Getting smarter with light

As we use our buildings more intelligently we also need to use our lighting more intelligently. Stewart Langdown of Wila Lighting explains why it’s good for specifiers and manufacturers to talk.

It is often said that buildings are becoming more intelligent. While that may be true to some extent I would suggest that the most significant trend we are witnessing is that we are beginning to use our buildings more intelligently. Consequently, the services that are installed in our buildings need to be more responsive and adaptable, so that they can be more readily changed in response to building usage.

Lighting is a good example of this, and lighting systems certainly need to get smarter. Furthermore, thanks to new technologies such as LED light sources and more sophisticated controls, this is very achievable. However, delivering maximum benefits is very dependent on a high level of collaboration between all members of the design team, including the luminaire manufacturers.

This, in turn, requires a change in the approach that luminaire manufacturers take, as well as a different attitude to manufacturers from some designers, specifiers and installers. In particular, luminaire manufacturers need to get more involved – and be allowed to get more involved – so their role goes beyond simply selling a product towards making a positive contribution to the overall solution.

Underlying this requirement is the fact that the luminaire is part of a system and it needs to interact with other parts of the system to deliver the required performance in the most energy efficient way possible. And this will only happen if the manufacturer makes the effort to fully understand what is required and how those other elements of the system perform. Luminaire manufacturers, therefore, need to take the time to actively discuss the project requirements with the designers and help them to translate their needs into innovative, exciting solutions.

At the same time, there is a huge amount of expertise in many lighting manufacturers that other team members can take advantage of, so a higher level of collaboration is potentially beneficial to all parties.

Changing times

A good example of how things are changing is in the lighting of workspaces, ranging from offices through to factories, assembly lines etc. In the past the lighting specification may have done little more than ensure a certain illuminance was achieved and maintained on the working plane. More recently, consideration would (or should) have also been given to factors such as energy consumption, preventing glare on display screens and minimising contrast between horizontal and vertical surfaces. Factors that contribute to lifecycle costs have also come to play a more dominant role in the specification process.

Nowadays, though, many people are looking for more from their lighting. They want it to be more interactive with the workspace and to contribute more to supporting the activities taking place. In this way, lighting becomes more than just a source of illumination; it plays an active role that adds value for the people in that space.

For example, there may be a requirement for the lighting to subtly change colour through the working day, mimicking the natural colour changes of daylight – a process that has been shown to help improve wellbeing and, therefore, productivity. Or it may be beneficial to increase brightness at times when people are at their most lethargic, such as after lunch or during the second half of a night-shift in a factory.

This was the case at New Court, the new corporate headquarters for Rothschild in the City of London. A key requirement was to provide dynamic colour changing ‘bio-rhythm’ lighting in the offices, so we produced a bespoke 900 x 900mm fitting to achieve this. The fitting mixes 3000K and 4000K light to achieve different colours, using two layers of flexilume high efficiency reflector to blend the light outputs from the lamps.

Flexible spaces

Changes in working practices have also altered the dynamics of many commercial workspaces, so there is less emphasis on fixed workspaces and more extensive usage of flexible spaces such as meeting rooms. As these spaces host a wide range of different activities this needs to be reflected in the flexibility of the lighting. For instance, a serious financial meeting where concentration needs to be enhanced may benefit from a cool colour temperature, whereas a warmer ambience may be more appropriate for planning the Christmas party.

Clearly this flexibility doesn’t just come from the light sources and fixtures; it also needs to incorporate a control element, so that the interaction between lighting and controls becomes central to achieving the design concept. Increasingly, therefore, the success of a lighting project becomes dependent on bridging the gap between luminaire manufacturers and controls companies.

Thankfully, LED light sources provide the scope for enhanced control of the lighting as they facilitate dimming and colour changing while also delivering excellent energy efficiency with low lifecycle costs.

However, LED light sources and their drivers are more complex than standard light sources and making smarter use of lighting also requires greater intelligence in the sensors and other control elements. It is unwise to simply assume the lighting and controls will work together. There is always the possibility of a technical aspect that has been overlooked, so it is important to test the lighting and the controls together in the early stages of the project and prove they will work together. The same level of due diligence also needs to include the control of the emergency lighting.

There may also be issues of connectivity, such as access for installation and maintenance that should be considered at the same time. In this way, any potential problems are nipped in the bud early on.

Just as importantly, the combination of luminaires and controls needs to go beyond simply ‘working’ to ensure that it satisfies the aspirations of the architect and designers involved in the project.

It is also worth noting that the properties of LED light sources can vary considerably from one manufacturer to another. Not just in terms of quality but also performance, so that different LED sources may be better suited to different projects. For that reason it makes sense to source luminaires from manufacturers that aren’t devoted to a particular LED technology.

Moving with the times

Workplaces haven’t just become more flexible they have also become more dynamic, changing in terms of layout and purpose on a more regular basis than used to be the case. So the lighting needs to be able to adapt accordingly, ideally without requiring complete replacement or relocation of luminaires as this results in considerable expense and disruption.

Consequently there is a strong argument for selecting LED luminaires that facilitate a modular approach, whereby components can be easily interchanged or upgraded in a ‘Lego for lighting’ approach. For example, as the layout of a workspace changes it should be relatively easy to change the optics in the luminaires to achieve a different light distribution that suits the new configuration of the space.

Similarly, as LED technologies continue to advance there are significant benefits to using interchangeable LED modules so that building operators can take advantage of these improved technologies in the future without needing to change the whole luminaire. A modular approach will also make installation easier and quicker so that project times are reduced.

Of course, technology is only part of the equation. Kno
wledge and experience also have a role to play and, to reiterate the point made earlier, much of this knowledge and expertise resides within luminaire manufacturers. Thus, there are many benefits to everyone in the supply chain to welcoming more extensive engagement at every level and delivering the best possible solution to the end user.

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