Supporting cast: innovations in brackets and mounts
Brackets and mounts are increasingly integral to the success of installations as the complexity of projects rapidly develops in the AV sphere. Charlotte Ashley reports.
A bracket or mount may not catch the eye like a giant video wall or interactive screen, but it will be holding it in place. Product choice is an increasingly important part of an integrator’s business, with their most valuable asset – time – on the line in the specification process.
“We once got a phone call from a well known London Hotel saying that they had a thousand Philips televisions on the floor because no one had thought to even order a bracket and could we deliver a thousand brackets that afternoon,” recalls Gordon Dutch, managing director at Peerless-AV, reflecting on how brackets and mounts have too often been an afterthought in the past. Although instances like this occasionally still happen, manufacturers are in overall agreement that attitudes are changing – and their encouragement for them to be considered at the earliest stage possible is slowly paying off.
“As mount applications become more heavy duty and intrinsic, the mount solution is no longer an afterthought because it is installed first,” says Chief’s EMEA product marketing manager Robert de Jong.
Manufacturers recognise that balancing the increased complexity of installations with the desire of retail, hospitality and transport companies looking to be out of action for the least amount of time is a challenge for most integrators, and are investing heavily in developing time-saving technology and resources. They are focusing on enhancing spacer systems for deploying systems, and micro-adjustment and release systems (providing the ability to pop units out) for post-installation to make an integrator’s life easier.
“Nowadays end users are more demanding and features like lateral shift and post-installation levelling help the installer to accomplish an installation accurate to the millimetre,” says Eric Backus, sales and marketing director at Wize-AV. Dutch adds that the value of quick release systems ensuring installers don’t have to remove the whole video wall if a unit is a centrally located unit goes down, cannot be underestimated.
Safety comes first
“In my opinion, the main reason installers should be considering how they specify brackets and mounts is safety, because most of these larger installations are going into public spaces,” says Dutch. “Many times we’ve seen unfortunate things happen in the public domain.”
As projects become ever more ambitious, adhering to UL and TÜV safety regulations has never been so important. Meeting UL requirements means a standard bracket has to carry four times the weight specified and pass a robotic cycle test of 6,000 cycles.
“Because we’re taking very high, very heavy screens we incorporate a lot of safety into our products, especially our electric-operated models. You have to take a common sense view, and say whilst statutorily it might be okay, we over-engineer so everything is well within its tolerance,” says John Whittle, director at Loxit.
It’s clear that when installers are deciding whether to create a custom mount or bracket themselves, manufacturer’s ability to meet these safety requirements can offer a degree of reassurance for an installer and client they won’t get working independently. “We offer the same level of safety on a custom-made product,” says Dutch. He adds; “Is a metal shop going to have UL safety or CAD? Probably not. And that means that you’re talking about some significant public liability issues that in my opinion they should consider very carefully.”
“Around 30% of our product development team’s time is spent designing bespoke solutions or modifying an existing product to make it suit a unique purpose,” notes Nick Spencer, marketing manager at B-Tech International. “This is an extremely important service we offer, as there will always be projects with unusual or difficult circumstances which make off-the-shelf solutions impractical.”
The custom market is growing for most manufacturers as installations continue to diversify. “From January this year we’ve done 336 custom jobs, which is approximately two per working day. This can range from ceiling plates to outdoor housing, when you may be dealing with listed buildings where the client may want a particular colour scheme, or you can’t hang anything from the oak panels or the ceiling,” adds Rachel Hunt, marketing director at Unicol.
Manufacturing a limited run of one or two products is not always cost effective, however, so companies will often have a series of modular parts to hand before attaching custom parts. “Our range is highly adaptable and many different products have parts that are interchangeable or can be bolted onto something else - this means we are often able to come up with something fairly unique without actually having to manufacture something new,” says Spencer.
Time is of the essence
Manufacturers are increasingly facilitating the bracket or mount installation process online to make installation as straightforward as possible. De Jong notes that they share ‘how-to’ videos both on YouTube and on their website to aid the installation process. He says: “More and more Europeans are getting CTS-certified, so we’ve also linked our online training to InfoComm’s CTS certification. This means when an installer completes an online training course, they get a free renewal credit.”
“On our VW765, which is a large unit, we have an app to help the installer so they can go in very quickly and install the video wall,” says Dutch. “To put it in perspective, two to three years ago before our spacer systems and our one-hole locator systems in the app, you could see two installers taking a day easily to put a 3 x 3 video wall together. That can now be in somewhere around 30 minutes by one person.”
Could apps be the future of easy installation of brackets and mounts? “I think any tools that you can give an installer – from specifying with the right drawings, to be able put in what screens they’re using online, or what products they’re using and giving them a list of components and the tools to help them install – is going to be a massive advantage in winning business,” says Dutch.
Not only are manufacturers striving to save integrators time during the installation process, but also in how quickly they can turnaround a product. “We once had to get something to an exhibition at Alexandra Palace [in London]. The show was at 7pm and they’d forgotten something so we manufactured it and got it over on a motorbike. The powder-coating was still hot when it left,” recalls Hunt.
Are client expectations ever unrealistic? In a word from manufacturers: yes. “I think it’s a manufacturer’s responsibility to say no to a request when it’s just not feasible – if the volume is not there, or the opportunity is not there.” states de Jong.
“There are certain things that are doable and certain things that you don’t really want to do because you’re going to spend so much time actually modifying things. The other thing is if it doesn’t work, what do you do then? You’ve got to go back and try and make it work, and you’re then losing money,” says Hunt.
Dutch says that new players in the marketplace are influencing people’s expectations of brackets and mounts. “You’re seeing an interesting mix of creative agencies coming into the AV space who are designing things and then saying ‘how do you make that work?’ And some of those creative agencies are far more experienced in AV than others.”
Does technology lead?
With new, much-publicised products like Microsoft Surface Hub leading to the development of specialist products and accessories, just how do manufacturers make the decision on whether to bring a technology-specific product to market? For many it’s the result of a long research and development process, with some also being OEMs for large brands.
“With products like the 84-in Microsoft Surface Hub, as far as I know there was no mounting solution available on the market for a 1200x600mm mounting pattern. Therefore, manufacturers didn’t have any other choice than develop something if they wanted to be part of it. It’s difficult to say when or if development warrants a dedicated mount for a certain display,” says Backus. He adds: “The product we will launch soon is a universal solution.” Spencer agrees that universal compatibility of their range meant manufacturing a specific product for the Surface Hub was not necessary. Sometimes there is assessed to be clear profitability in tailoring products for a talked-about product. These type of collaborations happen “a couple of times a year” for Chief according to de Jong, often brought about by relationships with specific projector or screen manufacturers.
An interesting development according to many manufacturers is the rise of the LED screen in the Middle East and developed European markets, and how this will impact the bracket and mount world. “Something that’s really marched to the forefront at the moment is LED. As far as we know there are no panels that are the same as other manufacturers’ panels – all brands are different. At the moment there’s no universality in any of the LED manufacturer’s panels so everything is bespoke,” says Hunt. Manufacturers like Unicol and Peerless-AV are currently combating this with interchangeable parts to suit each different LED offering on the market.
For manufacturers who consider specialist products their forte, such as Loxit, they say they approach product development from the angle of trying to solve problems new technology presents. “Based on demand, we don’t actually develop something and try sell it to someone,” says Whittle. He continues: “We look forward to new technology, that’s what we’re all about. For the newest screens we’ve now got a lift that will take 170 kilos of screen. You’re talking massive screens over 98.5-inches, and the engineering challenge is for us to get it so it can be moved around, set at the right height safely, and in a pleasing way. It’s exciting, that’s why we’re here: for the challenge.”