Going For Gold! Essex-based NES designs, manufactures and installs the largest lightpanel project in Europe

Essex-based NES holds a solid gold reputation as Europe’s leading specialist in LED flat panel lighting technology underpinned by a vigorous and almost legendary ‘Can-Do’ ethos. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the company has been involved in the creation of Westfield, Stratford City, Europe’s largest urban shopping mall, and the prestigious gateway to the Olympic Park.

Representing a £1.45bn investment in London, and creating 10,000 permanent new jobs from September this year, Westfield, Stratford City will be home to over 300 new brands, 50 eateries, a massive 14-screen cinema, the UK’s largest casino, three hotels, a bowling alley plus central events and entertainment spaces. Phew! In all, it’s a gigantic development that will witness over 70 per cent of all visitors to the 2012 London Olympics arriving at the games through its vast, shiny portals.

The brief to NES from Westfield’s in-house design team was to install two types of unique bulkhead feature panels to fit multi-level, internal areas of the central and northern arcades of this shopping and lifestyle pantheon.

“It’s been a really tremendous project for us,” said NES Director Jon Baker. “Naturally, we are experienced in handling high profile jobs – be it retail, business, regeneration, you name it.  Westfield, Stratford City allowed us to really utilise all our considerable expertise, knowledge and in-house skills. The government should love us, as we’re an example of doing everything British, we designed and manufactured all the hanging-systems, combined glazing systems, building cladding systems, and of course, the flat panel lighting which itself represents over three years of in-house R&D – and all this was done from our factory in Colchester over a 16 week period.”

bnFor this job, NES created a monumental brick-effect made-up of large flat bricks, slightly raised ones as well as fabricated blocks, which were fitted above Level 30, the top floor of the mall.

The brick effect comprises numerous aluminium composite material (ACM) panels that have been fabricated into three-dimensional cassettes approximately 3.2m wide by 1.3m high. Attached to wall brackets, and running to a continuous epic length of nearly 400m, every panel is different. Each features a diverse configuration of raised bricks and/or fabricated blocks – some lit, some not – held in place by means of an aluminium hanging system, designed to accommodate this huge, arresting and unusual installation.

The bricks and blocks sitting on top of the back panels are made from specially formulated polycarbonate – dense for the non-illuminated units and opalescent for the illuminated variety. Bricks and blocks are lit using NES’ in house manufactured LED lightpanels.

For the lower levels 25 and 20, glazed bulkheads and soffit panels were used. Here, galvanised steel (Zintec) back panels were fitted to galvanised steel angles and brackets.  These were then faced with annealed and laminated glass held in place by a bespoke ‘hook-on’ aluminium frame system – the ease of which was not only needed for installation but servicing too, as all lightpanels require to be demountable for maintenance after 40,000 hours (or 10, 000 flouros).  Far better than the fluorescent tubes that had been originally specified.

The lightpanels were designed to be a slim as possible – a staggering 50mm – which produced an even spread of illumination across the entire face of the glass. No other lighting technology, such as traditional fluorescent tubes or other LED lighting products, would have been able to achieve this at such a small depth.

Over half of the panels were individual in design – some being facetted, while others were even trapezoidal in shape.

“There was absolutely no available system on the market that could have accommodated all that we needed for this project,” says Jon Baker. “That being the case it meant that everything was designed tested and manufactured from scratch for this project. However, what is hugely significant here is that NES developed, designed and manufactured all the lightpanels at our factories in Colchester, which in total amounted to over 3,200 sq.m and covered a phenomenal area of 3km. We are the only UK manufacturer of lightpanels, and we produce the largest and the brightest in the market.”

As panel sizes ranged from 200mm to 1100mm deep, NES had to install a lighting control circuit to each panel at the manufacturing stage, setting each, so that the lux level of the panels was uniform throughout.

The panels have also been future-proofed so, for example, if Westfield management wish to programme the panels to illuminate to a pattern or have pulses of light running through them at a later stage, this would be possible, with the addition of appropriate software.

“We have invested heavily in flat screen lighting technology,” said NES Chairman, Tony Irwin, “and it’s been great to see how our efforts have paid off. The multi-level, illuminated balustrades for WSL are for the Guinness Book of Records as they represent the largest ever-light panel project in Europe. We are thoroughly delighted that such an important and prestigious development as Westfield chose us as their nominated supplier.”

The bulk of the work was installed over a rolling period of eight weeks, which also included sorting out any snagging issues. And the manufacturing and installation process ran concurrently throughout the project – a literal example of the just in time manufacturing model.

Initially, twelve staff were assigned to installation and fitting, but this soon climbed to 26. At its peak over 50 operatives were working 24 hours a day!

In order to install the brick effect panels at Level 30, the company used Mast Climbers, highly-specialist automated access equipment. Ten of these automated platforms were required, but, in true epic style, there was a shortage in the UK, so several had to be sourced from mainland Europe and bought in to complete the operation.

However, what will really have competitors stir uneasily in their seats is the fact that NES began fitting four-weeks later than scheduled, but still managed to complete the job, an impressive four weeks in advance!

“We were essentially given a three month install period but in real time managed to complete everything in just over eight weeks,” said Terry Nichols, NES Contracts Manager, and the man responsible for all installation.

“It was an extremely busy time with everyone working double shifts and us bringing in contract staff, but the fact is we got the job done before time, and we are delighted.”

“All the materials used have a long life span of between twenty to twenty-five years, and given that everything is maintained according to our maintenance manual, we fully expect that to be the case.”

“It’s been a great job from start to finish,” concludes Tony Irwin adding, “Westfield, Stratford City really does raise the East–End from a down-at-heel hinterland to a real contender that goes beyond the 2012 Olympic Games. This is regeneration at its most impressive, and from the NES point of view, we’re proud that such a key part of the interior look and feel of this 21st century temple has been made in Essex!”


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