Preventive Maintenance Best Practices

by | Lighting, Lighting Connections, Production

Production lighting needs preventive maintenance to perform at its best. Like anything of value, production lighting requires some tech crew maintenance time if you want it to perform at its best––and for a long time. Much of what’s involved in the maintenance of the fixtures themselves could be classified as good housekeeping (want them to work? Keep them dust-free), but sometimes how well, or poorly, lighting performs depends on how you’re powering your systems. Here are some best practices for church techs to keep in mind.

Schedule Maintenance

If we’re going to invest in new lighting equipment, you need to plan for regular, routine maintenance. If you don’t put lighting maintenance on the calendar, chances are you’re not going to get around to it. It’s similar to a car, you want to make sure you change the oil, you want to check under the hood every once in a while, maybe replace the spark plugs, and if you do, that thing will treat you right for years to come. Most production lighting manufacturers provide maintenance schedules for new fixtures on request. If you’re purchasing used fixtures, it’s a good idea to ask the seller about the unit’s maintenance history.

Be Systematic

For maintaining conventional fixtures, I advise church techs to set up their workspace into a number of different stations.

  • Station 1:  Getting rid of the dust. Using a professional air compressor, blow all of the dust out and off of each fixture.
  • Station 2:  Keeping fixtures clean. This is where all the fixtures and their cables are wiped off with and inspected for cracked glass, burned plugs, and anything out of the ordinary, If the fixture has a lamp––not an LED––this should also be taken out and wiped off with alcohol pads. I caution techs never to touch the glass with their bare hands; the oil from your skin will leave spots on the lamp, which in turn creates hot spots … which decrease the bulb’s life. 
  • Station 3:  Plug inspection time: This means the covers are taken off and all wires are inspected, and all screws are tightened to prevent arcing of wires.
  • Station 4:  Time for a beauty treatment. Stock this station with paint, and apply touch-ups to fixtures, barn doors, and anything else that’s looking a little rough. Fixtures need to look good [and] operate well.
  • Station 5:  Testing Time – This station is where techs will plug in fixtures to confirm that everything is in working order. (Better to do this on the ground rather than find out something’s not right when the unit is back up in the air.)

Finally, Remind your techs to break out the portable vacuum cleaner and get rid of the dust on any hanging pipes. I know this is asking a lot, but remember how expensive all this equipment is, and how hard it was to get funds to buy this equipment––and how hard it will be to get funds to replace it. This exercise serves as a safety inspection, and that your lights will, well … lighten up. You might be surprised at how clean and bright things look because the glass has been cleaned and all that dust isn’t blocking the output of the fixture.

Dust Dimmers

Dimmer racks are often stored in dusty closets, yet they don’t like dust. I suggest to church techs to power dimmers down and vacuum the vents out on a routine basis. Keep the dust out of the racks so they don’t overheat because they’ll burn out that way, Keeping the dimmers clean is the biggest thing to me, because that’s where all the heat is generated. Churches using haze should pay attention to their moving fixtures, which will pick up more dust as they pull air.

Check Fans

While the fans in moving lights tend to stir up one of the primary enemies of all electronics––you got it: dust––you need them all to be operational. Otherwise, you’ll experience failures due to another major enemy of electronics: heat. If you’re using moving lights, every so often feel them and make sure that there’s airflow, and that the fans are actually running inside the mover. A lot of movers may have four, five, or six fans in them depending on the model, and one or two fans may fail. When that happens, the fixture will eventually overheat, which decreases its overall lifespan. 

Incandescent Fixture Exam

When changing lamps in incandescent fixtures, examine the unit’s pins. The pins shouldn’t have any pits or burns in them; if the pins are burned, that means the socket is burned and you need to replace that socket. Otherwise, it will destroy the new lamp as well. While the socket itself is more difficult to see, the pins are a good indicator of its condition. 

LED Fixtures

It may seem a little weird to be discussing maintenance for LED fixtures––they’re touted to be maintenance-free. But are they? Yes … if you’ve made the effort to actually turn them off when they’re not in use.

Just because you turn off your lighting control console and all the lights are dimmed to zero, they’re still pulling energy unless you already have an electrical control system in place. The easiest way to tell if an LED light is actually off is to touch the heat sink on the back of the fixture: if it’s warm to hot, it’s on. It doesn’t matter if there’s light output or not. When not powered down via an electrical control system, LED fixtures are always in listening mode – which is not to be confused with standby mode. The lighting fixtures are always listening for instructions from DMX and people make the mistake of associating no light output with the fixtures being turned off. And if LEDs are constantly pulling power, they’re also perpetually generating heat. 

If fixtures dim internally, or if they move internally, they’ve got a computer inside, and they have processors. Those processors’ lifespans will be dramatically reduced if they are left in an always-on position, whether there’s light output or not. To address this, some manufactures install wall-mounted motorized circuit panels that allow lighting systems to be powered down at the circuit level. It also offers relay panels that can be installed in the rigging next to the fixtures themselves. These panels for great for retrofit projects, since they are more difficult to access if something goes wrong.

Just because you turn off your lighting control console and all the lights are dimmed to zero doesn’t mean they’re totally off. They’re still pulling energy unless you already have an electrical control system in place. Regardless of how churches opt to truly power down their LED lighting systems, they should treat this technology the same way techs have been trained to turn off their audio systems. If you’ve got powered speakers, the amplifier that’s built into the speaker basically has a computer in it, [and] everyone knows that they have to be powered down. The same reason you turn off your audio gear is exactly the same reason you want to turn off your lighting gear, except that people are so used to lighting being incandescent that they haven’t made that mental transition yet.

House of Worship lighting requires some TLC if you want it to perform at its best and for the longest life span. Much of what’s involved in the maintenance of the fixtures themselves could be classified as good preventive maintenance. If you use some good maintenance practices for your church, your gear will lost longer and your system will shine.

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