AtlasIED & Pentegra Team Up in Chicago O’Hare Airport

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Part 1 of 3: Pentegra's David Injeski and Daniel McGlathery join AtlasIED's Justin Young and Gina Sansivero to discuss the challenges associated with taking on complex IT/IP projects and the role of communications and trust in completing projects successfully.

When Chicago O’Hare wanted to update the airport’s public address system, this massive undertaking required future-forward knowledge and expertise, especially within the IT/IP space. To help, AtlasIED partnered with Pentegra to design and execute the complex project.

Pentegra was challenged with the goal of integrating convergent technologies based on networking technology.

“The diverse background as well as the broad knowledge base that all of the people not only but the varying departments now which include audio, video, data, telecom, and security are all supported by that core group of which Dan is responsible for now – the data networking engineers,” said Injeski.

In fact, it was Pentegra’s core competencies in the IT/IP space that attracted AtlasIED in the first place, since most of their traditional certified technology integrators (CTIs) lacked this expertise.

Young spoke on the complexity of moving, “from the existing public address system that was installed to this network-centric, IP-centric technologies that we’re going with… a lot of our core dealers and integrators that we work with are more of the traditional Pro/AV guys who are starting to dip their toe into the IP-based technologies.”

Young also noted that they were used to being the SMEs (subject matter experts) and often the driving force on a project. However, in this partnership, Pentegra was the SME and they “really challenged us and really helped us shift our mindset” as they worked together to tackle this project.

AtlasIED had to rely on Pentegra’s expertise and guidance. Communication and trust became paramount to the success of the project as well as the blossoming partnership. 

Part 2 of 3: The discussion continues on to the challenges associated with installing a PON system while keeping the legacy PA system fully operational.

The importance of keeping a legacy system running when transitioning to a completely new platform cannot be overstated. This is especially true when replacing a PA system in an airport. The idea of a PA system failure at O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest international airports, is the stuff nightmares and horror films are made of.

O’Hare International Airport “saw more than 54 million passengers in 2021” according to NBC Chicago ranking it the 4th busiest airport in the world. The AtlasIED and Pentegra partnership to replace the legacy PA system which was initially installed in 1988, was high-profile to say the least. The work simply could not disrupt airport operations.

Injeski commented on the mandate to complete the PA installation while keeping the legacy system operation until the new system was ready to go live. “Keeping the existing system running until we had the new system built and were ready to switch over to it presented a whole other level of logistic problems. Again, as a partnership, everybody shined through this whole process and we really came out, in the end, looking really, really good to the end users,” noted Injeski.

What makes this accomplishment even more noteworthy was the use of a PON (passive optical network) which was completely new and hugely innovative for AtlasIED. PON is “one large network switch that can encompass an entire campus,” explained McGlathery.

McGarthery continued his explanation to explain the simplicity and complexity of how a PON system works. In collaboration with AtlasIED and a variety of contractors, the team installed a PON system and fed fiber out to every terminal. Once that was complete, they extended the fiber from the terminal to every gate so that the system functions as one large network.

“It also gives you a central point of management so if there is something going wrong, or an issue with the network in Terminal 5 and I’m over in Terminal 1, I’ve got one place to go. “It’s one PON system. I can go into that PON system and I can look at those ports in Terminal 5 and see what’s going on. It’s not having to jump into different switches or follow paths throughout the network… it is one switch for the entire airport. It makes management very easy,” McGarthery said.

Using a PON system did not come without its challenges but ultimately, it was the best choice for meeting O’Hare’s project requirements. Listen in to hear how the team came to this decision and the bumps and bruises they experienced along the path to success. 

Part 3 of 3: AtlasIED and Pentegra teams speak about how collaboration enables partners to tackle unique challenges, find innovative solutions, and learn throughout the process to meet evolving client needs.

Long, complex projects require expertise, patience, resilience, and tenacity to get the job done. This is especially true when the project involves using advanced technology and customized equipment.

Despite working on airport projects for about 40 years, there were a lot of firsts for AtlasIED in this O’Hare story, including the creation of a completely new digital mike station. Young spoke to the challenges of creating custom engineering builds in this space noting that 5-10% of every project requires work specific to the individual airports.

“And that’s where AtlasIED sets itself apart because we live in that space,” Young said. “That’s where we have made our name over the years, and it’s one of the things we wear as a badge of honor is being able to take that last 5, 10% and be able to tailor a specific solution to each and every customer.”

In addition to custom requirements, solutions need to be scalable. This is especially true of O’Hare’s requirements as they have big plans of expanding over time to include the development of a new international terminal. With the first stage of the project completed, the guests discussed the challenges of these innovative and future-forward projects.

“There’s a reason that only a select few are doing this sort of thing because it can be really challenging,” Injeski said. “You have to be fearless at times, and you have to be willing to take chances knowing that you can eventually solve the problem. And you’re going to take some hits along the way. You’re going to make mistakes.”

Everyone agrees that the challenges are real. So are the rewards. How partners work together and solve problems along the way is a massive indicator of future success. McGlathery reflected on how AtlasIED enables Pentegra to be a great partner for O’Hare in maintaining its new PA system.

“A lot of the items are simple fixes, and we’ll just go out and take care of them,” McGlathery said. “But there is a lot of stuff that is a little more advanced, and we need support with. When I’m on site, I’ll just put a call into AtlasIED, and they’ve got a group of staff that are there and ready to answer the phone calls. They’re experts and they can jump in and take a look. With me onsite and them remote, we can pretty much troubleshoot anything.” This is in addition to scheduled maintenance and tests to ensure systems and equipment are running properly.

“There is a partnership there where we do some of it, they do some of it, but we’re always working together on it. It’s a team effort, and the support from the factory is superb, and they’ve really shined and given us the support we need to keep it up,” McGlathery said. 

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