the manual either. No problem, the support desk person told me. It’s on the underside of the unit, you just have to remove the screw holding a little panel in place, they told me.

Except that the unit is racked. So NOW I have to disconnect it, dismount it, turn it upside down, unscrew a panel, hit the switch and then reverse the entire process before I could find out if the fix solved the problem?

That was the last time we used that model, or in fact that brand, ever again.