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The Value Of Maintenance To Keep Mixing Consoles In Prime Condition

Preventive maintenance on consoles, cases and connections is all about making sure gear operates safely, correctly and without problems.

By Craig Leerman May 8, 2017

Compressed air can come in handy in the console cleaning process. (Credit: Alex Welti)

The hub of virtually every production audio system is the console, providing the routing and mixing capabilities for the show. That’s a lot of responsibility, and means that consoles need to be kept in proper working condition.

It’s why I recommend doing preventive maintenance (PM) on consoles quarterly for those that are working regularly, and at least twice a year for ones that aren’t as busy. No matter if a desk is analog or digital, large frame or compact, it requires steady attention.

PM, which I’ve talked about quite a bit over the years, is planned upkeep of equipment that can include – but is not limited to – inspection, cleaning, lubrication, repairs, adjustments, and replacement of parts to extend the lifecycle and keep the item in good working condition.

PM is all about making sure gear operates safely, correctly and without problems.

The type and amount of PM required can vary greatly. For example, a factor to take into account is the environmental conditions a console has been exposed to. One that’s been used at outdoor events that are both hot and dusty should have more PM scheduled than one used indoors at corporate events in air conditioned ballrooms.

Newer consoles can get by with less attention than older ones, but only to a point. A good way for new equipment to age before it’s time is to ignore PM, and that not only jeopardizes performance at shows but overall return on investment.

Keep current on the latest firmware, software and app updates with digital boards.

In my company, we often pull a piece of gear that has been subjected to harsh conditions like dust or rain and give it an unscheduled PM session before placing it back in working status. We maintain a file on every piece of gear that includes the user manual, maintenance schedule and any notes (like parts numbers for air filters) that can help make the job easier. Our PM schedule is flexible and performed in the downtime between gigs.

It’s important to establish a PM program with proper guidelines and instructions on how much time and attention each piece of gear requires. Also understand that different manufacturers may have varied maintenance requirements for similar types of equipment.

Getting Started

The PM process with consoles at my company begins with a thorough surface cleaning. Dust and dirt can be removed with a vacuum as well as a dry cloth or soft-bristled brush (i.e., a paint brush). Compressed air in a “duster” can or from a compressor can also be deployed to blow away dust. However, make sure if using a compressor that it’s of the oil-free variety so it’s not spraying a light film of oil on the console.

We employ a small oil-free air brush compressor. It takes up little space on the repair bench and has enough power to blow out the dirt and grime our gear collects.

It’s not usually necessary to open up a console to clean it unless it’s been subjected to extreme conditions (like outside in a dust storm), and also be aware that opening up some electronic equipment may void the warranty, so only do it if there’s a known and good reason to do so. That said, if a console is opened, the dirt inside can be blown out or vacuumed just as with the surface/exterior.

Also, take the time to check the seating of any internal connections, especially ribbon connectors (wide plastic connectors with flat multi-colored cables called ribbons) because they can work their way loose over time. Note: Never open up a piece of electronic gear that is plugged in.
Follow manufacturer recommendations on cleaning console display screens because some chemicals (even mild glass cleaners) may damage the surface. Check all ventilation holes and vacuum out the dust. Clean or replace any air filters per manufacturer instructions.

Board and gaff tape residue can be removed with a cleaner like Simple Green. If that doesn’t work, step up to a citrus-based solution like Goo Gone. Be sure to read the directions and warnings on the labels of cleaning fluids.

Continuing The Process

Give the console an overall evaluation, looking for damage, and make sure any onboard option cards are installed correctly. If no cards are in use, check that the covers are still securely in place. Address any loose screws, including on the bottom and rack mount rail attachments (if any). Replace any missing ones.

Don’t overlook rear panel connectors and card slots in the PM process.

Next, check all the connectors to see if they’re loose or broken, or are on their way to that status. A small soft-bristled brush and a vacuum work wonders for getting dirt and dust out of connectors. Cotton swabs are also great for getting dirt out of small areas.

Electronic connectors can be cleaned with a contact cleaner like CAIG DeoxIT. Fiber optic connectors should only be cleaned with items made specifically for fiber components, such as products from Sticklers, TechSpray and Chemtronics. Read and follow the directions and the warning labels on all cleaning products.

Faders on analog consoles can be addressed by blowing clean air into the fader slots. Move each fader to one end and blow air into the slot, aiming away from the fader handle so that dust can escape through the slot. Then move the handle to the opposite end and blow air aiming the opposite way.

Get all dust and dirt out before using a contact cleaner or lubricant, or else the chemicals might mix with the dust and gunk and turn into a sticky mess. At my shop, we use DeoxIT fader spray, working the fader back and forth a few times to get all surfaces wet with the cleaner. Also, let the faders dry before plugging in and powering up the console. With digital consoles, clean the faders per manufacturer instructions.

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About Craig

Craig Leerman
Craig Leerman

Senior Contributing Editor, ProSoundWeb & Live Sound International
Craig has worked in a wide range of roles in professional audio for more than 30 years in a dynamic career that encompasses touring, theater, live televised broadcast events and even concerts at the White House. Currently he owns and operates Tech Works, a regional production company that focuses on corporate events based in Reno.

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