Craig DiLouie recently interviewed Paul Matthews, Product Marketing Manager, OSRAM about what’s new in networked lighting control software for articles for ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR (contractor audience) and tED (distributor audience).
DiLouie: What types of software are available to support commissioning and operation of networked lighting control systems?
Matthews: Commissioning software for Light Management Systems (LMS) have traditionally been under the control of the manufacturer, factory trained representatives or their trained agents. These software packages tend to be very complex and difficult to use without a high level of specialized training and frequent use. The software is typically loaded onto a specialized PC or similar commissioning tool. In some cases, the tool will have a dongle or custom port that enables the interface between the system, the tool and the commissioning agent. The use of specialized software and hardware increases the barrier to entry for non-trained personal.
The commissioning options that are available and/or required today are complex and require highly trained staff (which can be expensive to obtain and maintain). Recently, a number of companies have launched commissioning software that is less costly and complex. In these cases, the software is designed to be used by installers who are not factory-trained representatives and instead of specialized hardware, installation is done using a mobile app. With these LMS commissioning software apps, the workflows have been simplified, making commissioning a task that can be performed by a larger group of people with more general training. In turn, this lowers the barrier for entry and enables scalability.
For operation and post commissioning, web-based software packages are provided for end-users. Some are cloud-based User Interfaces (UI) that enable users to view and modify an entire site (or sites), using both current and historical data such as occupancy and brightness. System-wide UIs enable analysis of the impact of changes made to the system, and allow for centralized control and monitoring.
One can also find personal user controls that are either PC or mobile phone-based to enable personalized lighting in an individual space.
DiLouie: What role does software play in commissioning a networked control system? What should electrical contractors and distributors be looking for in good commissioning capability in software?
Matthews: When it comes to good commissioning capability in software, above all else, simplicity is key. If the process workflow requires extensive training, the software is too complex. Readily available training material is vital, including online video guides and easy-to-follow visual instructions imbedded directly in the software.
If the commissioning software is a mobile app, it should have clear instructions that provide the user with step-by-step prompts to keep the process moving in the right direction. There should be both a help button as well as online instructions. An online technical support community accessible from the mobile app is also useful.
DiLouie: What role does software play in operating a networked lighting control system? What should electrical contractors and distributors be looking for in good operating software?
Matthews: This can vary, as the customer or specification for the job should be the guide. Some customers want full control, including remote access and a web-based UI. Others have different requirements that make access to the system via software a requirement only when changes are needed.
Either way, the software should be simple and intuitive with training for specific use cases readily available.
DiLouie: In detail, what are typical capabilities for this software, and what would be considered more advanced capabilities?
Matthews: Basic functionalities include:
1. Schedule changes
2. Light level changes
3. Time outs for occupancy sensors
4. Reconfiguration for a given space
More advanced capabilities include:
1. Alarms/notifications of issues or maintenance needed
2. Demand Response levels
3. IoT functions such as space utilization, asset tracking, etc.
These advanced features increase the impact of the LMS including energy savings, space utilization/optimization and employee productivity. The advanced features add complexity back into a system/process flow.
When deciding between typical and more advanced capabilities in an LMS software package, balance the needs of the customer with the value of the added complexity, always keeping it as simple as possible.
DiLouie: How has networked control system software advanced in recent years? What new capabilities are available, and what problems are being solved?
Matthews: A number of advances have occurred in recent years, but the biggest by far have been the move toward mobile phone-based commissioning and user apps, simplified commissioning workflows for Light Management Systems, and incorporating higher level customer solutions such as space utilization, asset tracking and indoor wayfinding into the Light Management System.
The basic problem to solve for commissioning and operation is scalability. With code changes driving requirements for more efficient light systems into more (and typically smaller) spaces, Light Management Systems are seeing an ever-increasing market demand. The infrastructure currently in place to install, operate and maintain Light Management Systems is concentrated with only a handful of companies. The barrier to entry for a small firm is set relatively high (money for training, personnel, etc.) and is not scalable.
Simplifying the commissioning and operational workflow for a Light Management System has been the key to allow for code adoption, increased energy savings and scalability.
In terms of new capabilities, Light Management Systems are moving from energy savings and light controlling to solving larger customer problems such as helping building owners with space optimization and company owners with employee productivity. Light Management Systems installed with occupancy sensors, primarily used for lighting control, have a bird’s eye view of the spaces in which they are installed – an advantageous location to monitor movement and usage of a given space.
The occupancy data collected by these sensors, in combination with some of the new software suites recently made available, can be used to determine if a space is over- or under-utilized. When aggregated over time, occupancy data can be made into reports giving new actionable intelligence that helps building owners see how space utilization can be improved. It also allows company owners to gather insights on improving productivity.
DiLouie: What training or skill level is required to use this software? Who typically uses it at the end-user level, and what kind of support do they typically need from contractors and distributors?
Matthews: Typically, representatives from the manufacturer or their agents are trained to perform installations. These installations are normally for medium- to large-scale sites or spread over multiple sites on a campus. Recent code changes are driving adoption across a widening market including spaces that previously were too small. In these smaller spaces, local contractors and distributors are now being called on to perform the installations.
Skill levels for installers vary widely depending on the Light Management System being delivered. Factory representatives and their agents can be engineers, technicians and technical sales people – some with many years of experience and training. You can also find individuals on commissioning crews with only minimal training and experience.
The skill levels of end users vary as well. Larger installations with traditional Light Management Systems tend to have dedicated personnel who are factory-trained on system operation, modifications and use. These installations typically have a building operation room with 24/7 coverage, and may have multiple sites in a campus reporting into one control room. In this case, remote access is given to select personnel to help with emergency situations.
Medium-sized installations may include a few floors of a low-rise building and have one individual with an electrical background who is trained during the commissioning. At smaller sites, the system operation can be a “set it and forget it” mode of operation with changes done when needed using a local contractor and mobile phone.
DiLouie: How is lighting control software changing to incorporate additional data inputs such as temperature, traffic and information provided by other sensors? Does lighting have an opportunity to be an entry point for Internet of Things strategies not only in hardware but also in software?
Matthews: Light Management Systems are in a key position to become the platform for IoT in spaces being illuminated. With lighting in the ceiling, there is a bird’s eye view of the space, and occupancy sensors are already installed. It also provides the computing power, bandwidth and connectivity needed. Location data also can be incorporated, which in turn enables internal beaconing or wayfinding.
Not all companies that provide Light Management Systems are going to become software developers for the new applications that IoT will enable. There is an opportunity for third-party partnerships to be formed, where the company delivering the Light Management System will provide the sensor data (thermal couple readings, occupancy data, air quality information, etc.) for processing and analytics.
This can be in the form of raw data with additional mapping of the sensor location. The third party will take the sensor data collected over time and combine it with the sensor location providing information and reports on trends. These software packages also will provide analytics on the trends to allow for better control of a given object.
At first, this may be just reports and trend analysis, but eventually it will be machines talking to machines within the range of defined guidelines. For example, temperature data collected over the course of several seasons may show that the HVAC needs to be modulated more aggressively than previously designed to reach temperature set points in certain areas and at certain times of the day or year. A building owner who knows this information might choose to modify the HVAC system to reach these goals, which may be tied to contract payments in a pay-for-service arrangement. Once the system is modified or tuned to respond within normal operation, controls could be handed over to the machines to stay within a defined range.
The critical software element that will enable this is an Application Programming Interface or API. An API is a set of defined methods or protocols for communication between software. It may be a software library or a database, and may be based on a web interface or located on a local server. In the example above, sharing temperature data (what temperature, and where and when it is recorded) is needed for the third-party programmer to report on the operation of the HVAC system. An API defines who, what, when and where it will be shared so the programs can execute the “how.” The APIs will be the means that enable machines to talk to machines. The Light Management System will be the platform, like a central nervous system, that connects the sensors to the API and in turn enables them to control the machines.
DiLouie: What opportunities exist for electrical contractors and distributors in this market segment? What do they need to do and know to install, recommend and sell software-based control systems?
Matthews: Light Management Systems that control lighting will enable IoT applications to become simpler to install and easier to use. However, the key to becoming part of this next wave of growth is training.
Although the commissioning tools for these systems have been simplified and are becoming more intuitive, realizing their full benefits and using their capabilities successfully requires training.
Understanding your customers is also critical to the process. What would make them more productive? What are their overhead costs and what problems are they facing? These are all key to effectively selling a Light Management System. LMS sales agents who focus on one segment, such as fit outs for both offices and schools, and use the same sales pitch for both, often fail. Conversely, agents who tailor their approach to the customer’s problems sell the same product offering successfully.
DiLouie: What would be a checklist for what contractors and distributors should be looking for in good software? What issues should they watch out for?
Matthews: Key features that should be in any of these new software packages are simplicity, portability and training.
DiLouie: If you could tell the electrical industry just one thing about networked lighting control software, what would it be?
Matthews: The one thing I would tell them is to get training, training and more training. Scalability will drive IoT platform suppliers to simplify their platforms so that installation can be done by those who are not factory representatives.
As lighting systems become the platform for IoT, sensors will be supplied by distributors and installed by electricians and contractors. The more they know about the sensors and platforms they are installing, the higher the value-add they will be able to provide.