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The lightbulb moment

The lightbulb moment

~ New opportunities for architects and developers ~

The idea of a ‘lightbulb moment’ originates back to the early twentieth-century cartoon: Felix the Cat. With limited printing capabilities in the silent-film era, the illustrators cemented the concept of a light bulb as a new idea. Adam Fox, director of vibration control specialist Mason UK, explains the similar lightbulb moments architects and developers are having today, based on new vibration control capabilities.

Felix was the most popular cartoon character of the silent-film era, but of course, we’re no longer in this silent era of cinema. In fact, cinemas are a huge source of noise and building one takes a lot of planning and noise control. Architects or developers may have felt limited in their options previously, when starting projects like these. Well, luckily for them, their options are much greater than they may realise.

Let’s first explain the fundamental problems of vibration that all industries contend with. Vibration is a two-fold problem. Firstly, is the human element. Vibration can manifest itself as noise through many different pathways. For example, loud music can cause walls and ceiling to vibrate, and this energy in turn, re-radiates as audible noise as it causes the air particles to vibrate. The flat surfaces in essence, act as a speaker. Similarly, if someone drops a weight in the gym, or a train goes passed a nearby building, structural vibration can manifest as thuds and rumbles. Remember, this energy has to go somewhere. This problem is exacerbated by the trend for hard surfaces on floors and walls, which means fewer soft furnishings and details to absorb and diffuse noise.

The second vibration-causing problem is process disruption. In some manufacturing processes, someone closing a door two floors below is enough to spoil a high-resolution process such as semiconductor manufacturing. Vibration is the enemy and the cost of discarding a semiconductor chip is extreme, which is why businesses make the investment to isolate the sensitive equipment involved.

Similar is true of electron microscope applications in scientific research facilities and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines in hospitals, which are also very sensitive to vibration. Buildings that contain these devices must be thought out very carefully.

Now here is the lightbulb moment: Developers and architects may not be aware of how far you can push vibration isolation with the right experts on board. A derelict car park by a train station may have previously been written off as a potential development location, when in fact there are ways to isolate a building from the train vibration and prevent the inhabitants from being disturbed by noise.

Strategies include installing isolating elements between floors, walls, ceilings or even foundations to break the transmission path and absorb vibration before it dissipates into nuisance noise. Similarly, locally isolating specific sensitive equipment is an effective solution for many sectors.

These vibration-fixes mean you can build high-grade accommodation on previously undesirable areas, such as close to a railway line. Gyms can be installed in disused office spaces. You will need the right vibration control specialists working on the project, skilled and experienced specialists as every project is different, there is no ‘one fits all’ answer. It’s also important to ask, ‘will these products built into the structure last for the lifespan of the building?’ rather than solely asking ‘which is cheaper?’. Quality engineering is vital to save future cost.

Structural engineers may not know how to write an isolation specification, or what is a reasonable expectation for longevity. Here lies a second lightbulb moment: you can specify the lifespan of the parts going into acoustic projects.

This lightbulb moment hasn’t been the result of new products or materials, but rather years of experience gained in the industry, taking on new and challenging projects. We understand a lot more about the dynamics of impact, through our own research and years in the field. Mason products last.

There are likely to have been projects turned down because of vibration problems in the past, which today, could be viable. For example, plans for a swimming pool in a building may have been omitted, when in fact, it could be effectively isolated. Make sure to engage with the acoustic consultant early in the process, to solve these engineering challenges quickly.

Developers and architects have many more options today than they had a decade ago. It is important not to rule out options because you think it ‘isn’t possible’, without knowing the full extent of vibration control options. Feeling enlightened by these lightbulb moments? Visit mason-uk.co.uk for more information.