Use Appropriate Fasteners for Mounting

by Jeff Gooch
in Video World
Smart design beats the brute-force approach
Smart design beats the brute-force approach

“Some Assembly Required” and “Batteries Not Included” — two important phrases in our business. My other current favorite is “Use Appropriate Fasteners for Mounting.” That one makes me giggle almost as much as the one that usually says something like “Do Not Drop” on the side of a fixture or a projector. Damn! That’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years! Thank you, dear manufacturer, for letting me know that the one thing I should definitely not do is drop the damn thing. Phew!

But let’s get back to that current favorite for a second. I’ve put up a lot of TV’s and monitors on walls, on frames, on mounts, on mounts that are ON frames that are ON walls, and every one of them, with a select few withstanding, had some lame picture-map on which parts were included and how I should use those parts. Call it a quick-start-guide for the illiterate if you like. IKEA was probably the most comprehensive stick-figure scratching, but I still had to fabricate and come up with a decent hanging solution. Granted, this is mostly home use stuff, but how many times on the job have you had to improvise to make something work? I trust that you took the “Use Appropriate Fasteners” advice to heart and actually read the specs. Perhaps there was a Quick Start Guide included with that $100K worth of video wall that you just bought. No? If there was, was it completely incomprehensible?

‡‡         A Less-Than-Optimal Approach

All rated stuff aside, I’ve seen some pretty hairy ways to attach video come through my place in the last couple of years. I hung a 12-by-six-foot 5mm wall a few weeks back that weighed maybe 500 pounds, tops. Cable and all. And the poor guy who was sent to make sure the wall got put in the right place was quite insistent on using slings (that I had to provide) in a configuration (that definitely did not look like what the manufacturer intended) that he said was “what the geniuses at the shop” told him to do. Because it was curved. It was every kind of wrong. So, as the rigger of the whole ordeal, I looked up the manufacturer, I looked at where the eye bolts needed to be in the frame (it was obvious anyway…manufacturers are funny like that), and I looked at the rating on all the included hardware. I then put everything like he said, and you can guess what happened. No, it didn’t fail…it just hung weird. Before this thing went in the air for real, I put everything where it needed to be, nay, wanted to be, and voila, flown curved wall safe and sound.

I mention this story not to say that I’m that know-it-all guy. I mention it because there are different perspectives out there when it comes to assembling things in this business, whether they are going to be flown over people’s heads or whether they are going on your wall in your office. Do you know who made the frame that your expensive TV is mounted to? Was it on sale at the big-box store where you bought it? No, you bought your gear at the right place and you know exactly who made the mounting hardware and when and what it is rated for. Right?

It’ll come down to cost eventually. It always does. There’s the cost to engineer all this stuff — from the frames to the panels to the hardware. There’s the cost to rent it, or sub-rent it, as the case often is. And finally, there’s what your liability is worth. There are people renting stuff right now that has a known shelf life. Seriously — it’s cheaper to buy the frames and the panels they mount to, whether they are convenient or well-built or not, and just junk the stuff after a tour finishes, because the crew ends up having to use sledge hammers to assemble/disassemble them. I think this all stems not from poor engineering, but poor design. I think that if a little more thought were put into the design, the engineers would come up with a cool way to make it work. That’s what they do, after all…

‡‡         Recommended Reading

Most of my angst comes from the permanent install side of the industry though. Yes, there is the VESA standard (and it’s a fascinatingly dull read if you’re interested), but this standard applies mainly to what the TV or panel has as a mounting standard measurement, not what you actually use to mount said piece of gear to whatever it is that you want to mount it to! Nine times out of 10, this is a standard wall stud at a 16-inch center, or if you work in a cinder-block building, anywhere you can get a Tapcon into. So you have to be really creative in deciding what will work and what will look decent and what will not injure people. Uni-Strut and all-thread in all rated flavors are our near and dear friends. As is the latest release of Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers. That is a decidedly not a dull read. Seriously, it’s like the Backstage Handbook (one of my most favorite problem solving guides) on steroids. For bonus points, read Roark’s Formulas for Stress and Strain. You cannot only figure out what will cause a Grade 8 bolt to fail, but also WHY it fails under certain circumstances. Bone up on math before diving in! Just a suggestion.

Case in point of all this speculation — the most current version of U2 and their crazy-expensive, giant video wall. It uses an ingenious frame that acts not only as the structure to build it and travel on, but the wind brace as well. Granted, it probably costs more than Vegas (PRG can obviously afford it), but I’m sure the bean counters figured that into the ticket price. I’m betting the folks that designed and engineered it read their Marks’ book (who am I kidding, they probably have it memorized). I’m betting also that since that whole system is so modular that many parts of it will see a long life after touring with that gig because of the design. Although, it IS carbon fiber, so I guess time will tell. You can bet that this kind of design will push the industry to less truck space, easier load-ins and better-looking shows. Just means fewer people can fit in a venue, unfortunately.

So I guess they paid attention when the instructions from the good people at Tait said “Use Appropriate Fasteners For Mounting.” For all the rest of you still mounting Uni-Strut to cinderblock walls and having to read the stick-figure instructions from Asia, use a little creative thought in your design of said install. And recall my most favorite instruction of all — RTFM… Read The Frickin’ Manual. Consult your Backstage Handbook. I’ll bet you can come up with a way to save dough, make it easier, and ultimately cheaper (and safer) in the long run if you just use some disciplined design approach. And remember to add a sprinkling of selected reading.