Business

More Red Flags? Manufacturers, Take Note!

I just lived through such a difficult situation that I have to share this with you (just in time for InfoComm). FYI: For those who have been following my (now) four-part series, this could easily fit…as a part 3a. However, I will not go there and will leave this as a standalone piece. I hope you can take away something useful from the dilemma I am about to describe.

Here we go: I am engaged as the design engineer on a high-profile project. There are numerous videowalls, touch-enabled panels, etc., throughout the building, perhaps 38 on a quick count.

I won’t name the manufacturer of the videowall display specified for the project, but we were having so much difficulty with that company that we were considering switching manufacturers even after the contract was signed.

The project started out normally, with high-quality plans and renderings from the architect, and the integrator I am working for (my client) is extremely competent. He has the highest standards: Imagine a client where you make recommendations about equipment that would improve the project and he actually listens…and is just overall nice to work with.

Like many times before on videowall projects, I am starting with elevations and plans for the videowall(s), scaled and dimensioned for review, and then construction. I downloaded the drawings from the manufacturer’s website, and the trouble started: The layout of the drawings did not follow typical industry standards (being drawn in model space and reviewed and plotted in paper space). They were also not drawn in a 1:1 ratio, meaning I had to scale them to put into my drawings.

I started looking for what I required because we need a VESA-type display, and I could not find it. Tech support kept telling me it was there. Finally, the local manufacturer’s rep (let’s call her Joanne) explained where the drawing was; it was there…that was my mistake.

I copied and pasted it into my drawing, using their dimensions, scaled to 1:1, and started. However, it was apparent that there were still some questions about the actual dimensions of the display(s). I had already been through tech support, so asked Joanne for help. I also asked for contact info for an engineer so I could go over some details, send the drawing I had for review and move on.

The issue of directly speaking to an engineer for support was skirted; she got back to me saying that she spoke to engineering and shared with me their response. I was not satisfied, and we went back and forth a few times until, out of frustration, I let my client know. He got involved and asked Joanne why we couldn’t get the contact information of an engineer…and you know what, we never did get an actual answer.

Normally, I just figure out what is missing and estimate what I need because it’s typically not critical; however, it was in this instance. The project includes a build-out of a wall that will encase the videowall (giving a recessed appearance), and the wall will be covered with a three-inch-thick specialty glass with LEDs inside. Lead time for ordering the glass is two months. And, the glass is quite expensive, as you might imagine, so it is critical that I have the exact panel dimensions for height, width and depth.

Part of the issue was a discrepancy I uncovered going through the manufacturer’s recommendation. It seems that their online calculator that can build the wall was giving different overall dimensions than the CAD files they have available for download. As a result, how could I, in good faith, put my name (and my client’s) on a drawing, not knowing which dimension is correct?

After much pressing, I was forwarded a response from an engineer (no email or contact info), giving me the details I needed, although even that info had a dimension as a variable. I completed the renderings and sent them to my client, who then sent them to Joanne, asking for an engineer to review and approve the drawings before we gave the go-ahead to order the glass. They refused to actually reference the drawings and say they were approved; what they did was skirt the issue, repeating dimensions that they would approve.

We even went as far as having the displays delivered to my shop, where I made a faux wall, put the mount on the display and took my own measurements just to be sure. Can you imagine that? I must say that Joanne worked hard for us, even helping deliver a display; we suspect that this policy of not providing direct engineering support for integrators was handed down from management.

Only after we sent a statement to the regional manager that, for future complex projects, we may look to another manufacturer for videowall displays due to the probably 30 hours wasted going back and forth, the overall two weeks in delays that this added to the project, and additional costs my client had to pay for the additional engineering, did we finally get an actual field engineer to reply…with drawings approved in CAPITAL letters, and an invitation to call him any time!

We experienced such frustration. I am sure many of you have had to reach out in a similar fashion to a large manufacturer. I have done this before with many others that typically will have an engineer on the phone in a few hours. I have never gotten such a runaround looking for serious tech support with sales middle-managing information!

After careful consideration, I have the following recommendations for those of you who would like to learn from my experience here. From time to time, you will likely have to use a new product and/or work with someone new. Before you buy, why not try them out? Call tech support, describe a problem and see what you get. Then, make it even more difficult: Ask to speak with an engineer and see what happens.

Just 10 minutes of effort will let you know the type of customer support you will get before you need it. Now there’s concept: Would you by a $40,000 car without driving it? Do you go to the service desk and ask how long to get your car serviced or check the certifications of the techs? Of course you do.

So, you are about to spend $150,000 on a videowall, and you just hope the manufacturer has the staff, policies and support that will make your life easy. Check them out first. Although this was an unusual situation, it happens. You can avoid all the drama by taking these simple steps ahead of time.

Manufacturers take note: For those that are on board, keep it up; for those that are not (and you know who you are!), we will start looking elsewhere!

If you think I left something out, or want to add to this discussion, send your comments, suggestions and situations to dkleeger@testa.com.

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