Lighting controls and LEDs

Lighting controls and LEDs

​The last twenty or thirty years has seen the growth initially of high performance alternatives to the traditionally specified incandescent and fluorescent lamps and luminaires. In more recent years the very latest high performance/high output/high efficiency LED alternatives to these have become predominant in the market place. Such is the rapid progress of new lighting products it almost seems as though we see something new to the market on a weekly basis! During this same period there has been a similar growth in the demand for lighting control products providing solutions for controlling these differing generations and types of lamps and luminaires.

Focus SB product consultant Ross Thornhill highlights current industry issues between lighting control compatibility and luminaires.

Ross explains: "Having spent many of my working years in the lighting and respective lighting controls industry and aligned businesses I have come to the conclusion with many new build, refurb and high value residential applications the term 'less' is actually now beginning to mean 'very much more' for so many end users and specifiers looking to achieve a high quality visual appearance for their project yet demanding a simple and uncluttered look to the overall design."

He continues: "With many of the highly complex (albeit very efficient) lighting control installations the client may often struggle to fully understand and utilise the systems as designed and installed in their property. One can easily compare the situation when perhaps purchasing the very latest 'Smart' TV or other home entertainment product. After a few weeks or months of struggling to get the best out of the new product you end up becoming bored and irritable with trying to remember and programme all the permutations and simply end up using basic settings with the full capacity of the product never, ever being properly utilised.

"This rapid and exponential growth of the lighting industry - as good as it's been in terms of performance and energy savings - has not been fully 'mirrored' by the compatibility of systems supplied by the lighting controls industry. Unfortunately luminaire manufacturers seem preoccupied with providing the market with high performance lighting products forgetting that most end users do not want to sit and relax under the the light of a modern day equivalent to industrial arc lighting! Lighting manufacturers are not doing enough to ensure that their products are dimmable by all the lighting control products available to the market. Fortunately most experienced specifiers of luminaires and lighting controls systems will understand this situation and choose to nominate a known, trusted and understood 'pairing' of suitable lighting control and dimming products, fully recognising the need for compatibility of all products within the particular installation. Typically they will expect respective suppliers of all products to physically test products for suitability if required."

"So, lighting control systems - are they obsolete in high-end residential applications? Is the 'simple' rotary or retractive/momentary dimmer control dead?"

In Ross's experience he's found that with 'value engineering' seeming to be 'part and parcel' of so many projects nowadays 'VE' itself can detrimentally affect and really 'get in the way' of a correct, well considered and designed installation. Frequently less expensive and often substandard products might be introduced 'further down the line' by one of the 'players' in the design or supply chain. Typically this will often occur without any reference to the original specifier who can remain unaware of potentially significant changes and the problems that may arise once the installation is operational.

Ross concludes: "Surprise, surprise, when the client moves into their newly built and refurbished property, the controls manufacturer receives a request to send a commissioning engineer to setup and program the installation and nothing seems to work quite as it should! All eyes on site will now be looking accusingly at the controls supplier/manufacturer and his engineer for reasons why the wonderful new 'state of the art' lighting control system isn't performing as expected. The client is now informed that the installation is not 'as specified', and in reality may never work correctly unless the originally specified products are re-instated. Does this sound all too familiar?

"So, lighting control systems - are they obsolete in high-end residential applications? Is the 'simple' rotary or retractive/momentary dimmer control dead? Possibly not the former - and most certainly not the latter. Experience tells me that many high-end residential clients and perhaps those who may own several properties across the globe together with those who have had past experience of 'complex' lighting control systems may not want to repeat the experience of previous installations. These clients will often now seek very simple solutions for controlling their lighting. This could quite likely be the 'humble' rotary dimmer or perhaps its momentary rocker, bell push and retractive dolly switch controlled equivalent.

"I am reminded of the comment a chartered lighting engineer and consultant once made to me - 'Lighting controls - what do you need these for? - I have been employed to design the installation so that all lighting levels and associated task lighting are correct for the clients required application. Therefore dimming of the installed lighting is not required!'

"With lighting control systems frequently costing far more than the actual luminaires being installed, significant savings can be freed-up from the project by the selection of the above mentioned 'simple' dimming alternatives. These dimming products also give the client an installation that anyone in the house and their visitors should be capable of understanding and operating. In turn this could allow some of the potentially significant savings to be used for selection of higher specification finishes for the general electrical accessories. The budget savings could even allow the use of decorative switches, sockets and associated items in other rooms (instead of the 'bargain basement' white plastic items that might otherwise be selected) and still have monies left over for the clients benefit - everyone's a winner!​"

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