31st August - 4th November 2018
Maintenance and Repair - Blackpool Illuminations
The illuminations department have always been pioneers of lighting. On the right is a very old mechanical light sequencer. Basically it is an electric motor driving a reduction gearbox to drive a wooden cylinder. On the cylinder is mounted a series of copper strips. Each copper strip has a corresponding brass finger. As the cylinder rotates it makes and breaks the connections on the brass fingers. This in turn allows the electricity to flow to the filament lamps. These lamps were mounted in the illuminations features. This created a simple on off effect. By lengthening the copper strips on the wooden cylinder the on and off times could be adjusted. Not only was this an inflexible solution it was expensive to maintain as both the copper and brass would suffer from arcing which would damage the materials requiring remedial work on a regular basis. I believe this device also ran at 240vac which was more dangerous to maintenance teams.
Today the lamps are computer controlled. The sequences can be changed at the click of a mouse, in fact the sequences can even be programmed to change at specific times and not just to have lamps coming on or off but to control the brightness or even colour. Actually I say lamps but the illuminations are so much more than just lamps. The illuminations department source their 24v filament lamps directly from one of the only two remaining factories in China that still manufacture these type of lamps. They are gradually switching over to LED type lamps as not only do they last significantly longer they consume much much less power therefore reducing the Illuminations electricity bill. These LED lamps can be as simple as direct replacements for filament lamps or very very sophisticated custom made computer controlled multi colour lamps. The illuminations have a number of features that use what is known as RGB controllable lamps. These still use the existing cabling that connects the lamps to the electric supply but they can be controlled by passing signals over the same power cables to tell the lamps not only to turn on or off but also what colour to show. By using these special lamps and sophisticated computer control systems amazing displays can be created. One of the features to use these special lamps is the concertina critters feature. This feature has a number of lamps strung across the promenade that change colour in waves down the street.
The Illuminations Team have always been pioneers in lighting. Over 100 years ago it was what we would consider today to be a very simple display consisting of just 8 lamps. In those early days they were no internet to find information they had to experiment with the latest technology and if it wasn't available they had to invent it. Today the illuminations team are no less pioneering than at the beginning. Now they develop things in a different more cost effective way. Instead of making 5 prototypes that are trial and error they use computer systems to assist their creativeness. Due to the uniqueness of the Blackpool illuminations department they still cant buy thing directly off the shelf so to speak. They have to improvise, adapt and innovate. Examples of their innovation skills can be seen on the mirror ball and subsequently in Briley Street. Here they have adapted theatre type lighting units to work in the harsh environment that is Blackpool. While you might think that it's simply a case of putting them inside a clear case this is far from the truth. Operating outside in exposed positions in a seaside resort has many problems to be dealt with. These include big temperature changes from -20°C to +40°C inside an enclosure, vibration from passing vehicles, huge impact loading from wind (the promenade lamp posts are capable of supporting features weighing 400kg each), and the salt laden sea spray.
Here you can see one of the enclosures that is used to protect the projection units that are shone on the worlds largest mirror ball at South Shore opposite the Solaris Centre.
The image on the right is of one of the light projectors that are used in Briley Street in the centre of town ready for it´s maintenance. If you thought that Blackpool Illuminations were just on the promenade you are missing out on the great displays within the town centre.
I was lucky enough to visit the Illuminations works in 2013 and the information I have provided is as I understand things. It is not to be taken as fact as I may have interpreted things differently to they way they are. Hopefully I have provided you with a very small insight into what goes on behind the scenes of Blackpool Illuminations Department.