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Digital Message Centers

Improve corporate communications with employees, many of whom do not have easy access to e-mail or the company Intranet, in manufacturing facilities that spread across several sites.

Internally called RRTV, Rolls-Royce has deployed MediaTile's cellular-based digital signage solution across their Indiana facility as a corporate communications broadcast network.

Internally called RRTV, Rolls-Royce has deployed MediaTile's cellular-based digital signage solution across their Indiana facility as a corporate communications broadcast network.

CHALLENGE: Improve corporate communications with employees, many of whom do not have easy access to e-mail or the company Intranet, in manufacturing facilities that spread across several sites.
SOLUTION: An out-of-the box, all-in-one digital signage system that uses cellular-broadband technology.

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR, ROLLS-ROYCE Corp. researched products to replace the aging AV infrastructure at its manufacturing facilities in Indianapolis. The company, which designs, develops, and manufactures gas turbines and advanced propulsion systems, wanted a way to link two, 1-million-square-foot manufacturing facilities and three satellite offices, which had not previously been networked into the dated system.

Plans to replace the 22 antiquated CRT monitors were nearly shelved due to cost, but a new digital signage platform from MediaTile, a Scotts Valley, Calif.–based provider of cellular-based digital signage systems, caught the company's attention. MediaTile's Digital-Sign-in-a-Box system integrates a high-definition LCD display, media player, network access, and a Web-based control system. Cellular-broadband technology allows Rolls-Royce to mount the LCD displays anywhere — as long as there's an electrical outlet and a broadband signal.

In April 2007, Rolls-Royce installed 30, 32-inch HD LCD screens in the break areas, cafeterias, lobbies, and other high-traffic locations to deliver key messages to its 4,300 employees.

By opting for this cellular-based, plug-and-play technology rather than a traditional, hard-wired solution, Rolls-Royce avoided making an investment in additional IT infrastructure and software and saved months on the deployment.

The cellular-broadband technology also ended up at one-third of the cost of a traditional hardwired installation, which would have cost about $500,000 to $600,000, says Chuck Gose, internal communications manager for Rolls-Royce. If the company went with a hard-wired solution, it would have had to run the software on the PCs and run Cat5 cable to each of the monitors to create a network. Wi-Fi was also not a viable option because the machines and metal in the manufacturing plant would interfere with the signal, says Keith Kelsen, CEO of MediaTile.

In a traditional deployment, the IT department would have been heavily involved in the design of the network and installation of the signage. The MediaTile system, however, didn't require additional software, hardware, networking, configuration, or testing, which minimized the resources required from the IT department.

Sometimes when an integrator works with a company to come up with AV solutions, the IT department will take issue with with the proposal, Kelsen says.“[However, Digital-Sign-in-a-Box] doesn't interfere with the current IT infrastructure. Rolls-Royce's IT department signed off on this in about five minutes,” he explains.

MOUNTING DISPLAYS

In a manufacturing environment such as Rolls-Royce, the location of the monitors was a key to a successful deployment. For the first phase of the project, Rolls-Royce focused on locations where monitors previously existed such as break areas, cafeterias, and lobbies. During the next phase, the facility plans to zone in on office areas, Gose says. “You don't want to oversaturate the environment,” he says. “Just as you wouldn't want to blanket a location with posters, you need to put displays in strategic locations.”

From start to finish, the implementation process took about four days, compared to a few months for a traditional hard-wired solution. Because the displays would hang in a variety of environments, Rolls-Royce wound up using several different mounting structures. Most were wall-mounted or pole mounted dropped from the ceiling, according to MediaTile. The company did not have to build any shelves, and the displays supported the VESA mounting format.

The plant invested in the digital signage not only for the ease of installation, but also for its scalability. The company can add more displays as its business grows and move the monitors from one area to another to best serve the needs of its employees. “If Rolls-Royce grows, the MediaTile system can easily grow with us,” Gose says.

Because each display or tile receives its own cellular broadband signal, a company's network can be as large or small as it needs it to be, Gose says. Each tile has its own internal booster to strengthen the cell signal, and the technology works just like a broadband cell card for laptops (see sidebar).

BROADCASTING MESSAGES

Rolls-Royce now is able to communicate with all its employees, whether they are behind a desk in an office or on the factory floor. But, reaching many of the manufacturing employees is no easy task, Gose says. While the employees in the office areas can log on to a computer during the work day, the workers on the shop floor don't have easy access to e-mail, voicemail, the Internet, or the company Intranet.

“They're a bit of a harder audience to reach, but it was important to management to find a tool that could do the job,” Gose says. “This has been a great vehicle for us to get different messages, images, and videos to the shop floor.” Rolls-Royce broadcasts video clips, slide shows, news on business wins, awards and recognitions, company policies and procedures, training opportunities, employee events, and visiting dignitaries on the 30 screens. Roughly seven minutes of announcements rotate on the screens, and by glancing up at the LCD panels, employees can catch up on that week's events.

Rolls-Royce Corp. installed 32-inch LCD screens in break areas on the shop floors, as well as in lobbies and cafeterias, in its two Indianapolis manufacturing plants and three satellite offices to keep employees updated on news and events.

Rolls-Royce Corp. installed 32-inch LCD screens in break areas on the shop floors, as well as in lobbies and cafeterias, in its two Indianapolis manufacturing plants and three satellite offices to keep employees updated on news and events.

To keep the messages fresh and relevant, the corporate communications department updates the messages a minimum of twice a week. Rolls-Royce can change the displays individually or collectively with a touch of a few buttons by using MediaTile's Web-based Broadcast Portal, which controls signage in one building or in offices around the globe.

“You can change any sign on the network very easily, and that can be worldwide,” Kelsen says. For example, on a business trip to London, Gose was able to plug in a MediaTile display linked to the Indianapolis system, turn it on, and show the meeting attendees the same content that was broadcast to the facilities in Indiana.

CONTROLLING CONTENT

The corporate communications team can access the Broadcast Portal from any computer connected to the Internet. “Many of the other solutions out there required purchasing additional software to manage content, which made our IT department a bit nervous,” Gose says. “Portal users can also set up any necessary permission rights to keep company content consistent.”

Rolls-Royce pays a monthly service charge per device for the use of cellular broadband and for the Broadcast Portal.

To change the message on the 30 screens, Gose logs on to the Broadcast Portal, prepares a packet of information, uploads it, and then schedules it to appear on the screens. He can select one of seven different channels to manage content, create playlists, and schedule broadcasts. “Corporate communicators can get up to speed in 20 minutes. They don't have to spend days in expensive training,” Gose says.

RECEPTION TO THE TECHNOLOGY

Response to the new system from the employees as well as visitors to the facility has been positive. As Gose walks through the facility during the day, he sees workers glancing up at the screens on their way to the lobby or cafeteria. The screens also have a “wow” factor compared to the old CRT screens that broadcasted cable news, Gose says.

Kelsen agrees that the new LCD displays are a significant improvement from Rolls-Royce's previous AV technology. “They [had] an archaic system, and the signal was horrible throughout the factory,” he says. “Now that they have high-definition, crisp monitors, they're ahead of the game.”

Rolls-Royce continues to communicate with its employees through a variety of mediums, including newsletters and e-mail messages, but the cellular-based broadband digital screens are another way to communicate with the workers in the offices and on the shop floor. “It's one tool in their arsenal to communicate with employees,” Kelsen says. “You can't help but notice the displays in the workplace, and the employees are getting the message.”

Amy Florence Fischbach is an Overland Park, Kan.–based freelance writer. She can be reached at amyfischbach@gmail.com.



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