Food Fight! Keep It Clean, Folks

AV9000 Checklist Item Under Test: 6.6.2: “Sanity Check”: Any possible user objections have been corrected or noted? Everything plumb and square, clean and blemish-free. Displays and equipment free of fingerprints and dust. The user has a safe, injury-free environment?

Reasoning: AV systems are vulnerable to many things. Integrators and clients spend significant sums of money to protect signals from electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI) from outside and inside the rack. There are also more visible and obvious dangers, such as water, dust and debris, that might be overlooked because of their obviousness—a miss-the-forest-for-the-trees type of scenario. Nowhere are those visible dangers more evident than in hospitality venues, where AV equipment can be located directly next to sinks, garbage cans or the occasional “lubricated” customer. Obviously, before turning over a system to the user, it is critical to make sure it is clean and dust-free. It is also important to take measures—maybe assist the user in creating some sort of scheduled inspection or maintenance—to make sure it stays that way.

The Story: Audio Visual Resources, Inc. (AVR), does a significant amount of preventive-maintenance (PM) work for several universities, including many buildings run by Dining Services. Large venues are highly sought-after in the higher-education market, and cafeterias have been used for many high-profile guests throughout the years. I’ve worked with a lot of engineers who would smack people upside the head if they even attempted to bring any food or beverage close to their gear. That lesson was lost on me when, for a PM contract, I was surveying a dining hall and the equipment rack closet was located immediately next to the dish-return window.

You remember those dish-return windows from school, right? It’s where college kids get most of their plates and leftover food through the window, onto a conveyor belt, where it disappears to the netherworld where the trash is sorted and the plates and cutlery are cleaned. Well, I say the “no food and drink by the equipment” lesson was lost on me because, during that survey, I didn’t notice the one-inch gap between the bottom of the equipment rack closet door and the floor. Nor did I realize the consequences of the fact that the cleaning crew kept a large broom against said door.

After a few weeks, we won the contract. Part of our PM service is to physically clean the equipment and filters of dust. It usually takes a few minutes to do, and the clients love it because it keeps their equipment looking brand spanking new. Cleaning the equipment took a bit longer than a few minutes for that particular system, though. As it turns out, college kids make a huge mess by the dish-return window. (Who knew?!) Food is dropped. Drinks are spilled. Plates and glasses are broken. The area in front of the dish-return window is like a demilitarized zone. The cleaning crew does its best to keep it relatively clean, using the broom that leans against the closet door.

However, because there was that one-inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor of the aforementioned DMZ, a ton of debris found its way into the equipment closet. Because the door was always kept locked to protect the equipment from theft, no one had any idea about the size of the mess being created in the closet while the area in front of the door was being cleaned. I’m talking about dust, soda, glass, dirt, pizza slices (we literally found a twice-bitten pizza slice in there)…. All sorts of goodies found their way to the foot of the equipment rack through that gap.

The rack (unfortunately) was well laid out, with the heavy, actively cooled amplifiers located at the bottom for proper weight distribution. I say “unfortunately” because the intake fans sucked up a lot of that food debris. We didn’t find the pizza slice attached to the amplifier, but we did find pretty much everything else. The amplifier filters looked like a kitchen sponge that had just cleaned a cast iron pan that had been used to cook two pounds of bacon and then left out for a few weeks. A film of gunk was peeled off the face of the equipment rack like you would pull Fruit Roll-Ups off the package. It was nasty. So, needless to say, we spent most of that preventive maintenance visit just getting the equipment clean.

The solution to the problem was two-fold: First, make sure the rack had a closing front door to add a layer of protection for the equipment; second, install a gasket to the bottom of the closet door to keep the nastiness out as best as possible. It was a very simple solution to an obvious, but overlooked, problem. No doubt, the lesson was learned: AV technology and food should not mix. Whenever you’re dealing with an environment where an amplifier might have a potential rendezvous with pizza, make sure there are measures in place to maintain the no-food barrier.

As I write these words, the idea seems too trivial to warrant a story. Of course we need to keep food away from the equipment! However, how many restaurants or bars have you frequented where the entire AV head end is adjacent to the slop sink…where the control system touchpanel is teetering on the edge of falling into someone’s half-finished pasta?

AV systems need us to keep them safe from all enemies—even the ridiculously obvious ones that people tend not to register as a likely disaster waiting to happen. There’s a reason why the title of this checklist item is the “Sanity Check.”

Previous ArticleNext Article
Send this to a friend