Sadler's Wells Theatre

TAIT Stage Technologies upgraded the stage automation system at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in the summer of 2014. There were a number of special considerations. The first was limited time: the window to complete the upgrade was just six weeks. A further complication was the location of the control cabinets near the grid: the noise of the cabinets’ cooling fans had been noticed by artistic teams. Finally, Sadler’s Wells Theatre’s commitment to sustainable practices (both front and back of house) was reflected in its requirement that existing winch cabling be reused as much as possible.


Despite these challenges, the project was completed on time and on budget.

The venue required a new automation system for more than 100 overhead variable speed winches, including the upgrade of eight fixed speed point hoists to variable speed capability, new consoles and processors, and new motor control cabinets (MCCs).

Twenty cabinets with cooling fans needed to be replaced. The more compact size of the contemporary drives meant that the TAIT Stage Technologies team was able to replace the 20 old control cabinets with just 17 new ones. However, as it was necessary to keep the new cabinets situated on the gallery, where previously fan noise had been an issue, a new, quiet cooling solution had to be provided.

“Roger Spence, the project manager for Sadler’s Wells Theatre, prompted an investigation into alternative methods of cooling, and much of the design and research into an alternative was done by TAIT Stage Technologies. This resulted in the installation of a new Siemens cooling system using chilled water plates rather than fans. This has successfully reduced noise output on the fly galleries, essential for the varied program of works that we present, and is a great initiative that successfully addressed a major issue we’d had over the years.”

– Emma Wilson, Director of Technical and Production at Sadler’s Wells

The cooling is accomplished via a chiller installed on the roof, which pumps the water through large bore pipes to the two sides of the stage under the cabinets. The water comes into the cabinet at the bottom and into the plates at the top of the MCC. The water keeps the cabinet drives and hardware within a constant temperature range, with no leaks or surface condensation.

 “If you pump chilled water in a heated environment you tend to get surface condensation if the humidity is at a certain level. So, we had to monitor humidity and choose an optimum temperature at which to chill the water given the average humidity levels, without causing condensation. We achieved this pretty much straight away.”

– Dave Moon, TAIT Stage Technologies Site Manager

Water cooling is a more expensive option, but as Dave Moon says, “the benefits in this environment far outweigh the extra cost. They negate the need to possibly replace expensive drives, which suffer shortened lifespan as a consequence of inadequate cooling.” An additional benefit is that less heat is pumped into the flytower. Power distribution to the new cabinets was via busbars, which eliminated the need to run different cables to each separate MCC.

In addition, TAIT Stage Technologies replaced a number of fixed speed pile wind hoists with variable speed BigTow winches and integrated the remaining pile wind hoists with the main control system – previously they had been on a separate system. Additional works included replacing encoders on all of the winches, relocating some of the flybars, removing some redundant equipment and various service jobs on the winches.

The venue has a versatile system of point hoists which requires a user interface to be available during set up on the grid. To avoid trailing wires on the grid a Wireless Solo control was included as part of the system; in addition to two wired Solos for use on stage. In 1998, Sadler’s Wells was one of the first users of the original Nomad console and they have now been supplied with four new Nomads with the latest version of hardware and eChameleon software.

The replacement of over 90 winch drives, the installation of a number of Big Tow winches and the upgrade of a control system, and some overall mechanical servicing, would normally take several months; however, the team was constricted by the venue’s dark period over the summer, when many other contractors were also carrying out renovation works. Incredibly, the entire control upgrade was installed and commissioned within the allotted six-week time frame.

The TAIT system consisted of:

• 90 x encoders
• 17 x MCC cabinets
• 4 x Nomad desks
• 3 x BigTow winches
• 2 x Wired Solo controllers
• 1 x Wireless Solo controller

sadler's wells theatre