How should Smart Lighting OEM Manufacturers Choose the Control protocol?

- May 28, 2018 -

Should we not wait for a set of global lighting control standards?

The main reason for failing to actively implement lighting control strategies is confusion, confusion about which technologies to use, and which suppliers are confused about investing, especially for lighting control systems for indoor commercial and office environments. Most lighting OEMs do not have the time, resources, or expertise to evaluate the benefits of all lighting control technologies.

For residential lighting control (ie smart light bulbs), the mainstream agreement is clear, ZigBee Light Link is the winner in this respect, and multiple lighting OEMs support the agreement. However, for indoor commercial and office lighting control, technology choices are still changing and the number is growing.

There is a lack of a dominant global standard, and there are three main reasons: The first reason is that the main lighting control technology and/or main LED driver dimming signals vary from region to region. For example, 0-10V is the main LED driver dimming signal in North America, while DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) and Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) dominate in Europe and Japan respectively. From the perspective of building automation systems, KNX is very popular in Europe, although BACnet seems to be a dominant global agreement. Therefore, it is difficult for lighting OEMs to rely on a single technology in order to accommodate end customers in various regions.

The second reason is that lighting control equipment varies with complexity. On the one hand, some devices simply require an inductive sensor to provide a signal to the LED driver depending on whether or not someone is in the room and decide whether to turn it on or off. If there are multiple devices in different rooms throughout the building, no gateways connect them to a centralized control system, and these simple systems operate independently. On the other hand, there is now a centralized lighting control system that manages, monitors and controls the entire building, even the entire city, the entire country, or the lighting of multiple buildings worldwide. The types of technologies that are commonly used to make these simple and complex systems tend to be significantly different. Therefore, this is another challenge for OEMs who rely on a single lighting control technology.

The third and most influential reason is that lighting OEMs do not specify lighting control technology for any given project. This is the responsibility of the decision maker, architect, building owner or construction manager.

What should lighting OEMs do when selecting lighting control technology to develop active lighting control strategies? The answer for many lighting OEMs is wait because the standards and complexity are to be determined. The choice of lighting control technology is based on the following five criteria: flexibility, interoperability, simplicity, scalability, and proven technology.

Flexibility and interoperability

All lighting control technologies fall into one of two major technology categories: patented or open technology. The use of patented technology from a specific supplier's product can only be used in conjunction with other products from the same supplier. Lighting control companies that develop proprietary technologies have been following this business model because of their technology-driven value proposition or because of their strong market channels (especially for mature companies). The patented technology can be applied to specific lighting control projects with good technical adaptability, or the patented technology is directly designated as a lighting control solution.

In contrast, open technologies are based on open or public standards, allowing multiple companies to develop products that use the same basic protocol; products from different vendors can interoperate as systems work. As a result, open technologies provide lighting OEMs with the flexibility to choose between multiple suppliers, blending and matching solutions based on functionality, form factor and pricing to meet end customer lighting control requirements.

For example, a given project may 

require the lighting control system to support a BACnet BAS with occupancy and lighting sensors, where the luminaire must be controlled by the DALI signal. If the technology or supplier selected by the lighting OEM is not flexible enough, the lighting OEMs will eventually be forced to use multiple technologies from multiple suppliers. This puts pressure on resources, especially sales and sales representative teams of lighting OEMs, who must give lighting equipment and control solutions to end customers.

Simplicity and extensibility

Some end customers, such as building owners and building managers, do not want to incorporate a BAS or centralized lighting control system that can be controlled, set, and monitored by computers or mobile devices. Instead, these end customers prefer to limit the lighting control solution to the LED driver switches, sensors and controllers (typically 0-10V relays and DALI controllers) without the need for a gateway or complex network equipment. In other words, these end-users want to provide a simple, independent lighting control system in every room in each building.

Currently, there are two main options for a simple stand-alone lighting control system: the first one comes from a complete proprietary lighting control supplier, and the other is EnOcean technology. In contrast, currently available ZigBee-based or 802.15.4-based lighting control systems require the use of gateways or network devices.

Assume that the owner or manager of the building decides to use the BAS, or wants to use the PC/smartphone/tablet for centralized lighting control, setting, and monitoring, months or years after installing a simple stand-alone lighting control system. EnOcean technology seamlessly and easily converts from a simple stand-alone system to a scalable network system without changing the existing lighting control system. The ZigBee-based and 802.15.4-based lighting control system can be extended to a complete building, even multiple buildings, but the starting point always requires a gateway or network equipment.

Building owners and construction managers often don't want their buildings to be a testing ground for emerging technologies. Therefore, the lighting control technology that lighting OEMs promote for the project must be a mature technology.

As more and more lighting OEMs sell their lamps in multiple markets, lighting OEMs can understand and promote different technologies based on the location of the project.

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