Case Study: Air Liquide, Malaysia

Hurrairah bin Sohail discusses the intricacies of deploying a videowall system at Air Liquide’s control room in Malaysia with HIKA where meeting the client's requirements was not as easy as it looked on the surface.

Air Liquide is a French multinational company which supplies industrial gases and services to various industries. The company fitted out a control room at its facility in Malaysia to monitor the production of industrial gases across many different countries.

Hitecindo Kharisma (HIKA) was engaged as the supplier for the videowall which graces the Air Liquide control room.

Air Liquide had a clear idea of what it wanted the control room environment to be. Burrd Lim from HIKA says: “There were two aspects to the control room with regards to client requirements. One was regarding aesthetics and how it looked, which was handled by the interior designer, Simplex Design. To be honest, it is a very nice control room with soft lighting and curved surfaces. On the videowall side, they had a good idea of the flexibility and performance that they wanted.”

Regarding the project itself, Lim says: “The project was quite unique. In a traditional control room, you have a few operators and each will have one or two PCs. For the Air Liquide control room the design criteria were different. None of the three operator consoles were meant to have PC hardware housed nearby. Part of the reason for this was aesthetics and part of it was because of the console furniture that had been selected. It would be tricky to put the PC hardware there. So the PCs are all installed away from the operators in an equipment rack.

“The other complication was that each operator has two PCs and each PC has four outputs. In a typical situation you would have eight monitors, one for each output. In addition to these workstation PCs, there are some general workstations that each operator needs to be able to access and control. So each operator would essentially need 12 monitors to view all the outputs he or she needs to access.” Matters were complicated by the furniture selection. Lim says: “The operator consoles only had space for three monitors. We used curved monitors and managed to squeeze in four. But that was still not enough. So outputs from all the PCs go into the videowall controller which not only sends the signals to the videowall but also to the 12 monitors used by the three operators.” Each operator has access to a 4x1 array of Samsung C24F390FHE monitors.

HIKA set out to design a videowall system that could deliver the capabilities required by Air Liquide. The main 4x2 videowall itself comprises eight LG 55VM5B units mounted on pop-out brackets, installed on a custom floor mounted structure.

Regarding the selection of the LCD panels Lim comments: “There are only a small handful of manufacturers that can supply ultra-narrow bezel panels for videowalls. In Malaysia, the options are LG, Samsung, NEC and Panasonic. In terms of technical specifications and hardware, there is almost no difference. We make our selection based on competitiveness and availability.”

The core of the videowall system is the Nexus DCx videowall controller, which uses Datapath’s ImageDP4, VisionHD4+ and Express11.

Lim says: “HIKA has been installing videowalls for control rooms since the late 90s. After a few years in the market, we learned two things. The design philosophy of the American and European brands did not fit local requirements. So around the year 2000, we decided to establish a small development team and started making our own videowall controller. We chose the Datapath card and our design philosophy moving forward was geared towards local requirements.”

The ability to provide a customised solution using reputable hardware was integral in the delivery of the project. Lim explains: “Conventional videowall software needs to sit on a workstation. At Air Liquide, an operator in the control room might not actually be accessing their workstation at all times. They might be accessing a shared workstation instead. If you are doing that, then the software on your workstation is no longer being displayed on any of the monitors. We overcame this with our touch screen solution so what they see on the monitor screen is what they are supposed to be working on while a separate device can be used to control the content displayed on the screen.”

Three Pipo X10 touchscreens for the operators, and a 22-in Dell 3263T monitor for the supervisor have been provided.

Regarding the operation of the system Lim says: “The source is the workstation PCs. From there we use Displayport or Displayport ++ cables to the controllers. We didn’t need any extension since both are located quite close by in the rack, we just needed an adapter to convert to DVI. From the videowall controller to the videowall and the monitors we use Displayport cables. On the monitor end, we use a Datapath dongle to convert to HDMI since the monitors are consumer devices.

“I decided to go with Displayport cables primarily because they are passive. The cable run was 15m and we used higher quality cables to ensure that no extra hardware would be needed to get the signal. The cable runs were all going to be cemented over so my main concern was to ensure that there were as few points of failure in the cabling [as possible] because accessing the runs later would be difficult.”

While HIKA might have had a customised solution that met Air Liquide’s needs, there were still challenges to overcome. Lim narrates: “Initially we had been told that the outputs from the PCs would be DVI. So we configured our controllers to accept DVI input. When we went to install the videowall we found that all the outputs from the PCs were Displayport. On top of that we found that some of the controllers were standard Diplayport while others were Displayport ++. We had to change tack to accommodate this.”

Audio alerts also had to be taken into account. Lim says: “Operators at Air Liquide might not be accessing their own workstations at all times due to the nature of the operations. This means that they might miss some video alerts in certain niche situations. To minimise this we installed an audio alert system. The Extron BUC-202 is used as part of this system. Because the audio alert is such a critical part of the system, we chose the Extron product for its robustness and reliability.”

To conclude, Lim says: “We were not able to fulfil all of Air Liquide’s requirements for the videowall. This was not because we were unable to but because of budgetary and time constraints. So there are some features such as configuring our touchscreens for multi-wall use with more detailed hierarchies that we are currently working on.”

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