Automated scene changes at Opera House

State-of-the-art automation system improves productivity at iconic Sydney theatre venue.

In theatre, timing is everything – both onstage and behind the scenes. That’s why the team at the Sydney Opera House has installed a brand new automation system that moves scenery on, off and around the stage, delivering seamless transitions from one scene to the next – on time, every time. 

The automation application was purpose-built for the Sydney Opera House
The automation application was purpose-built for the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House is one of the busiest tourist and cultural precincts in Australia, and the theatre component hosts just over 3,000 performances a year across five separate theatres. 

The new automation set-up allows stage hands to program-in scene changes for the multiple productions taking place at the venue, ensuring performances go on without a hitch. Using a programmable controller off-stage, operators can select which machines to engage in order to perform simple set exchanges right up to complex scenery sequences.

The application was purpose-built for the Sydney Opera House, by the team at State Automation – a Victorian company specialising in stage control systems for entertainment venues.

Central to the system is a variable-speed drive from global automation and robotics specialist ABB. In partnership with both State Automation and Sydney-based High Technology Control (HTC), ABB Australia’s engineers delivered the technology and application.

The system works by sending commands from the programmable controller to a central server, which has built-in back-up. The server is hooked-up to the ABB variable-speed drive, which is responsible for controlling the system’s motion, driving winches that move the scenery.

The ABB drive has the control required to move sets at different speeds, as well as the torque needed to lift heavy pieces. It also controls the system’s brakes, and is loaded with firmware that recognises brake faults and alarms, initiating emergency stops when required.

The system can move both small and large pieces of scenery, at either slow or high speeds, placing sets within 1mm of their required destination.The machinery moves quietly and smoothly, ensuring audiences are not disturbed during performances. Safety features are built-in, so scenery is kept in tip-top shape and cast and crew members are free from harm. 

With a packed program of events at the Sydney Opera House, the technology was delivered and installed between productions. 

There has been no downtime in the theatre due to failed equipment since the system was installed, and it has allowed greater productivity at the venue, with changeover from one production to the next now more fast and efficient. The system is easy to service and maintain. 


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