Put the Pieces Together: Integrating lighting control systems

iStock / BlackRed / Shutterstock / Kanisorn Pringthongfoo
iStock / BlackRed / Shutterstock / Kanisorn Pringthongfoo
Published On
Mar 15, 2021

Lighting control systems are increasingly tasked to share information and integrate functionality with other building systems. Potential benefits of such integration include maximizing energy savings, sharing data for internet of things implementation, enhanced functionality and cost efficiencies due to shared equipment, such as sensors. Integration can be complex, many times requiring engagement of a specialized integrator.

What does this look like? Imagine a worker entering their office building after hours. They access the door with a badge to find the lights on and the HVAC system purring to life to provide a comfortable temperature. A touchscreen illuminates as they approach the elevators, which allows them to select their floor. An indicator light over the elevator turns on as it arrives.

This scenario is the product of multiple transparent, independent systems that use sensors and centralized intelligence to enact a unified sequence of operations enabling the building to respond to a single user. The security system’s access control read the badge, which signaled the lighting control and HVAC systems. A touchscreen sensor signaled the elevator control system while reporting location, direction and arrival.

Three major types of integrators are relevant to lighting control installations. Factory-certified technicians are integrators provided by a manufacturer that can work well for a single-source project but require a potentially challenging degree of coordination if multiple manufacturers are specified to be interoperable.

In that case, a lighting control systems integrator may be preferable, as they can work with multiple systems or more complex projects, and, in some cases, they are also distributors providing the systems.

For even larger projects involving building automation, a master systems integrator may manage all integration points between various systems in the building, which may include lighting controls.

As implied, the type of integrator depends on the level of integration. The simplest level is where local devices are integrated for shared control by an interface and common protocol, such as in the case of a single touchscreen used to operate lighting, A/V and window shades in a conference room.

Then there is a multisystem integration, such as in the case of a single interface uniting and controlling 0–10 volt dimming interior lighting and DMX-based color-changing exterior lighting.

The most complex level is building automation integration, where multiple systems are unified within a single network and interface for programming (including cross-triggers) and data analysis. This scheme might include an occupancy sensor signaling lighting, HVAC, plug load, security systems and access controls all triggering lighting to turn on and off. As adoption of smart buildings and the IoT grows, so does this level of integration.

Role of the EC

Electrical contractors may interface with integrators in different ways or may even be integrators themselves. They might partner with them to provide integration services to customers while receiving training to ensure proper system installation and testing. Some ECs may leverage their low-voltage experience to understand which systems work well together and collaborate with engineers to offer various levels of integration themselves, such as starting with lighting controls and evolving toward building automation integration. Among these, some are expected to take the final leap to become master systems integrators, investing in being able to deliver value-added, higher-margin integration services and potentially ongoing services, such as performance monitoring and maintenance.

The first step in designing a unified building system is to identify the intent, which leads to a basis of design and sequence of operations identifying system behavior and all integration points. This leads to eligible product and protocol choices, along with any necessary gateways. The intent will also reveal whether the system must be networked, whether it will produce data and how operators will interface with the system and with what functionality.

A good specification will clearly outline responsibilities for installation, particularly if multiple disciplines are involved, such as in the case of an EC installing devices and wiring but an integrator terminating the wiring into the devices and programming them. A significant amount of commissioning may be required to ensure the finished system performs as required, particularly at its integration points.

Due to its extraordinary potential, the smart building market is expected to grow, which will present challenges and opportunities for ECs.

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