“Originally posted on designworldonline.com by Mike Santora”
Unless you work for a major network, you’ve probably never heard of them. But without the efforts of Drew Farrow and the team at ShowFab many of your favorite Broadway shows, news programs, and broadcast sporting events would not be possible. That’s because there’d be no colorful backdrops, no glitzy displays, and no lights or cameras moving silently overhead. The reason they’re silent? Nord Drivesystems whose gearmotors position the massive scenery seen moving in and above the sets of The Today Show, Fox News, Fox Sports, The NFL Network, and NewsNation, to name a few.
“If you name a live broadcast, whether it be talk show, news, or sports, chances are pretty good that we were involved in creating that scenery at some point in time,” stated Farrow.
ShowFab (Fairfield, NJ), describes itself as a custom fabricator for creative markets. Founded in 1986, the company services the industries listed above but also provides museums, retail stores, and public spaces with a wide range of displays and structures. These include an Angry Birds “Not So Mini Golf” course at the American Dream mega-mall in nearby Rutherford, Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn in London, product showcases for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Sonos, and Saks 5th Ave, and the JetBlue Children’s Center at JFK Airport, a welcome sight for parents traveling with kids.
ShowFab employs over 100 skilled craftspeople and project managers, with Farrow—a senior technical designer—among them. They recently completed the move to an expanded and renovated 100,000 square foot production facility, which is home to all manner of CNC bending, routing, waterjet, and laser cutting equipment, and are proud to have received special recognition for its environmental efforts as part of the Broadway Green Alliance. They’re also very people focused.
“We’re a union shop as well, so we belong to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees,” Farrow said. Nord Drivesystems has been a go-to supplier for as long as Farrow has been with the company, now 17 years. “Even while working on my graduate degree at what was then the Yale School of Drama, Nord was listed as one of the companies we’d be working with once we got out in the field.”
One recent example was a project with a popular sports network. When asked to design, construct, and install the broadcast booth and lighting systems for the client’s new facility in California, ShowFab reached out to Nord for the brake motors needed to drive the metal weldments that would hang above. Working with district sales manager Adam Reynolds, Farrow determined that a series of 15 hp SK9042.1 Helical Bevel UNICASE right-angle gearmotors, each attached to a custom-turned cable drum, would easily lift the half-ton trusses while meeting the client’s stringent acceleration and deceleration requirements. And because safety is crucial when the on-screen talent and technicians are below, they configured each with secondary braking units.
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re not talking about a lot of weight here and the Nord gearmotors come standard with self-actuating brakes, but that’s something we do in all of our machines, just in case there’s a problem,” Farrow said. “We make sure every measure is taken to ensure the rig is safe.”
They also wanted to future-proof their design. Requirements change over time, Farrow noted, and customers frequently ask for “bigger, faster, heavier” long after the installation is complete. To avoid boxing themselves in, he and the other project team members worked closely with Nord’s engineering team to ensure the equipment would be up to the task—supersized, in other words—if the client demanded more of it five years down the road.
Another consideration was one with which any California resident is familiar: the potential for earthquakes. “That’s something we don’t have to worry about too much here on the East Coast, but it’s understandably a big deal out there,” said Farrow. “Because of that, we spent several months going back and forth with the local building regulators, tweaking designs, changing small things, all to meet their seismic codes. No one wants to see a failure when the big one hits.”
The design now approved, ShowFab’s team of fabricators, electricians, and mechanical engineers got busy constructing the set. Unfortunately, much of this occurred during COVID-19, so lead times were long and deliveries unpredictable. Yet, as Farrow pointed out, Reynolds and the others at Nord worked hard to get everything to them in a timely fashion, despite the difficulties. Such difficulties are to be expected with any large-scale fabrication, he added, and while Nord is subject to the same supply chain constraints as any other manufacturer, this and other projects went off without a hitch.
“We rarely build the same machine twice,” said Farrow. “Every machine is custom designed to fit a very specific need. There’s always challenges in that, but we didn’t have any issues whatsoever with any part of the project that was in Nord’s care. We definitely received all the support we needed during the build and install process, and in terms of maintenance, we send our technicians out there once every quarter as part of the support agreement to inspect the machines, rigging, and controls. Everything’s been working perfectly for two years now, including the Nord equipment, and I don’t expect that to change. It’s all good.”