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Connected lighting solutions for intelligent facility management

Managers and owners of large buildings and facilities face complex issues, especially when those facilities are large or serve multiple uses. Today, connected lighting solutions are beginning to ease some of those challenges by allowing managers, owners and even individual users to precisely manage lighting and deliver it exactly when, where and how it’s needed.

Chris Andrews, product marketing manager of lighting control systems for Eaton’s lighting division, stopped by to share his thoughts on new connected lighting solutions and what they mean for the future of intelligent facility management.

What are the primary benefits of connected lighting systems for intelligent facility management?

CA: Many facility managers are forced to perform their job duties on a reactive basis. For example, they may realize a light is out or an important process is malfunctioning, sometimes days or weeks after the problem surfaced.

Connected lighting, on the other hand, prevents poor illumination of offices, schools, parking lots and similar settings. Facility managers receive immediate alerts when equipment or processes don’t work as designed or require particular attention such as maintenance or replacement. In turn, these facility managers are able to address problems on a proactive basis.

Safety may be the top benefit. For instance, a parking lot with dark areas creates safety concerns, whether the danger is real or perceived.

When I started driving, my elders taught me the importance of preventive maintenance for cars. Do it on a regular schedule, or else you’ll deal with it on the side of the road on the problem’s schedule.

The moral of the story? It’s always better and more efficient to take care of things on a recurring basis instead of waiting to handle them in the event of an emergency.

What are examples of applications for indoor and outdoor spaces?

CA: Connected lighting offers many viable, practical benefits for office, health care, education and industrial settings, providing next-level convenience, control and energy savings. For example, school administrators may want to understand how many students normally occupy classrooms and other spaces in order to plan appropriately and create the best learning environment.

Building exteriors represent a recent benefit of connected lighting technology. Previously, we tended to focus on building interiors — from classrooms and offices to manufacturing facilities and warehouses — while largely ignoring the exteriors of these spaces. But now, connected lighting gives facility managers an easy, comprehensive way to completely control everything for which he or she is responsible.

WaveLinx is a new wireless connected lighting system from Eaton that offers total, out-of-the-box, code-compliant and cost-effective functionality. It allows facility managers to extend lighting control systems they’ve used on the interior to exterior applications such as parking lots and other examples of outdoor site lighting. With this system, they can begin tracking power consumption and scheduling, and grouping devices into zones.

Developed mainly with offices in mind, WaveLinx is excellent for companies with multiple divisions or companies that occupy multiple floors in a building. The product is expanding into network architecture with the release of its software control system, Insight Manager. This server software package exposes data via BACnet (a data communication protocol for building automation and control networks) and Public API (REST), one of the most popular application programming interfaces. It creates a standardized, harmonious method for sharing information with facility and third-party systems.

Why is connected lighting so valuable?

CA: Connected lighting creates a way to solve more highly complex problems in buildings. It creates energy savings and time savings. It enables intelligent data collection.

For instance, connected lighting solutions could track not just space occupancy, but also where people are located, how well spaces are utilized and how often, how many people occupy these spaces and their traffic patterns. Facility managers and owners who want to truly optimize building operations around their most expensive asset — their employees — are able to better utilize resources.

In some areas of the United States, energy codes are particularly restrictive, making it even more crucial to keep a handle on power consumption including underutilized areas expending significant energy. With connected lighting systems, facility managers can more intelligently analyze usage and associated costs. For example, is the HVAC system still pushing cold air into an environment that is unoccupied? Particularly in larger buildings, such insights can have a significant effect on the bottom line.

Connected lighting is, quite simply, where the rubber meets the road. It provides a streamlined way to gather data, accumulate that data and produce it in a usable format. Customers can track components and people and better utilize their spaces.

How does the technology work?

CA: As one example, Eaton’s WaveLinx is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 wireless standard. Here’s the idea: spread wireless devices, many powered by line voltage — or batteries where appropriate — across a facility for large-scale application. Use a wireless device (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, etc.) that gives the installer a way to configure all devices to meet energy codes and personal preference via a mobile app. Then, the end user can utilize schedules, astronomic clocks and other tools to achieve all the benefits of connected lighting.

Wireless technology really is the backbone. The wireless area controller is the piece of intelligence that allows us to scale from control of a few rooms or even a single floor to, now, the ability to leverage the lighting software package’s connection to manage multiple floors or buildings and send information to third-party systems.

Is it easy to install?

CA: Absolutely — that’s one of the hallmarks. For example, data suggests that installers commissioned the first launch of WaveLinx about 40 percent more quickly than many comparable wired architectures. We believe that since then, we’ve achieved an additional 15 to 20 percent speed increase with new commissioning enhancements included in the WaveLinx mobile app.

The system design allows installers to essentially copy and paste configurations. So, if a facility includes 30 offices around the building perimeter and each of those offices has the same two lighting fixtures, the installer can copy and paste settings for all offices. This makes space configuration significantly faster.

Is it easy for building managers or other stakeholders to use?

CA: We understand that the installation community craves technology that allows a “set it and forget it” mentality, and we strive to achieve that goal. Our current customers have let us know just how simple and intuitive this system is to customize their spaces and while we are constantly improving and adding additional features to the system, we will continue to focus on simplicity and the needs of our customers. In fact, many of the new enhancements to the WaveLinx system came as a result of direct customer feedback, and more enhancements are planned, so stay tuned.

Is it secure?

CA: First of all, people have voiced concerns about privacy issues and hacker attacks, and they have a right to be concerned. As with any connected solution, it’s important to do your due diligence and ensure the system you’re employing in your facility is safe, well-tested and well-managed.

The nice thing about WaveLinx is that Eaton separated product testing and cybersecurity measures — meaning a separate team, tasked with nothing but managing cybersecurity standards, is closely watching for potential security issues. We have a seven-tier cybersecurity model, making it one of the industry’s best, and WaveLinx was the first lighting controls system to achieve the UL 2900 Standard for Software Cybersecurity for Network-Connectable Products. We take security very seriously here, and we’re proud of that distinction.

What are examples of lighting fixtures that can house this technology?

CA: Lighting is a natural platform for sensing technologies and data management because it occurs at regular intervals in spaces. It’s always powered. And, in most cases, it’s installed above us in the ceiling, in an ideal position to gather data.

With that said, advanced lighting controls can be housed in just about any lighting style, from ambient lighting and architectural fixtures to downlights and wall-mounted fixtures. At Eaton, we’re committed to expanding the footprint and putting this technology wherever our customers need it, whether that means site lighting for parking lots or high-bay lighting for industrial spaces.

Are connected lighting solutions scalable to adapt to rapid changes?

CA: Yes. Connected lighting technology is built for change. The lighting industry has put a lot of time and effort into developing specific architectures, making it possible to pull multiple technologies and features under one software umbrella and data accumulation pipeline. We’re already working on growing WaveLinx from a stand-alone architecture — great for a single floor — to a solution that encompasses up to 500 lighting controllers on a single enterprise system. Imagine having complete and universal control for a company with offices all over the world. That kind of capability is on the horizon. We’re also adding capabilities for additional markets such as Canada’s 347-volt architecture.

The world is growing, and the best technology solutions are designed for adaptability. It’s an exciting process to watch, and I’m glad to be a part of it.