Saturday, August 04, 2012

Thoughts On Our First Automation Workshop

About a year ago my department made our second significant buy of Fisher automation gear.  We took delivery of half of it in January and then the other half at the end of the year.  The first half of the package this time around was a second server and six additional GUI's so we could do our own automation training without having to bring out gear from Las Vegas.  Back when the gear came we also did a week of on site training here with one of their instructors.  Today we had our first shot at doing a training session on our own.

The trail audience for this exercise was our summer DP Precollege class.  Not one of them had done any automation at all.  They took to it so quickly I think a couple of them could fill spots as operators right now.

We started the day upstairs in 209 with the GUI's and the virtual theatre.  Kevin did maybe a half hour of automation background.  He'd been touching on some of the physics end of things in class so they had a good foundation and he could move right into material directly related to the gear in front of them.  After that I gave them a brief spin through the steps I had done the day before to get the machines set up.  From there we showed FTSI's promo video.

Then we were off to the races.  Kevin showed them how to do a move cue and how to jog an axis and then how to write cues.  After that we had them write cues.  I wondered whether we'd given them enough information to get through it, but they all managed to write working cues.

That was two hours, and we were off to lunch.

When we came back from the break we reconvened on the Chosky stage. The day before we'd had some help pulling and setting up our four original winches and control rack.  We brought down one GUI during the break so we'd have a front end available.  The winches were each set up with a line running off the drum up to a sheave on a lineset and then back down to a couple of hanging props (four bird cages).  The set up let us actually move things and look at some cues with multiple axes moving at once.  One of our grads had even come back this morning at o'dark-thirty and wrote a short little show so we had something to show the kids.

So once we get everyone back together we went through the items in the drive rack and then the anatomy of a winch: mechanics, electronics, and feedback.  Then more jogging and cue writing, culminating with recording profile cues (something that took a little figuring out before getting it right).

The end of the day was an hour "free swim" with both the setup on the stage and the virtual setup upstairs available for people to play with.

Overall the day went a lot better than it could have gone.  Once we got things up and running we were in better shape than I think we thought we were running up to the thing.  It did look like the kids thought the stuff was the bee's knees.

A few general musings:
  • There's a lot of rust associated with pulling the stuff out of the closet.  For us to be ready to stand in front of people and train them we either need to use the gear more often or spend some serious prep time first.
  • The workshop setup takes 3-5 people 6-8 hours, assuming everything is in working order.
  • You can put two people on a GUI and have them have an ok time on basic stuff with the virtual theatre, but when we move to the practical we should take the time to set up more than one GUI.
  • Skipping the GUI/Portal/Player setup stuff gets you straight to things that are more identifiably "theatre" as opposed to I.T.
  • Although I previously thought that the virtual training wouldn't fit well into our regular classroom cycle, now that we've done this I see a glimmer of possibility.  Maybe two class days and then a homework assignment.  Maybe.

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