The Show Must Go On: RTA Keeps the Bellagio Fountains Running

The Bellagio Hotel and Casino – modeled on the opulent Lake Como Resort in Bellagio, Italy, and known as the pinnacle of luxury in Las Vegas – had a big problem and a small budget with which to fix it. The Vegas landmark’s 200 fountains, drawing crowds from around the world for its spectacular water and light show, was hitting a technical glitch. Some of its automation parts – motor drives installed 11 years before – had become obsolete, no longer for sale or even available on secondary markets.

The drives were used to control 220 pump houses (known as the Oarsman) at the heart of the fountains, located at the bottom of an eight-acre lake. More than 1,200 streams of water were pumped through the fountains, some sending water as high as 460 feet in the air. The fountains are literally an oasis in the desert; fed by a well once used to water the old Dunes golf course formerly on the grounds of the Bellagio Hotel, the fountains use about 10 percent of the water the golf course once used.

Big stakes and a small budget

Despite being a superstar attraction in town, the Bellagio Hotel had a small budget to fix its fountains, due to the recession of 2008 that sucker-punched global tourism. If the equipment couldn’t be fixed, the show would not go on… Would Vegas still be Vegas with still waters at the Bellagio?

Engineers at the Bellagio Hotel had spent years scouring the world to buy up all the old drives they could find, and then the supply ran completely dry. But the possibility of simply replacing the drives with a more current type of drive was quickly discarded. Any other drive would have a different communication protocol, requiring major changes to the water show hardware and/or software system. That would have been risky and costly since extensive time and testing would be needed. Plus there needed to be some kind of mechanism with which to phase in a few drives at a time.

Enter Real Time Automation as supplier and solution partner, who proposed customizing one of RTA’s gateways to emulate the defunct drives. As a result, none of the water show’s control software or hardware would require modifications! The solution spoke Modbus RTU over an RS232 port to a Rockwell Automation POWERFLEX drive, while communicating with the legacy water fountain control system using the proprietary serial protocol of the former drive. The gateway module made the POWERFLEX drive appear to be the old, outdated drive, allowing seamless and efficient integration – a true plug-and-play replacement solution.

Emulating drives with true plug-and-play

Using this module, the Bellagio solution was delivered within days, and functioned nearly perfectly during commissioning and dry testing on land. The custom protocol and logic for the drive was added directly on top of already established and tested Modbus RTU code. This led to a much shorter testing period and very rapid advancement from beta to production.

Once testing was completed on land, the solution had to perform well underwater. Installation in this environment was a daunting task that took three days. Divers plunged to the bottom of Lake Bellagio and disconnected the Oarsman platform from its power and network connections. Then a small crane was floated out over the Oarsman, and the 15-foot-high structure was lifted out of the water and onto a raft. The platform was given 24 hours to dry inside the hotel’s equipment facility. Once dry, the drive solution was installed and tested; finally, the unit was sealed, moved back, lowered into the lake, and connected to power and the show controller.

With Bellagio fountain shows occurring as often as every 15 minutes around the clock, one day of testing confirmed that the solution saved the dancing waters from extinction. Think of that the next time you’re whistling Viva Las Vegas and planning your next trip to Sin City!

Bellagio Image copy

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