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Center stage

By Gretchen Salois

Above: An example of TAIT's handiwork: the Omnia Nightclub Kinetic Chandelier in Las Vegas. Photo by Rukes

Programming proves a crowd pleaser for builder of elaborate stage sets

April 2016 - It takes serious manpower to design and construct the elaborate backdrops and staging that performers use while on tour. Whether it features giant statues, pyrotechnics or choreographed lighting, the stage it all sits upon is crucial to each show’s success. These spectacles require armies of behind-the-scenes workers who provide  painstaking attention to detail for each apparatus, helping to enthrall audiences.

As it was expanding its global reach and receiving ever-larger project commissions, TAIT Towers sought to ratchet up its existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software package.

“We were working in a multi-company environment and needed to better communicate across companies,” explains Carl Just, ERP implementation manager at the design and fabrication stage company. 

The heart of the operation is TAIT’s 220,000-sq.-ft. machine shop in Lititz, Pennsylvania, which produces parts by cutting primarily grade 6061 aluminum and plywood. “We do a lot of tubular, square, round and other shapes and needed software that could handle milling operations,” Just says. “We do a lot of machining ourselves, including routing and milling operations with aluminum sheet, plastic and wood.”

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Top: Engineering Workbench allows users to view a new bill of materials.
Bottom: Epicor’s Costing Workbench helps users review jobs by part and cost.

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The company turned to Epicor to help it handle saw cutting, turning, milling, routing and TIG welding processes. “We built an interface between AutoCAD and Epicor, and can now push parts directly from AutoCAD to Epicor,” Just says.

Parts have complete routings with time estimates already calculated. TAIT developed a way to read drawing characteristics and translate those into production estimates using Epicor software. “We design electrical and mechanical components that are assembled and integrated to make complete stage sets,” he says.

Force behind the fabrication

TAIT serves several markets, including shows that move from arena to arena; permanent installations, which include technology setups in such venues as Radio City Music Hall and the Metropolitan Opera; kinetic architecture and moving facades like Omnia Nightclub’s chandelier in Las Vegas and Mr. Chow’s Kinetic Moon; for theater sets such as The Phantom of the Opera and Cirque du Soleil; and spectaculars, including the Olympic Games ceremonies and half-time shows for the Super Bowl. 

Numerous companies work with TAIT Towers to design and build the needed staging elements for traveling entertainment acts, including sound and curtain companies, for example. 

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Thirty-five to 40 welders work on any given project, TIG welding the stage apparatuses together.

“We jointly test and work out any bugs,” says Just, who adds that tour bands will come into the shop and rehearse on the newly built stage while TAIT trains their people to organize, erect and strike down all of the staging themselves. “They have their own road crews.” 

Staging can be “an elaborate process because of the different systems going in. There are a lot of electronics and other types of displays,” says Just. 

Structural and ornamental elements of the stage are designed and fed into the Epicor program to prepare parts for manufacturing. “We like that Epicor has structural flexibility so it can be customized and accept the data we feed it,” he says. “We feed it in, make the parts, and those parts head over to the welding area.”

Thirty-five to 40 welders work on any given project, TIG welding the apparatuses together. Rough edges are unacceptable because each part is handled frequently during the setup, dismantling, and packing and storage of parts that are shipped to the next venue. “These things are constantly going up and being taken down or put together so we’re very careful about fit and finish so it doesn’t present a danger to anyone handling the material,” Just says.  Parts must be easy to set up and tear down as some shows often stay in a particular venue for only one or two nights before moving to the next city.

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TAIT’s 220,000-sq.-ft. machine shop in Lititz, Pennsylvania, produces parts by cutting primarily aluminum and plywood.

For cutting and routing processes, TAIT doesn’t laser or plasma cut on site. “Once parts are in house, we can be looking at multiple spindle tool types,” Just says. Mills are 3-axis vertical machines from Fadal, KoMo, Hardinge. Lathes are 2-axis CNCs from Puma and Haas. Parts are deburred, washed and painted; some are anodized. “Everything is finished by either anodizing or painting.”

Bringing it all together

Epicor’s inventory control, tracking costs and interfacing systems are vital to producing the needed parts for these jobs. Epicor’s ERP supports production of complex products with a product configurator and project management capabilities, says Tom Muth, senior manager of product marketing, ERP/MES Manufacturing.  Its social enterprise allows for enhanced cross-functional collaboration and includes job tracking; heat number material allocation and traceability; nesting management and automated setup of production, material characteristics, such as type and shape; and predefined dimensions at the part master level, among other features.

Epicor’s ERP is available on premise, via SaaS or can be hosted, giving a company greater choice in how they wish to run their business systems. “While strict requirements for product and material traceability are more prevalent in highly regulated industries such as aerospace, defense and medical devices, many industries today are requiring strong process control with lot and serial controlled inventories throughout,” Muth says. Epicor tracks materials and finished and semifinished products from beginning to end. 

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Stage building is often an elaborate process because of multiple systems involved, including electronics and other types of displays.

“The software is highly automated,” Just says. “We’re able to pick and place parts into the system at 8 a.m. and have them purchased by 10 a.m. We run generated purchase order suggestions every two hours to make sure we always have what we need on the buying list. That’s where Epicor picks it up. Once we’ve told the system we have the requirements, it tracks them against the requirement dates and lets us know what items are missing.”

Such traceability comes in handy for TAIT. “We are an extremely fast moving company,” Just says. “We need to be able to make hundreds of custom parts on very short lead times.” FFJ

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