Project Design: Why do I Need Proper Schematics?

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So during the four long days of ISE I have found myself banging on about the importance of proper connectivity schematics.

Firstly, I want to clarify exactly what I mean when I say connectivity schematics, as the term ‘schematics’ tends to be used interchangeably with floor-plan drawings in our industry. There is no issue with this as such, I just want to be clear what I mean when I say connectivity schematics, which are system interconnectivity drawings that show every piece of AV equipment in a job and how each piece is interconnected with the others and which outputs connect to which inputs.

Now, getting back to me banging on about the importance of these drawings during ISE. There are always a few people who come on to your stand intent on telling you what you are doing is not relevant to them. These people are what our American friends on our shared Custom Home Europe stand refer to as ‘tyre kickers’.

During one of my discussions with a ‘tyre kicker’ he was telling me how it's useless for them to draw connectivity schematics as things change so much during installation they are always out of date. I asked this chap how he services his clients systems without any detailed connectivity schematics. His answer was, “Well everything is labelled so one of our engineers can handle it no problem.” This is where I knew I had him. I asked, “So you have your own installation business?” He replied, “Yes.” Then I asked, “So all the knowledge in your business is invested in the people in that business?” Again he answered, “Yes,” to which I replied, “So when the people in your business decide it’s time to move on, get head hunted, or want to start out on their own, how do you keep hold of the knowledge they have about the systems they have put together?” He couldn’t really answer this so he opted instead for a free beer.

This brings me nicely to the reason why every system should be properly documented with a full and complete set of connectivity schematics. Connectivity schematics not only make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet during the installation phase, they also provide a hugely valuable way of documenting exactly how the integrated systems have been connected.

The benefits of this are threefold. Firstly, the installation runs more smoothly. Secondly, the integrator is better able to keep control of any third parties working on the installation phase of the project like rack builders or programmers. Thirdly, it makes handover and servicing much easier and more professional.

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We recently underwent a big change in the way we draw our connectivity schematics. Previously at Jones designs our process for drawing connectivity schematics was to keep one signal type per page, so a separate page for each system, audio, video, networking, control, lighting and power. This means you can have a set of schematics where no wires cross, which really helps with clarity.

After a summer of development and by the time we merged with Kelly Ashforth design to become designflow in October 2015 we had a whole new way of drawing schematics.

Our partners, Kelly Ashforth Design, had a very different approach to drawing schematics: They used the room-by-room way of drawing schematics. So, they would have the whole rack drawn on one page and then each room around the building would be drawn on a separate drawing page. The good thing about this method is that you can give an installer a page with the connectivity for one room and they can go off and work on that room. But it does make it a bit tricky to get an overview of the whole system.

What our designers liked about the room-by-room method is that you tend to only have to draw each item once, whereas with the system-by-system method you tend to show each item across multiple pages. This is fine until you understand the technicalities of the design software we use. When you drop a shape onto a drawing page in D-Tools the software automatically drops any cables you have connected to that device already. When there are lots of cables this can leave the designer sitting twiddling their thumbs for quite a while. You can, of course, turn this feature off but then I think you lose the power and accuracy D-Tools offers.

So what did we do? We decided to drop the one signal type per page format in favour of combining systems into similar pages. Control and networking were merged into the same drawing. As were video, PoH, IR and RS232 to display devices. This meant we had to compromise on our no crossing wires philosophy and change this to minimal crossing wires but always with an eye on clarity.

The result is a very efficient way to deliver connectivity schematics. Our designers are happier as they do not have to show devices across many different pages, thus minimising thumb twiddling. And whichever one of the partners is doing quality control can get a good overview of the system as a whole.

To get back to the original question, “Why do I need proper schematics?” There are clearly numerous reasons: A complete set of connectivity schematics allows your whole team to be fully coordinated and work in an efficient way. They also empower the integrator to keep control of their sub-contractor relationships. They provide a fully documented approach to project hand-over, where the integrator can make a confident statement of completion to the client. Finally, they enable the sale of ongoing support and maintenance to the client allowing any engineer to service the system regardless of their involvement or not in the original installation. They are in short a very powerful tool at the integrators disposal and should be thought of as essential not optional.

Keith Jones studied Product Design at Central St. Martins where he graduated in 1996. Since then Keith worked in numerous high end audio outlets, culminating in owning and running his own AV installation company from 2001-2008. After a career break he started Jones designs in August 2009 which has recently morphed into a Ltd. company called designflow, with his business partner Kelly Ashforth. Designflow aims to increase awareness of design in AV and help installers win jobs and create proper documentation for them.