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Engineering "visualization room" called best in nation

Case builds "fantastic tool" for engineering meetings

Its hard tile floor and dual multiscan projectors tell the story: this is a room for engineers, not board members, built for pounding out ideas, not for delivering finished presentations to VIPs.

Yet its innovation and power led the editors of Presentations and Training magazines to choose the room and its a/v system as a winner of one of their joint "Best Presentation Rooms" awards for 1996, published in both magazines’ May issues.

This cutting-edge facility has much of the feel of the Case Technology Center that houses it. An unobtrusive building blending in with the factories of Chicago’s western suburban technology corridor, the Center is the heart of the firm’s new product development. This is the place where all new Case agricultural and construction equipment is developed, from concept to prototype. And this is a place where a new meeting facility must be able to handle the subtleties of a CAD drawing as well as the dirt and grime coming from the Center’s nearby metal and wood shops; the impact of a pc-based multimedia presentation as well as the impact of a prototype tractor or backhoe driven into the room for a hands-on demonstration.

The need for the facility

The original concept behind the meeting room project, according to Dennis Huey, the Case engineer most involved in its a/v system’s planning, was to create "a visualization room." It would be a place where large groups of engineers could get together and discuss a project or problem while looking at CAD drawings. "When you’re having a project meeting," says Huey, "normally you’ve got a group of guys around a table, and they’ll look at a drawing and spread out a bill of material, a spec sheet, and some detail drawings. They’ll be looking at two or three things at one time when they have to make a decision."

The problem Case had was how to spread out those two or three drawings, when the group needing to look at them was growing ever larger. The Technology Center employs 600 people, nearly all engineers. "We had a cost center managers meeting Friday," says Huey. "We had seating for 80." There are weekly and monthly product review meetings, product planning meetings, and other engineering meetings where groups of 20 to 100 people are the norm. The solution Case found, with the help of United Visual, was to install two high-resolution Sony projectors side by side and project those drawings large enough for all to see. Of course, the capacity they gained goes beyond spreading drawings on a table. "They had a 3D drawing up there last week," continues Huey, "rotating, moving into the parts assemblies, while on the other screen the presenter had a PowerPoint presentation going, explaining the drawing that everyone was viewing."

Visualization was not, however, to be the only purpose of the room. Case needed as flexible a space as possible. "We can bring marketing people in, customers in, and other Case employees in," says Huey. While the room was built primarily for engineering meetings, "we bring dealers, and sometimes their customers, into the building to introduce them to new concepts. We also do a lot of in-house tours for our own employees who have never been to this location."

"The space is large enough," says Huey, "that we can bring product into the room while projecting video or a PowerPoint presentation, as well as CAD drawings." The photos here show the room set up for Microsoft Project training on PCs, but staff are accustomed to moving tables, chairs and equipment in and out of the room as needed. A movable wall can double the room’s normal 50’ X 40’ dimensions for larger meetings, breakouts, or to accommodate a tractor or two.

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The planning process

The Technology Center’s meeting room has been in use for many years, but until this winter had no permanently installed systems. "We began using it as a training area maybe 15 years ago," says Huey, " but it was very crude. At that time it was just brick walls in there and bare I-beams. We rented projection systems, but we never really thought we could justify the cost of putting in our own." That feeling changed as management began to realize the productivity gains that could be made with the dual projection system.

Once the decision was made to go forward, a large number of Case employees began offering ideas and suggestions. Tammy Bonnell, Facilities Project Manager at Case, did most of the engineering, working closely with United’s Rick Nelson. The work itself went rapidly–the room was closed for just two months for installation of new walls, ceilings, lighting, HVAC, and of course the a/v systems. Case staff give United high marks for their work during this critical time. "What we’ll do," says Huey, "is develop a relationship with a vendor and work with him over a long time frame. Rick has always been good to us, especially with this installation. He’s always there when we need him."

The first meeting was held January 19, with painters’ tarps and ladders as a backdrop.

The award

The final result is stunning. The room has a very clean, spacious feel and is extremely flexible. Though the decor is austere, the acoustics are clear, thanks to a soft fabric treatment on the walls. A control center in the back makes it easy for a staff member to bring up drawings or visuals at the presenter’s request, but a presenter can run all a/v, lighting and sound functions from the front of the room as well.

This functionality, and the uniqueness of the design, is what convinced the Presentations and Training editors to choose the facility as one of the nation’s ten best for 1996.

"You can just imagine," comments Huey, "how our engineers and trainers would react to something like this. The room is a fantastic tool for anyone trying to run a meeting."