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Technology trends – modular lighting control

Andrew Brister 27 October 2010

Lighting control is now a central part of any large scale project, be it commercial, architectural or even a larger residential development. As Peter van der Kolk of Helvar explains, the modular nature of DALI based systems minimises design and installation headaches.

Balancing impressive and effective lighting with the regulations associated with the workplace has led to a need for comprehensive control for all forms of public and commercial buildings. However, for trouble-free planning and installation, lighting systems require reliable, cost effective and scalable solutions.

In larger complexes, where elements of architectural and commercial control may need to be combined into one single integrated system, not only does the everyday operation need to be simple but, most importantly for installers, the fitting process needs to be flexible. Where the problem lies is that lighting needs to be connected at first fit, meaning involvement on site when there is still the potential for design changes affecting the layout of building services. Without the benefits of an adaptable lighting system, this could lead to costly additions.

Modular lighting systems and the interconnectivity associated with the DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) protocol means that lighting control can be implemented in stages, to coincide with the progression of a project. Beginning with the installation of a central dimmer module, such as Helvar’s new multi-channel 458 (pictured), the installer can connect mains input and load connections, providing basic on/off functionality through MCBs, test the system and then add the relevant control modules as and when designs are finalised. A modular system requires no computer programming at commissioning stage, meaning that time is not spent devising system intelligence before it is necessary or subject to change.

Once all light loads have been installed, the required routers and control modules can be connected and DALI connections made. Usefully, with the 458, basic configuration is set up via the LCD display on the dimmer, allowing for a swift and reliable handover prior to the final customer specific PC based commissioning of the system.

As well as the ease of design and front end flexibility to accommodate last minute design changes, the modularity offered by the 458 based system, able to link with all common lighting loads and protocols, delivers the additional benefit to the investor of an easily expandable system able to cope with office churn and revolving tenant requirements. 

Also, with efficiency a prime concern of building operators, today’s lighting systems fulfil a wider purpose and the Ethernet backbone of routers and control interfaces – a standard which has now become established as the de facto network virtually throughout the commercial world – enables lighting control to be linked with the overall BMS. The central monitoring associated with this third party interfacing makes for greater flexibility in developing creative lighting solutions, alongside the possibility to instantly reduce lighting levels when natural daylight increases. The modular installation is also much simpler and cheaper with the use of common Ethernet cabling eliminating the need for expensive cabling and tools.

Ultimately, without mentioning ‘future proofing’ – there’s been a lot of hot air spoken about that in relation to control systems – the adaptability offered through the DALI protocol, combined with networked lighting control packages which cross the boundary into BMS realms is one of the most significant steps forward in facilities management and enables a comprehensive and efficient solution to be offered.

Peter van der Kolk is lighting systems manager at Helvar


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