From simple apps for mobile devices that store product data, to more sophisticated, computer-based software programs that calculate photometrics (the measurement of light as perceived by the human eye), a wide range of products are available in the lighting industry to assist electrical contractors with the critical function of lighting design. It is increasingly necessary for electrical contractors to possess this skill in today’s competitive lighting upgrade market.


The following is a discussion of some of the industry’s most popular lighting design applications and software programs as well as their key features, functions and benefits.


AGi32 (Lighting Analysts)


AGi32, by Colorado-based Lighting Analysts, winner of the LightFair 2013 Innovation Award and a third-party-developed program, is considered by many experts to be the lighting industry’s premier calculation tool. 


“[It] can provide numeric and rendered solutions for almost any lighting application, interior or exterior, including roadway and daylighting,” said Dave Speer, company founder and director of sales and marketing, who has more than 30 years of experience in developing lighting software. “Ideal for everything from indoor settings to parking lots, our one-size-fits-all AGi32 software for PC platforms has become an industry standard, which manufacturers, engineers, designers and channel members rely on to accurately quantify light.”


Designed for the savvier user, AGi32 can take a two or three-dimensional CAD import and build interior or exterior lighting environments, placing reflective surfaces in the model and producing interactive renderings.


“These are light-accurate, RGB simulations of what’s going on in the environment for customers,” Speer said. 


“Contractors have to wear a lot of hats these days and often use this software to quickly and easily compare products from many manufacturers,” Speer said. “Or, when looking for an ‘equal’ to a specified product, it can help them evaluate whether the product is photometrically equivalent. For the growing number of design/build contractors out there who have to quantify lighting results for a variety of commercial, industrial, municipal, and other types of customers, AGi32 can cover this function.”


“Illumination engineering isn’t easy, especially when you’re talking about reflected light,” Speer said, noting that sophisticated algorithms, such as those featured in AGi32, require a great deal of computing power, which often precludes them from being offered for a tablet, smartphone or other mobile device. “But AGi32 is an ‘agnostic’ system that addresses manufacturer data from any player in an IES-standard format and stands as a high-performance calculation tool that can generate a wealth of valuable results.” 


Lighting Analysts also offers a two-year-old, plug-in program called ElumTools, which helps simplify and streamline work flow for users performing lighting calculations within AutoDesk Revit.


For more information, visit Agi32 at www.agi32.com.


Visual (Acuity Brands)


Among manufacturer-developed lighting design programs, Visual by Acuity Brands has been praised for its ease of use, power, intuitive design, industry longevity and reliability; it’s currently released as Visual 2012. 


“Our first-generation product was introduced in 1998; since then, we’ve offered a major release every three years or so and are regularly offering smaller feature additions,” said Tim Sears, Acuity Brands lead illuminating engineer. “Visual is always under active development and very accessible to users.” Currently, Visual 2012 is free to try for 30 days, after which there is a $100 annual fee, and all eight of the company’s design tools are free.


Fifteen years ago, when Sears helped design the first public release, every major lighting manufacturer was providing their own software package.


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“So we were brought in to help make Visual the ‘best of the breed’ in the industry,” he said. “For the broad spectrum of contractor users out there, our goal was, and still is, to enable people to perform quick and easy calculations and be a tool that enhances productivity.”


A PC-based software program designed on a Windows platform that was previously focused on numerical output in earlier iterations, the newest version offers point-by-point illuminance calculations as well as fast renderings, which was the biggest single feature requested by the field, he said. 


“Once users have conducted the audit and decided on a fundamental lighting design, Visual helps them validate lighting performance and adherence to codes, etc., and is then just a matter of pushing the calculation button,” Sears said.


Acuity Brands also offers an award-winning suite of free and easy-to-use web-based lighting design tools that allow users to quickly analyze many common lighting scenarios, ranging from economic analysis to simple room layouts to exterior designs.


“We’ve put a lot of development effort into these design tools recently, and they’re being enthusiastically received by the lighting community as invaluable tools in the lighting design process,” Sears said.


Overall, “contractors are expressing more interest in lighting design than ever before and understand that they have to evolve with the industry to stay relevant. Our software packages are essential tools for managing sophisticated approaches to lighting and especially the interplay between today’s more advanced technologies like solid-state lighting and lighting controls, and we think contractors will find these tools very accessible,” Sears said. 


For more information, visit Visual at www.visual-3D.com.


Other popular lighting design apps


Updated in 2013, Litecontrol Classroom by Develup enables users to calculate energy usage and light levels specifically for lighting upgrades in classrooms—a popular source of many of today’s lighting projects. Simply identify the room size, number of lamps, fixture type, cost per kilowatt-hour, and operating hours, and the system will calculate the room’s average foot-candles, watts per square foot and annual energy costs.


Released in 2010, Q-Tran’s Voltage Drop Calculator performs calculations within a specific arena—that of the voltage drop for low-voltage lighting runs and applications using wire gauge from 14 AWG–8 AWG. The program features a column calculating loss over a dimmer to ensure true voltage-drop losses.


Updated in 2011, Philips’ Philips LED Switch for iPhone or iPad by MakoLab presents the advantages of upgrading from conventional lighting technologies to LED solutions, providing such calculations as quantity of light and energy cost as well as return on investment and CO2 savings.


Updated in 2013, i3dOPlus and i3dOPro by Ian Ibbitson are robust tools that allow users to quickly view the output of multiple lighting fixtures in a fast and visually realistic way and take the guesswork out of the selection and placement of outdoor lighting fixtures.


Updated in 2012, WattStopper’s PlugCalc by Cybermill allows iPad users to quickly calculate potential energy savings realized by controlling plug-in appliances and electronics, which is considered one of the fastest growing opportunities for energy conservation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Incorporating a user-friendly email capability for the display of results, PlugCalc’s easy-to-use calculator keeps track of building schedules and energy costs and figures out savings for up to eight different plugloads at once.


Updated in 2013, Cooper Controls’ iLumin Remote supports lighting design applications involving the use of controls and enables users to verify, select, modify and save lighting scenes without the need for a plug-in or tethered control station.


Updated in 2012, Pegasus Lighting’s Lighting Library includes more than 100 common lighting definitions, answers to several popular lighting questions, and access to numerous lighting product and design tips for residential and office settings.


IALD LightMap, created by the International Association of Lighting Designers, allows users to view examples of quality architectural lighting design worldwide.


Lighting design can also be made easy with user-friendly mobile device-based apps containing product catalogs from such manufacturers as Hubbell, Lutron, Philips and Zumtobel.