Operators Opinion Teleport

Design is not an afterthought

Design is critical in control rooms given the technical nature of the industry, says John Pepper, Director, ColemSpice, as he explores the implications of forgetting the design.
John Pepper, director, ColemSpice

Design is critical in control rooms given the technical nature of the industry, says John Pepper, Director, ColemSpice, as he explores the implications of forgetting the design.

All too often, in our highly technical, skilled industry, design takes a backburner, when creating the infrastructure, whether that is a new control room or an office. However, it is precisely because our industry is so technical that design is important.

A designer’s nightmare

I have come across many a project where the equipment has been ordered with no thought as to how that will fit into the given space. It is often assumed that it will just fit and the important part is purely the equipment needed. I’ve hence seen situations where all this equipment is squeezed into the space with millimetres to spare.

In fact, I even remember one satellite control room where the room was so dark that visitors had to stand still for a few seconds to adjust to the lighting conditions, before being blinded by the high-screen contrast set at an unhealthy viewing level.

Understanding amongst the industry is beginning to improve. Operations and facilities management are far more receptive these days to the need for professional 24/7 working environments, and there are even certain European directives supporting this.

However, it is commonly believed that the new flat panel monitors that have replaced energy-hungry CRT monitors in purpose-built consoles can just be dropped onto a desk, ignoring the established ergonomic principles of seating height/posture, viewing angles and proper cable management.

If anything, the new technology of networked NMS monitor and control tools, combined with high capacity ITC & IP networked office administration systems, put a greater work load on the operations staff and entails a subsequent requirement for quick response to satellite incidents or customer payload services.

More than meets the eye

Often the design is perceived to be a luxury, but, in actual fact, it is an important piece of the puzzle and a valuable tool to be used to productive effect. Of course, part of achieving effective 24/7 routine and quick turnaround, is about the equipment and the operational staff, but a well-planned environment will help those workers use the control room effectively, because the screens will be at the right height, because a specific console will be alongside another related piece of equipment etc.

As well as creating a productive environment, it does also come down to pure aesthetics. For most satellite operators, the control centre is a tangible asset representing their operations, and as such, it is often the area they will take potential and existing investors, as well as other visitors. A well-planned control room, which incorporates good quality finishes, will be seen as commensurate with the operator’s services and product. The resulting overall impression will, in its own right, be a marketing asset.

Planning for longevity

In today’s world, technology is moving at an alarming rate. By the time a control centre is completed, there could already be new technology and features to be added and so it is more important than ever to design and plan carefully, ensuring that new technology can be added without needing to completely redesign the entire room.

The best way to achieve this is by ensuring the right people within the company are involved at an early stage with the planning process, thus the design team will know from the outset the business objectives, as well as the day-to-day tasks carried out by the operations staff. Planning needs to be done with a firm roadmap for the future, to avoid costly redesigns a few years down the line.