Ford Motor Company, the American multinational automaker headquartered in Dearborn MI, was incorporated by manufacturing innovator Henry Ford in 1903. In that same year, the first Ford dealership was established, setting the stage for today’s global network of dealers. Although much about cars and car dealerships has changed over the years, the fundamental personal connection between salespeople and customers that dealerships create, coupled with effective advertising, is what has proven to sell cars. Recently, Panasonic has piloted a package of innovative solutions designed to refresh traditional Ford dealership spaces with digital technology to support Ford’s sales strategies.
The newly constructed LaFontaine Ford showroom at Birch Run MI provided the ideal setting for the pilot project, leveraging digital tools to set a new tone at Ford dealerships. The project included the installation of digital displays, cameras and interactive devices to enhance the Ford brand and improve the customer experience, while also improving dealer engagement with consumers through Panasonic’s AnyPlace Content Distribution Platform. The pilot’s forward-looking design also called for an impressive digital LED Brand Halo to be suspended prominently within the dealership as a centerpiece of the showroom.
Panasonic engaged Installation & Service Technologies (IST), of Kansas City MO, for the project, knowing that its special expertise would be required to assemble, test and install a digital halo that weighs just over 1,000lb. IST would also complete the project by wiring and installing all-new digital technology for the dealership as per Panasonic’s vision and instruction. The new technology would benefit the dealership’s sales staff, service department and customers, while also reinforcing the Ford brand in a big way.
“Birch Run was an important installation, being the ‘crown jewel’ of the local dealerships,” Harrison Stone, Senior Project Manager with IST, said. “The building is impressive, and it’s in the perfect location to be seen day or night from major roadways. The Panasonic LED halo displaying Ford content looks great, and it can be clearly seen for some distance through the large windows of the dealership.”
With extensive experience installing digital signage in various settings—from malls to arenas—IST was the ideal partner for Panasonic on this complex install. Stone and his crew were on site for five days in late December 2016, but significant upfront planning was necessary to assure the job was done right. Over the course of two months prior to the installation, Stone worked closely with Panasonic, a global supplier of fine-pitch LED videowalls and LED panels, which was responsible for the design and construction of the prototype halo and provided the necessary LED panels. In addition, Stone conferred with a local structural engineering firm, Studio Detroit of Detroit MI, to work out the best and safest plan to support the half-ton LED chandelier, which hangs halfway down from the dealership’s 25-foot ceiling. “Our primary concern for installing the halo was, of course, safety,” Stone noted, saying he explored various methods of suspending the fixture.
See Your Halo
Ultimately, three of the five days on site were devoted to the assembly and installation of the halo. Because of its size and weight, the massive fixture had to be delivered in three sections, with detailed instructions that the IST team used for assembly and testing. The Panasonic team was there on site for the first installation to train the IST team on best practices to support the effort going forward. “Since it was our first time assembling and installing this unit,” Stone recalled, “we took our time and carefully documented our process to be a guide for future installs. Once unpacked, the three sections of the halo needed to be joined at specified bolt plate locations. The back two-thirds of the fixture would support the installation of a backlit fabric covering, and the front third was designed to support a curved LED display.
Shipping the halo in pieces provided easy delivery onto the showroom floor. However, Stone foresaw an issue with lifting the fully assembled halo into place, because doorways to the showroom were not wide enough to allow the entry of an appropriately sized boom lift. Calculating the load limits on available scissor lifts, Stone devised a method to lift and suspend the load that the assembled halo frame and attached electronics presented. To facilitate the process, the IST team set out the three sections (two backlit fabric sections and one digital section) and a top load-bearing ring to be assembled around a scissor lift positioned just below the target location for the halo. The lift would be used to support the weight of the fully assembled fixture from a central position, as it was elevated for installation.
Once the sections were assembled and affixed to the load-bearing ring, plans specified the installation of 68 9″x9″ LED panels with a four-millimeter pixel pitch. The panels are designed for 12×7 operation and well regarded in the video industry as both reliable and easy to maintain, with front serviceability. IST was required to install the panels precisely in a 4×17 array that would provide the display for the front section of the halo. Panels marked for the top row featured setting pins to provide proper alignment. Subsequent rows installed easily below, with each LED panel attaching to the structure with a magnetic back. According to Stone, the use of magnets for mounting saved a significant amount of time for the LED installation, while also making for easy maintenance.
Connections were made to an integral media player, power and control boards through access panels provided in the fixture walls. For the remaining two-thirds of the halo, additional LED units were connected to power and signal connections that would backlight a stretched-fabric covering dressing the rear sections.
Following detailed assembly and testing instructions provided by the manufacturer, the process of assembling and wiring the halo’s LED panels went very smoothly. With assembly and wiring of the halo complete, the unit was connected to power and thoroughly tested, per Panasonic’s instructions, before IST moved on with the balance of the install.
To support the considerable weight of the halo permanently, the team installed 40 feet of 12-gauge double Unistrut metal framing channel to the building’s metal joists with beam clamps. Employing close to 100 feet of 3/16-inch steel aircraft cable, thimbles and sleeves swaged with a Grainger 12R355 hand swaging tool, the installers created a precise, four-point hang. Stone engineered each cable length to support the load of the entire halo, delivering an extra margin of safety. Once the team raised the assembled…
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