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Ron BernsteinIn May, the Integrated Lighting Campaign interviewed Ron Bernstein, owner and CEO of RBCG Consulting, to learn more about his approach to integrated lighting. RBCG Consulting is an independent engineering company specializing in holistic control system design and specification development for large end users, owners, cities, and the like. RBCG Consulting develops master plans for interoperability, open solutions, energy management strategies, risk evaluation and mitigation, and complex design for controls across all operation technology domains. Ron regularly volunteers his time serving as chairperson and member of several committees and councils, helping shape the future of building automation.

Tell us a little about yourself.

For over 30 years, my career has focused on automation and controls, starting off in robotics and factory automation, then industrial, commercial, and residential controls technology and systems. Lately, I’ve been focusing on the development of standards for large organizations needing to make sure they receive value from their suppliers, specifiers, and integrators through the concept of “owner-owned” systems.


Can you expand a little on the concept of “owner-owned” systems?

Owner-owned defines a system that is designed specifically to meet the owner’s requirements and specifications, rather than a supplier-owned system where the owner is beholden to the supplier for the system installed in the owner’s facility. The owner is in the driver’s seat, not the supplier. But that also means they have to perform the legwork to establish good system specifications and requirements and train staff to maintain the system.

What types of integrations with lighting systems do you traditionally perform?

Recent projects have focused on integrating lighting with other building systems, such as HVAC, security, and energy management through a common, shared control network. Often this involves defining a data sharing and management model where sensors from one system—like lighting—can share data with another system. Some projects can be simple, involving small grid of networked occupancy sensors. But others can be complex and involve advanced sensor technology and network lighting controls with dozens of activity zones, overlapping lighting groups, multiple areas and types, and task lighting requirements.

For one recent project, we used lighting to extend the whole building data sharing model by incorporating sensors for light level, humidity, traffic flow, occupant density, and CO2 monitoring. After setting up a network of sensors dedicated to each building system, we developed a system for monitoring and responding to each system’s alarms and energy use in real time. There is a big opportunity here for lighting to enable deeper, whole building energy efficiency while retaining occupant comfort and productivity.

Where do you see the greatest opportunity for growth for integration with lighting systems?

I see advancements in lighting systems being part of a much larger facility control system. Lighting fixtures are everywhere and are supported by a robust communications backbone readily available to harness the power of sensors. Simple occupancy sensors can support security by tracking occupant real-time location system data. Add in sensors for traffic flow and time-based density patterns to enable more efficient energy management of the building’s HVAC systems. The opportunities are endless.

Traditionally, lighting systems have been used to improve occupant comfort and reduce energy costs. But the advent of color tuning lighting that can adapt to outdoor and climate conditions opens up lighting for multiple other uses, like occupant productivity. For example, zone lighting adjusts temperature, color, and brightness depending on the task being performed.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned trying to integrate lighting with other systems?

Taking on a lighting integration project requires input from all stakeholders and can be a time consuming and arduous task. No matter the scope of the project, start with a high-level communication strategy for the facility. In one project, we were designing the control and integration strategy for a customer that needed to manage 5,000 buildings from one enterprise system. While this is not a typical scope for most single facility projects, working on something this complex shows the team how important it is to get the right subject matter experts involved early to engage with the supplier community throughout the process.

Can you tell us about a lighting integration project you are working on and share any notable outcomes?

In one big standards project, we had to facilitate a meeting with over 30 people in the room, all working towards a common objective. One of the primary challenges we often face is during installation when the integrator is trying to get two incompatible systems to communicate, which can be frustrating, costly, and time consuming. Defining the desired outcomes and then working towards them as a team showed us that we can develop and execute a good open system strategy. Recently, several of the key suppliers have delivered their first round of lighting control systems meeting the standard. We will begin integration testing of lighting, HVAC, and refrigeration on a common control network infrastructure this year, then develop control sequences to cross between systems, mainly for alarming, monitoring, and energy management requirements. This should be exciting.

What are some important considerations building owners have to think about before beginning an integration project? What are the first steps? How should they approach this?

Always begin by defining each stakeholders’ needs, wants, and desires. Set priorities and define what you can’t live without. Get input from operations, engineering, maintenance, as well as occupants. Be careful about over designing the system and making it so complex that it is not practical or serviceable long term. Simple things can make a big difference. Be sure to understand the overall communication structure and data modeling and be consistent from system to system, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time translating and reconfiguring the system.

What should someone look for in a system integration designer?

System integration designers need to have a big picture view of the owner’s requirements. They should be well versed in communication and control technologies, understand the importance of open, interoperable system design, and make sure the owner comes first. Too often I see designs focused on a specific product or vendor solution rather than the owner’s needs and goals. In several instances, the owner is convinced they need a specific product’s “feature” or “bells and whistles,” when what they really need is limited set of features that provide the desired outcomes.

Look at the big picture, the 5-to-10-year plan, and work with a design and integration team that can support the project as it progresses. Think of the integration team as you would an IT team, they should have a direct, long-term relationship with the owner. Technology, risks, and requirements all change over time and the designer and integrator must be able and willing to adapt and evolve.