Below is a transcript of an interview Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP conducted with Gary Trott, Vice President, Marketing, Intelligent Lighting, Cree, Inc. for an article developed for tED Magazine. The topic: luminaire-integrated lighting controls.
DiLouie: What types of luminaire-integrated controls are available for LED lighting?
Trott: As smart technology continues to expand into our workspaces, homes and cities, our expectations for truly intelligent systems and products also grow. Cree, recognizing this trend early on, launched SmartCast® Technology, an intuitively simple lighting solution with integrated luminaire controls, offering customizable spaces for occupants. This technology, along with other luminaire-integrated controls, can be found in an array of products including downlights, troffers and suspended architectural lights.
Not all products on the market are offered with luminaire integrated controls. For those products without controls, Cree offers the Wireless 0-10V Interface, which allows non-integrated lights to be integrated into the system and act like integrated lights.
DiLouie: What does it mean when the lighting controller is embedded in luminaires in a space? How does this differ with traditional and centralized-intelligence control approaches? What capabilities become possible, what advantages and disadvantages?
Trott: To embed the lighting controls in a luminaire is to have the sensors, electronics and software all in one place. By embedding the sensors and controllers in the light, you greatly reduce complexity and make it easier to design, install, and commission. You eliminate the extra boxes, wires, and sensors that traditional, complicated lighting control systems typically have.
Traditional lighting controls are typically more difficult and time-consuming to implement, as set-up is riddled with the complexities of added cables and boxes. Cree is eliminating these barriers to drive adoption by creating intelligent lighting that is intuitive, economical and delivers better light.
It’s the manufacturer’s obligation to rid the customers of any complexities or disadvantages they may face by producing the best technology that works with intuitive simplicity.
DiLouie: How would you characterize the trend of miniaturization in lighting controllers and sensors making luminaire integration possible?
Trott: Years ago, Cree recognized that the continued reduction in cost of sensors, connectivity, and computing power would make it possible to implement luminaire integrated controls cost effectively. This and the drive to disrupt lighting controls were the impetus in creating SmartCast Technology.
Taking it a step further and with the implementation of more technology, Cree introduced SmartCast Power over Ethernet (PoE) Technology, an intuitively simple, scalable and open platform that enables the Internet of Things (IoT) for buildings through better light. Cree’s series of SmartCast-enabled LED lights, light switches and dimmers operate with Cisco’s standards-based PoE-powered network architecture.
As the trend of miniaturization and cost reduction of sensors and compute continues, the types of applications beyond light that can make buildings and people more productive are only limited by the imagination.
DiLouie: There are many types of approaches to configuring and optimizing control systems featuring luminaires with integrated sensors and controllers. How would you generally categorize them, and which categories are most common? Which approach does you company favor?
Trott: Generally, there are two approaches: Manual and automatic. The manual, and often typical, set-up for control systems requires a fixture-by-fixture configuration process. This time consuming process requires an individual to touch every light and adjust to their preference.
The automatic one button setup process of SmartCast Technology allows users to commission up to 250 devices with wireless or up to 1,000 with PoE. This process also allows for automatic grouping of devices, automatic daylight calibration, and saves installers untold time and money. This automated process allows systems to be up in running in minutes not days.
DiLouie: What are ideal applications for luminaire-embedded controls?
Trott: Any building with a roof can benefit from luminaire-embedded controls. We are seeing the greatest adoption within office spaces, educational facilities and healthcare. Cree has a significant installed base of luminaire embedded controls installed in facilities throughout North America.
DiLouie: The DLC now has a Qualified Products List for Networked Lighting Controls. What impact do you see the QPL having on demand for networked lighting controls?
Trott: The DLC’s qualified products list sets a standard of minimum performance and quality that will drive manufacturers to produce better products. Having this QPL will help utilities create and administer rebate programs that can drive significant demand.
For the distributor, this standard helps increase customer satisfaction and growth by further validating the products recommended, given QPL program’s status as a reputable resource in the industry.
DiLouie: Why should electrical distributors recommend and select these systems? If luminaires and controls are integrated in a single package from a single manufacturer, are there advantages to ease of doing business?
Trott: There are several advantages to selecting integrated controls from a single manufacturer. First, the simplicity of the approach makes it possible to stock intelligent light control products. Distributors don’t need to keep a collection of sensors, power packs, and other controls components. With SmartCast, distributors can offer a control platform by selling lights and switches. This simplicity enables anyone to sell lighting controls, not just a lighting control specialist.
Furthermore, the SmartCast CR Troffers, with color-changing technology, allow distributors to stock even fewer troffers because this one troffer offers multiple color temperatures from 3000-5000K. This has the capability to cut the number of SKU’s from five to one.
DiLouie: What challenges exist for electrical distributors to properly recommend and select these systems? How can they mitigate these challenges?
Trott: With new products and technologies constantly shifting, it can also be difficult to stay apprised on all the lighting offers and their capabilities. Distributors can mitigate this challenge by working with a company that will provide helpful training materials, such as deployment guides and how-to videos, as well as sales materials that help customers become familiar with the products and installation processes.
DiLouie: What protocols are popular for these systems, and how can distributors navigate the sometimes-confusing choices, particularly on the wireless side?
Trott: The most popular foundational protocol is ZigBee. However, each manufacturer has their own technology stack that really means there are a variety of ZigBee protocols that are not interoperable.
Given the complexity around this, we recommend that distributors focus less on how the technologies are connected and what protocols are in place, and focus more on how simple, reliable, and effective the platform is. Find a platform that works and satisfies your customers are run with it.
DiLouie: In one sense, the equipment is only as good as the software used to configure and manage it. What types of software are available, and what should distributors look for to identify the right software?
Trott: Software and firmware are the heart and soul of an intelligent light system. Distributors should seek companies that offer software and firmware solutions that are simple and intuitive. Look for modern and simple user interfaces. If the screen looks like a webpage from the 90s, the distributor should move forward cautiously.
DiLouie: If you could tell all electrical distributors just one thing about luminaire-integrated lighting controls, what would it be?
Trott: Start offering luminaire-integrated lighting controls today because it represents an opportunity for differentiation and substantial increase in revenue per light. What other technology offers you the ability to increase your revenue up to 50% per troffer?