Below is an interview LCA’s education director, Craig DiLouie, conducted with Mick Wilcox, Vice President of Strategic Marketing, Acuity Brands on the topic of lighting and and the Internet of Things.
DiLouie: How do you see lighting fitting into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?
Wilcox: Lighting, once relegated to a service, is rising to an advanced building communication infrastructure used for far more than what it was originally intended. As the industrial lighting business moves decidedly towards digital LED-based solutions, there is a strong case building for the lighting system to serve as a major component of an IIoT scheme. LED lighting systems address key IIOT concerns on practically every front:
• By using an existing lighting array, IoT functionality can be added by a simple driver upgrade.
• Overhead lighting systems are ubiquitous in a facility layout, and organized spatially in a fixed manner that is optimal for both wired and wireless networking. The fixed location is also ideal for applications such as indoor positioning and heat mapping.
• The controllers that run the systems are networked – either via wired or wireless networks.
• The system is powered and always-on, capable of powering IoT devices – so no batteries or extra wiring are required.
• Each fixture can be easily outfitted with smart sensors that capture specific data and feed it to a backend computing platform.
DiLouie: With intelligent lighting control, one could argue the Internet of Lighting is already here. How do you see lighting control fitting into the IIoT?
Wilcox: I completely agree that with M2M communications and lighting controls, industrial IoT is already being implemented, tested and proving its worth every day. So I see lighting control fitting quite well into IIoT.
Today, the popular industrial sensor applications are passive-infrared occupancy and photo sensors that create a more efficient work environment by turning lights off when space is unoccupied. Networked controllers are software-driven, enabling remote monitoring, configuration, rezoning, task tuning, systems alerts and energy reporting. The command center for the lighting and sensor operation is in the controller – so adding new intelligent capabilities typically only requires a device upgrade.
Further, lighting controls play a key role in IIoT planning in two ways:
• Communications – when the lighting control is networked, that same network infrastructure can be used as the data backhaul for the IIoT, eliminating the need to install a separate data network.
• Modern lighting controls devices have upgradeable firmware to allow the field software to be upgraded for the applications that we have not yet considered.
DiLouie: What capabilities and benefits will lighting-IIoT integration present that go beyond the capabilities and benefits of today’s advanced lighting control systems?
Wilcox: There are interesting near-term developments that further integrate the LED lighting system into building automation platforms. In the very near future, sensors in the lighting system will interact with HVAC, access, smoke and fire control and other building management systems controlled and managed from a single system. These solutions are being developed with open architectures to streamline customization and interoperability with legacy and new systems.
New IoT platforms will include LED-based indoor positioning. This system uses Visual Light Communications (VLC) and other embedded beacon technologies to track people, equipment and inventory as it moves through the facility. Lighting-based indoor positioning also enables GPS-style “blue dot” mapping of a facility to guide workers directly to a location, system or item.
The icing on the cake is return on investment. LED lighting is unlike any other IT or OT technology in that it is a future-proofed platform that pays for itself. LEDs are up to 70 percent more energy efficient than traditional lighting, so there is immediate, significant energy cost reduction. LED systems are long lasting and require minimal maintenance, so both capital and operational costs are contained. And, as I mentioned previously, upgrading feature and functionality is streamlined through component swaps, as opposed to costly system overhauls.
DiLouie: Not all buildings will require extensive data collection beyond lighting, HVAC and occupancy. Will the IIoT be scalable? Who will own these different levels in terms of collecting and presenting information?
Wilcox: IIoT solutions and deployments will be scalable because customers will require flexibility and a rational evolution path. IIoT, like lighting, will never be a one-size-fits all proposition. The best way to look at ownership of the solution is to understand the operational and business outcomes you want to drive; determine what IIoT applications are required to achieve those outcomes, then find the technology solution that will best support the application at the lowest overall cost of ownership. We think LED lighting offers considerable benefits both as a component and a hub of an IIoT topology.
DiLouie: What role will lighting control manufacturers, who already offer management and analysis software, play in IIoT integration? Will they work with or compete with tech giants interested in the IIoT market?
Wilcox: I can’t speak for other manufacturers, but Acuity Brands will play a significant role. As I mentioned previously, the networked controller serves as the command center for the lighting and sensor operation in the solution –so any IIoT scheme that integrates the lighting system will need to interact intimately with the controller.
Like most evolving technology ecosystems, we see the IIoT solutions marketplace driven by “coopetition.” We will both continue to work with other tech solutions providers, leveraging our core competencies in digital lighting systems; and compete with them when we believe we have a superior solution to offer. The good news is that we think there is ample opportunity for lots of players to collaborate. It will definitely be a dynamic ecosystem.
DiLouie: What do electrical contractors need to know today about the IIoT and how it might affect their business?
Wilcox: First, they need to understand that the technology evolution of the IIoT is moving faster than manufacturing stakeholders can evaluate solutions and integrate them into their technology plans. As such, there is an opportunity to become a valued advisor to the customer, and to grow the consultative side of the business. They should champion the rational approach to designing, implementing and executing IIoT schemes. It would also be wise to work with partners that simplify the implementation of the solution vs. make it more complex.
DiLouie: What are lighting and control manufacturers doing right now to prepare for and ideally play a part in the IIoT?
Wilcox: Acuity Brands is embracing the vision of a connected, intelligent digital ecosystem for factories and warehouses, where data sharing is seamless between machines and other physical systems. Today, we are actively selling and supporting intelligent lighting systems with key sensor capabilities. We are also moving aggressively to integrate facility automation controls technologies into the lighting schemes. We’ve built an impressive IoT technology stack that leverages a number of tech partners and can be engineered to serve multiple vertical sectors. We expect to be offering industrial applications based on this framework in the near future. We’re staying true to the idea of a rational approach.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about the IIoT, what would it be?
Wilcox: Don’t be overly romanced by IIoT possibilities – take a strategic, rational approach that addresses immediate, near and long term opportunities.
DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?
Wilcox: It’s an exciting time to be in the industrial lighting space. We’re excited to see where we can take digital lighting as it becomes a key component of the IIoT.