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Carrying a heavy load

Features
24 July 2019

As the imagination and aspirations of artistes and their set designers seek ever-more impressive productions, the consequences quickly impact on the country’s leading rigging companies, who have to undertake some very serious calculations and then make it happen. Claire Bicknell reports

Operating safely is a staple element of the live music industry, with rigging service companies at the forefront of health and safety standards.

Working with exceptionally heavy structures and often at height, they not only need to protect themselves, along with the artistes and audience below, but ensure that everything they supply and install meets regulations.

Rigging companies also have to deal with increasingly complex structures and new technology, which boosts what can be delivered under an arena roof or in a festival field.

Formed in 2012, Load Cell Rental, whose clients include Adele, Elton John Drake, Post Malone, Nicki Minaj and Harry Styles, is a major contributor to sector safety, as it installs load cells to accurately report the weight of rigging systems.

“We provide an enhanced service where we attend locations to install the equipment, and use a systematic approach to compile an independent, comprehensive insurance-backed weight report for the production team,” explains senior project manager Colin Luke.

“We believe this report satisfies the due diligence aspect of health and safety, and as it’s independent it will also withstand legal scrutiny in the event of accidents.

“The last 12 months have been our busiest yet as the company continues to grow and the use of load cells, and our weight report service, is becoming normal practice. One of our biggest challenges was completing a weight report for the Drake tour – the sheer size of the rig and design changes presented a huge challenge.”

Luke states as productions become even more advanced, the need for load cells is greater than ever.

“It’s certainly true that as shows become even more sophisticated and elaborate, the need for a systematic approach to suspended loads becomes even more important. While simple constructions could manage on using calculations of weights and a less detailed approach, the more complex the rig, the more the distribution of loads is bound to vary – with the potential for causing problems.

“The trend is for shows to just get bigger and heavier, and in Europe they continue to get closer to roof limits in various venues. With the margin for error decreasing, live monitoring and accuracy not just makes it safer, but on occasions has allowed elements of larger rigs to be hung in venues where the calculations deemed it would not be possible due to ‘just in case’ allowances,” says Luke.

Providing a weight report of the rig means Load Cell Rental needs to utilise a thorough knowledge of all of the equipment that makes up the structure.

“Our staff need a basic knowledge of every other department’s equipment to complete the report process. The rate at which equipment evolves is remarkable and we need to be able to accurately describe every item in the rig,” adds Luke.

“We stock the market leader in wireless load cells. We can apply a cell to a point in seconds, and with no wires to run there is no impact on loading in or out times.”

The company has increased its staffing by a third to cope with increased demand and runs an office in the US alongside its Shropshire-based operations.

Established in 1997, Rigging Services has five branches across the UK – three in London, one in Manchester and one in Birmingham, all specialising in the sale, hire and servicing of rigging sector equipment.

“From our inception in the ‘90s, our purpose was to provide a header tank to the production industry – our business model hasn’t changed, with clients including PRG [Production Resource Group], Star Events, YSLV, Christie Lites, SWG Evenys and many more,” says director Paul Fulcher.

“We’re now seeing the supply of intelligent hoists and control systems as more common, rather than the exception. Our investment in new equipment is continuous, but we are seeing a trend where we are investing more and more in complex hoists and control, and also higher legally compliant equipment.”

Fulcher has also noticed that more formal procurement processes are becoming commonplace in the industry.

“The use of digital technology to source and procure equipment and services rather than good, old-fashioned personal relationships, has often resulted in last-minute shopping lists being emailed out to suppliers, where price and availability at short notice often dictates the order,” adds Fulcher.

“With a rental inventory of over 1,200 electric hoists and many kilometres of truss we are generally able to overcome tight deadlines.”

Digital developments at Rigging Services include the recording of the test and inspection certificate online, which enables production professionals at anytime, anywhere in the world, to access legally required documentation which confirms the equipment is safe and legal to use.

“Clients are given the login details to our online portal to access this information,” explains Fulcher. “This service is also offered to clients where we would also inspect and test their equipment, enabling them to concentrate on their core business and leave the technical and legal issues of looking after rigging equipment to us.”

The company ensures ongoing training and development of its staff, and a full-time health and safety and technical manager supports the HR department in training needs.

“Ongoing training is a high priority for our technical staff, who are responsible for the safety, critical maintenance and legal examinations of equipment,” says Fulcher.

And what’s next for the sector? Fulcher indicates a heavier load is to come.

“We are seeing a greater demand for higher lifting capacities. It may be the case that traditional event rigging equipment for live events will need to move to a more industrial scale where higher load capacities and a wider range of equipment is available.”

On the move

Founded in 1990 and with offices in London and Paris, Blackout offers full production rigging services with NRC (National Rigging Certificate) qualified riggers, as well as dry hire.

Clients include Take That, Kraftwerk, MTV’s European Music Awards, the BRIT and Classic BRIT awards events, Henley Festival (cap. 6,000), and The Summer Series at Somerset House (1,500) in London.

“We’re seeing more emphasis on moving elements during a show,” says Blackout director Kevin Monks. “Automation is more affordable and is definitely becoming more standard.”

Blackout sits on PLASA’s (Professional Lighting and Sound Association) National Rigging Advisory Group (NRAG) and is a member of both PLASA and the Production Services Association.

“The continued training of our staff is a key priority,” adds Monks. “We also offer an apprenticeship scheme – the Trailblazer Apprenticeship.”

Height safety

In business for more than 40 years, Star Events is a long-established supplier of stages, bespoke temporary structures and high-level rigging services in the UK.

Its clients include The Who, Spice Girls, P!nk, AEG Presents and the 111,000-capacity Download festival. Based in Bedford, it also runs another office in Shanghai, China.

“Star Events specialises in turnkey rigging solutions for unusual and challenging projects. We deliver them with high levels of service and attention to detail, supported by our in-house design team and structural engineers,” says head of structures Pete Holdich.

“We also offer rigging consultancy and service level contracts on a global basis to multi-purpose venues – our modular Mothergrid steel truss components are tailored to safely transfer loads back to structural areas of the roof. Installed Mothergrids can be lowered to attach concert equipment and lifted back to the roof,” says Holdich.

“It’s fully compliant with the legal duty in many territories and is a quicker, safer and more cost-effective way of facilitating stage-based entertainment in multi-purpose venues.”

Star Events also offers an extensive inventory of industry standard hoists and accessories, together with a wide range of specialist heavy-duty and long chain motors and hardware.

Holdich is proud of the company’s innovations to create safer working environments

“Our work and invention has slashed the requirement for working at height. We recently remodelled the VerTech Ultra tower access for the Spice Girls, complete with mega truss, to accommodate the tour’s twin PA hangs and remote spot follows, which were fitted at ground level and then lifted into position.

The company has a formally-audited health and safety managed system, employs a full-time health and safety manager who plays a key role in driving safety standards, and provides production contractors with fall prevention and fall arrest equipment when working on its VerTech stages.

“We also see ourselves as partners to venues where we hold service level agreements, adhering to specific procedures to create safe working environments whilst constantly monitoring updates to regulation and published guidance to ensure compliance and good practice,” adds Holdich.

When it comes to client requirements, Holdich puts the emphasis on delivering practical solutions with creativity and an ‘always available’ approach.

“With our expertise, attention to detail and level of service, Star has a wide range of hardware to draw upon to create imaginative solutions. Ours is an in-depth resource with 24-hour availability.

“Working with clients, we ask when, where and how heavy. We scrutinise creative designs and undertake detailed discussions with all stakeholders to provide solid, practical solutions,” says Holdich.

“Production designers have always pushed the technology and capabilities of suppliers, whether it’s supplying 5-tonne hoists to rig a 12,000 kg circular video drum as the centre-piece for the Spice Girls or load monitored Mothergrids to facilitate complex shows, such as P!nk’s in Cardiff.”

Expanding in the UK

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Protec has been the cornerstone of the events industry in the Middle East since 1999, with fully equipped facilities in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Its European base is in Birmingham, and clients include Roger Waters, Shakira, Kasabian, Duran Duran, Usher and Justin Timberlake. The company also works across Africa, Asia and the Far East.

“We offer full rigging services, including staging capable of supplying large arena tours to intimate gigs,” says CEO and founder Stephen Lakin. “We also have a supply of concert roof structures and offer bespoke complete venues – the fully customisable SUPA Dome offers clients the opportunity to put on a large or small scale event in any location with a flat surface.

“Weight loads are an ongoing hot topic in the sector; many older venues were not developed to cater for modern technical requirements, so ground support structures are required. Protec stays abreast of all the latest research and development, and liaise with manufacturers regularly to ensure we are equipped for any eventuality.”

Lakin also expects more accurate automation in the sector in the future, and improved, more intuitive rigging systems to come.

“We are pioneers of new technology and have an automation department – Protec Automation – that can engineer your wildest creative concepts,” says Lakin. “Utilising automation is always impressive and alongside traditional automation methods we also offer robotic arms on tracks to offer moving screen and set pieces in multiple trajectories.

“Our robots have six axes of movement and can carry up to 240kg which offer unique live event experiences, especially when coupled with technology such as BlackTrax and projection mapping.”

As with all leading companies in the sector, delivering above and beyond for a client is part of its ethos.

“Every event brings its own challenges and Protec always go that extra mile to go beyond expectations, and overcome tight deadlines and difficult weather circumstances,” adds Lakin.

“We often have to contend with sandstorms and intense heat [in the Middle East], but we always overcome any challenges due to our ample resources and crew.”

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