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Building the best dressed rack

May 26, 2020

Featured in the Q2 2020 CEDIA Communicates magazine, Visualization MD Nick Pidgeon provides insight into building the best dressed rack

The planning and processes of a rack build are as crucial as the physical build.

While not all companies have the luxury of a system designer, starting with the design phase prior to ordering equipment and racks will save time and frustration during the build.

Here are 10 key points to consider from the outset:

1. Start with the system design.

This should include a minimum of a cable schedule, associated cable identification system, rack elevation(s), and BTU calculation. Further documentation such as line drawings and connection panel layouts will further assist during the build phase.


2. When creating your rack elevation, you need to be considering the following:

  • Total unit (U) space of equipment
  • Additional space for future requirements
  • Thermal management requirements
  • Proposed rack size(s)
  • Equipment locations based on ergonomics, weight distribution, and ease of wiring

675489g-563x720-9ddddbc0-3072-46ef-950c-c07291d7fa4d-(1).jpg?sfvrsn=03. Specify the rack type and size(s).

I encourage standardization, but the varied considerations that influence the rack specification means this isn’t the place to do so. Some points that need to be considered are the rack location (this will often dictate available space both horizontally and vertically), equipment heights and depths, equipment running temperatures and ambient room temperatures (avoid the plant/utility room!), and serviceability during and after installation. Bear in mind that there is more to a rack than just Rack Unit RU) count. For example, you may need to consider an open frame for a small system with simplistic ventilation or a slide and rotate for a cupboard.


4. Ascertain the best connection method for rack to site cabling.

While many racks are wired directly onsite, this isn’t always the most effective way as it often limits the progress and neatness than can be achieved. Alternatively consider site cables terminated to the headend with a rack umbilical/tail (our preferred method) or rear rack panels with a site umbilical/tail.


5. Ensure sufficient and effective cable management.

This includes a cable tray for lacing multiple looms vertically and lacing bars to support equipment connections horizontally.

rack-build.jpg?sfvrsn=06. Standardize, standardize, standardize.

Anywhere you can standardize on builds, do so with cable types, cable colors per signal type, cable identification schemes, rack shelves, and even equipment where possible. This will save time during the build and when servicing the system at a later date.


7. Allow plenty of time to complete the build and provide for it in your project plan.

An hour and a half per occupied RU is a good starting point (and will likely extend to more than you first anticipated).


8. Find the efficiencies.

At Visualization, we split our workflow into the following categories:

  • Cable preparation
  • LoadingLacing
  • Termination
  • Testing

This reduces downtime and build time.


9. Plan offsite builds where possible.

Yes, really! This will allow you to control the unknowns, such as lack of access, dark and dusty rack rooms, return visits due to not having something on the van, and commissioning only starting when the rack is finalized.


10. Document your process and constantly look to refine and update it.

Visualization is a resource partner for the audio-visual industry. While predominantly known for rack builds, other service offerings include installation, cable assembly, panel wiring, and product supply. Over the past 15 years, we’ve found it’s key to document the various processes to find efficiencies and work with our clients to pass on value.


Nick Pidgeon is Managing Director and Owner of Visualization Limited.

Article featured in CEDIA Communicates issue Q2 2020, pages 28-29

PHOTOS, top to bottom:
A “slide and rotate” configuration for servicing a small rack in a tight space by Audio Images.
A rack building class from CEDIA Expo.