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What was once a very proprietary, closed world for control and communication, commercial and industrial lighting systems are now on the cusp of joining the rest of the core building automation market by offering interfaces to standard open-system lighting controls solutions. Typically, lighting systems are sold as a complete package unto themselves, and less often do we see a facility with more than one vendor’s solution for the core lighting package. Not so for the HVAC and refrigeration markets, where many vendors products must coexist and, nowadays, interoperate.

Organizations such as ASHRAE and LonMark have led the way to open integration of many controlled subsystems within a facility. New open standards for control networking protocols, media types, and advanced device profiles let the market to achieve greater efficiencies through data sharing and data normalization. LonMark’s device profiles are a good example of how the market can come together to develop a consistent model for how a device shares its information over any network in common way.

By separating the controls information from the control network and tackling both independently, the market gains significant flexibility advantages. Implementing a LonMark Air Handling Unit profile on a BACnet network is now very doable, and takes advantage of the best-of-breed of multiple technologies.

Smat Building Systems Key Performance Indicators
Advantages pull the market

In the lighting space, there are now common luminaire profiles that can be implemented, but what about the entire system? One key driver of the need for better integration is in the retail sector where a large organization has many locations and requires a common design. Numerous factors are pulling the market toward more open systems:

  • Lower installation costs
  • Common equipment design
  • Single control networking infrastructure for all subsystems
  • Improved maintainability and serviceability
  • Reduced training on each system
  • Integrated energy management requirements

All of these drive vendors to adhere to specific design standards. Design standards – developed with the big picture in mind to achieve the above goals – create an environment where there is a common IoT model for system; subsystem; and device/equipment alarming, monitoring, and management.

As more companies are taking data and access to data more seriously, the solution points to an "owner-owned" solution with their own cloud database. They then allow access into their cloud for tools such as advanced analytics, reporting, computerized maintenance management, and service center access. Each has their own custom interface requirements, but the source information is consistent – meaning that the individual devices present the data to the cloud server in the same way; no translating, gateways, or interpreting required. We call this an end-to-end information driven system.

This information includes raw sensor information, such as space occupied, along with location, time and other context. Bundled together, the information now can be sent across any network, such as a Lon or BACnet building control network, an IT network using TCP/IP, or across a cellular network using LTE or 5G. No longer is the information constrained to the confines of its native network.

In the case of lighting systems, this poses some significant opportunities to owners and integrators, but also requires changes in the way suppliers think about their designs. Like any large, embedded industry, vendors want to control their customer. Most often this is accomplished by some technical "lock" built into the system design. It could be a proprietary controls infrastructure or custom data sets that are not exposed to the customer, only available internally or through the supplier’s services. But the market is changing. Inroads are being made by savvy end-users and owners to "encourage" suppliers to meet their needs rather than the other way around.


So, what does an open lighting system look like? It is one that has the following core architecture and design parameters:

  1. Built on an open control networking platform.
  2. Equipment from multiple suppliers can interoperate in the same environment.
  3. Devices have a common profile and points-list definition where all conform to a standard.
  4. Owners have the flexibility to choose best-of-breed products from multiple suppliers.
  5. Integrators can easily integrate solutions into the common environment.
  6. Data combined with context provide actionable information in a common way to the various system APIs.
  7. Allows for innovation, expansion, scalability and reliable solutions.
  8. Creates an environment for fair, competitive bidding.
  9. All systems are designed to provide a common method of balancing energy efficiency with occupant comfort.
  10. Owners "own" their systems rather than vendors owning them.

As more owners are realizing the benefits of designing an open system, the push is on to develop the standards that can be implemented in a common, cost-effective way. Several efforts are underway to develop a common IAS (Integrated Automation Specification) to address how to design and specify such a system. Pulling from work being done within ASHRAE, LonMark, CSI Master Spec, ANSI, and others, a common set of specifications should encourage the market. But what will certainly drive better open solutions is key end-users developing their corporate controls standards, and then demanding that their suppliers comply.

Do the upfront work to establish your best practices and what your needs are. Suppliers respect this and will work with you to comply. Things work better when they work together, rather than in isolation. The lighting market is no different, and change is on the way.

Ron Bernstein

About Ron Bernstein

Ron Bernstein is CEO of RBCG, LLC, providing consulting services to organizations needing help navigating their energy and automation strategy. He has over 30 years of experience in industrial, commercial and residential automation and controls technologies. He currently serves as CEO/ED for the nonprofit LonMark International, is Vice-chair of CTA R7 Control Networking committee, voting member or ASHRAE 1.4 Control Theory and Application committee, and is an elected member of the US DOE’s Gridwise Architecture Council. He holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University, Masters in Applied Psychology from USM, and a Masters in Philosophy from PTS.

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