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ADB logoADB: The Art of Light

Art is Long ...

Founded in 1920 by Mr Adrien de Backer, ADB began its life as a manufacturer of electrical equipment for laboratories. Professor Picard, the first man to make a balloon trip into the stratosphere, was one of the company's first customers.

In 1925, ADB expanded its range of products, applying rheostats to the dimming of light in theatres, music halls and cinemas. The company was, notably, responsible for producing the first light dimmer for the theatre at Malines: this equipment served for over forty years and is now considered as a museum piece.

In 1932, production of variable autotransformers commenced, under the name "Rheotor ADB". ADB remained for many years the sole Belgian manufacturer of this internationally known equipment. Later on, from 1938, various types of spotlights were added to the manufacturing program, facilitating specialised customers to acquire a complete system for controlling stage lighting intensity.

This technological experience in lighting and electrical regulation led ADB to diversify into the design and manufacture of aviation lighting systems. In 1949, Grimbergen airport inaugurated an ADB runway lighting system; several decades on, this activity has grown to encompass the world.

As member of the Siemens group since 1987, ADB is a key international player in the lighting of theatres, cinemas and television studios, and world leader in aviation lighting systems. The ADB group spans the world, both through its subsidiaries, production units and research and development centres in Belgium, France, Germany and the United States, and through professional agents in more than 100 countries. The group employs over 500 people, more than half of them in Belgium, home to the parent company.

A Belgian welcome to a foreign land

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have just landed at ..."
The traditional announcement, accompanied by the long line of runway lights flashing beneath the wings of the aircraft - even for the layman, the sequence appears clear and precise: white lights first, sometimes switching to yellow, changing to blue once the plane has left the runway, interrupted by a long ribbon of green lights at the centre of a taxiway.

All these lights seem to be ablaze in a ritual of greeting. And very often, this welcome is testimony to ADB technology. It all started in 1949, when Adrien de Backer, at the time a specialist in theatre and outdoor lighting, took up the challenge of providing runway lighting for the aerodrome at Grimbergen. His pioneering work grew into a speciality for which ADB is renowned worldwide.

Because of the special nature of this activity, once the aviation lighting division had taken off, ADB turned to concentrate on exports, and today 95% of the company's annual turnover comes from exporting. The company's strategy is based on the supply of complete aviation lighting systems (both inset and elevated lights, constant current regulators, microprocessor-driven remote control desks incorporating programmable controllers, etc) which conform to international standards, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or indeed NATO for airbases (STANAG standards).

Over the years, ADB's experience in this field has grown - and its expertise covers all aspects of aviation lighting from development and manufacture through to sales - characterised by a high degree of vertical integration. A whole range of services exists to back up this 'industrialisation': product development, product marketing, specialised training of customers on-site and within the company, dispatch direct to the customer, supervision of installations, after-sales service, and so on ...

Maintaining close contacts with the international market, ADB has three subsidiaries, including one in the United States with production facilities, and a network of about sixty agents worldwide. Furthermore the integration of ADB into the Siemens group has been expanding since 1987, thanks to local Siemens representatives.

The worldwide list of ADB references, featuring more than 750 installations in over 100 countries throughout the world, speaks on its own.

Partner of theatre and television professionals

Very long experience with lighting, coupled with an extensive range of high-quality products and services, has helped to make ADB the partner of choice for professionals in the entertainment world in general and theatre and television in particular.

This is especially the case in Belgium, where, since 1968, ADB has been entrusted with the production of lighting installations for all the state television studios. A typical studio installation contains around 300 tv spotlights of 1, 2 and 5kW and also an assortment of conventional luminaires, 48 remote-controlled hoists, 180 digital dimmers of 2.5 and 5kW in 6 cabinets, controlled remotely from a control desk with a computer at its heart.

ADB is particularly at home with ready-to-run projects. For each individual case, in close collaboration with the customer and his architects, set designers or consultants, ADB proposes the solution best-suited to the specific needs of the user.

ADB is thus able to count among its customers not only the most prestigious theatres, but also the state and private television networks of over 50 countries who have entrusted it with the design and production of lighting for their stages and studios.

Synergy ...

Synergy is a word often on the lips of ADB's managers.
It is true that, for the layman, the connection between the aviation lighting systems and the set lighting of a theatre or television studio is not easy to see.

But this dichotomy is only skin-deep: in terms both of research & development and production, the methods and manufacturing processes employed are very similar, particularly since the introduction of electronic and computer technology in both sectors.

Synergy also exists between the various units in the group. Thus the need for rationalisation prompted the ADB management to switch part of its Brussels production to the French factory at Saint-Quentin, while at the same time part of the production previously taking place at the Siemens plant in Munich was moved to the Belgian company. This distribution of labour is clearly a direct result of the gradual integration of ADB into Siemens.

Incidentally, a number of ADB's major contracts were certainly secured thanks to the wide international Siemens network. But despite of this synergy at every level - aviation lighting and stage lighting - each one has its own distinct market. Consequently, ADB deals only with a fairly small number of potential aviation customers and authorities.

The situation is quite different in the field of lighting systems for theatres and television studios. The clientele here is much broader, end especially more diverse. Besides public bodies, most often local or decentralised, they include an increasing number of private companies.

Marc Charlet

See also:

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