When currently available equipment does not fit into the space occupied by existing plant, a bespoke solution based on the latest technology could be effective. Steve Cartledge of Weatherite explains how that approach worked for Showcase Cinemas.

The replacement of out-of-date, inefficient, high-maintenance air-handling plant can present major headaches for the end user and the service and maintenance team because of the high cost, disruption and downtime involved in ripping out old equipment and starting from scratch. When faced with this situation, Showcase Cinemas, which needed a reliable and energy-efficient replacement for its air-handling equipment portfolio turned to Weatherite’s Premiere solution.

Showcase Cinemas is a major UK chain of cinemas. It is owned and operated by National Amusements Inc., an international name in the motion-picture entertainment industry and operating more than 850 screens in the USA, UK, Argentina and Brazil.

Efficient air handling is essential to the comfort of cinemagoers and staff alike, and in 2013, Showcase decided to replace the existing equipment at a number of its UK sites.

The cinemas were using a range of propriety international brands of AHUs, but unreliability had become a concern with some of the units. The availability of replacement components was also a problem, with the cost of some parts rising steeply and taking a long time to be delivered. Overall, some of the air-handling units were failing in well under the 15-year life cycle expected with this type of equipment.

Initially, Showcase Cinemas and its advisers investigated replacing existing equipment with proprietary units from existing suppliers. This approach proved unviable owing to unit size, space constraints and the position of service connections, which would have involved considerable additional expense and screen downtime to re-install all the M&E services to connect with these units.

Weatherite was first approached by Hoare Lea, engineering consultants to National Amusements. After initial discussions, National Amusements’ Jon Nattinville, assistant vice president-construction, came to the UK to review Weatherite’s proposal to replace the old air-handling units with bespoke direct replacements.

These like-for-like units would match the existing ones in terms of size, exact footprint and positioning of service connections. However, they would use the latest technology, such as EC fans, scroll compressors, high-efficiency indirect gas-fired heaters and web-enabled Trend control systems to deliver high operational efficiency and energy savings.

Before and after of an installation for Showcase Cinemas — the new Weatherite units have the same size and connections as those they replace but incorporate the latest technology

Weatherite also developed in-house bespoke BMS software for the control-systems integration, which has given National Amusements real-time access to performance and operational data for each of the AHUs. Not only does the software allow the client to make adjustments from the UK and USA, it also includes self-diagnostics to aid maintenance of the equipment.

The first Showcase Cinema to be updated was Walsall, in the West Midlands, where a total of 14 AHUs were installed over three days. Working with Elite Air Services, Showcase's service and maintenance company, Weatherite engineers carried out the work after the last evening performance and worked through the night and morning until the building was handed back for the following day's screenings. This process continued from Monday until Wednesday until all the cinema's AHUs had been replaced. Weatherite also supplied the new centralised access-control system and carried out the commissioning with Showcase’s BMS contractor to ensure everything ran smoothly.

The success of the Walsall project led to further installations in Coventry (16 units) and Teesside (14 units).

The direct-replacement approach has delivered a wide range of advantages for Showcase. The new systems are like-for-like equipment replacement in terms of air volumes, heating and cooling performance and M&E service connections. They are also efficient in operation, substantially reducing on-going energy usage and costs.

Thanks to the overnight installation process, system downtime was minimised, with very little break in operation of the air-conditioning system. The new bespoke controls software provides much greater management information in real time, plus immediate control of the operating system. Showcase and their maintenance company Elite, also benefit from Weatherite’s support capability.

Throughout the process, team working between the client, its partners and Weatherite has been crucial. Weatherite worked closely with Elite Air Services Ltd and P K Controls, which provided all the control systems, as well as Hoare Lea Consultants, to ensure the solution met all the client’s requirements and that the work ran smoothly and to schedule.

It has been a pleasure to provide a direct replacement solution that has delivered so many benefits to the client. National Amusements (Showcase) has been genuinely delighted with the solution we developed, the level of service we provided and the high quality of the products.

A bespoke package can often be the cheapest solution in terms of overall investment as it saves significantly in terms of installation and commissioning time, service and maintenance programmes and energy saving/operational efficiency.

Steve Cartledge is sales director with Weatherite Manufacturing.

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