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Webster MarshThis month, the Integrated Lighting Campaign (ILC) interviewed Webster Marsh, lighting controls specialist, thought leader, and owner of Penumbra Controls. He talked with the ILC about recommended best practices for setting your project up for success, shared some valuable guidance,  and described what role integrators can play. 

Tell us about yourself and your company.

My name is Webster Marsh, I am a lighting controls specialist and the owner of Penumbra Controls. I provide lighting controls designs and specifications. I began my career in theatrical lighting design and migrated over to architectural lighting design after LEDs and color changing luminaires grew in popularity. My scope of work as a lighting controls designer covers a wide range of responsibilities, but integration design is one of those responsibilities.

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

The most common integration designs requested are between audio and visual for something like a conference room or for building-wide automation that integrates mechanical equipment with lighting. The design intent is often to utilize a single device to control multiple devices, such as using a touchscreen to control a television and the lighting in a room or using an occupancy sensor to switch the heating and the lighting simultaneously.

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

Burgeoning technology always needs integration design. Lighting controls are constantly changing, and integration services are the buffer between the cutting-edge technology and the end users. New ideas like Smart Cities, tunable white lighting, or the Internet of Things are driving a greater need for integrators. If lighting controls technology stopped changing, eventually the need for integration would slow, but most projects today need some level of integration to be successful.

What are the initial steps a building owner should take before starting an integration project?

  • The first step should be to identify whether integration is needed on the project. This can be easily done by asking a few minor questions:
    • Do you want systems to communicate with each other, such as to share a switch or touchscreen?
    • Do you want customized controls, such as personalized touch screen layout?
    • Do you want to have remote controls, such as controlling lighting from your smartphone?
  • The second step should be to assemble an all-star team.
  • The third step should be to meet with your team and thoroughly detail out your vision and identify who should be responsible for the integration design.

What does your all-star design and build team look like?

Aside from an architect and an engineer, you should identify who will be responsible for the integration design. Sometimes, architects or engineers will take on this responsibility, but if a sub-consultant is recruited to design the lighting controls system, then that person may be the integration designer. The following are the essential roles, which can sometimes be represented by the same person or firm. For example, an engineer may also provide lighting and controls design.

  • Architect: Designs, plans, and supervises project
  • Engineer: Designs, analyzes, and coordinates projects
  • Lighting Designer: Designs and coordinates the project lighting
  • Lighting Controls Designer: Designs and coordinates project lighting controls
  • Lighting Controls Integration Designer: Designs and coordinates project controls integration

What are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you often encounter when integrating a system?

The biggest challenge is identifying scope and responsibility. Often, there are assumptions made during the design process regarding who is responsible for the integration, but it may or may not be assigned at the outset of a project. Sometimes, integrators are on-boarded close to the deadline, which isn’t ideal because designs may have to change to accommodate the integration design.

The next biggest challenge is coordinating installation and commissioning. Simple device-to-device integration can be easily designed if both devices share a protocol but coordinating how they are installed and programmed is another story. Because integration involves multiple kinds of contractors, identifying which contractor provides devices and which contractor provides services can help avoid serious issues later.

Can you share a notable lighting integration success story? What were the challenges and outcomes?

One project I worked on required elevators to have custom manufactured color changing lighting that was triggered by the elevators. The owner had three elevator bays and a lot of foot traffic. He wanted the elevators to inform people waiting which elevators were on a different floor, which elevators were on the same floor, and which elevators were not available. The solution was to provide a colored square of light above each bay, using red to indicate it was not working, white to indicate it was on another floor, and green to indicate it was on the same floor and taking passengers.

It began as a simple design—after all, elevator-activated lighting is pretty common, but the coordination ballooned into multiple hours-long meetings with various trades throughout the project. The problem was identifying which trades would provide which parts of the system, and so we needed to detail out every device, wire, and termination with appropriate division labels. The end result was great, and everyone was satisfied, and everyone involved saw firsthand how a good integration design can be executed.

What are some important considerations building owners have to think about on their projects? What are some things they absolutely cannot miss?

A lot of time can be spent trying to verify an effective design, but all of that work can be easily undone by a cheap substitution. Substitutions take a lot of time and effort to make sure they provide the same design, so just note that on paper the cost may be cheaper but in reality, it may result in more time and money later when everyone tries to make it work.

Many contractors are now hiring integrators to support their projects, which means their overall cost goes up. This may seem like a bad thing, but the reason they do this at the outset is to avoid adding the cost later if they run into trouble. I will make sure to specify an integrator if I need a contractor to hire an integrator, which owners should be aware of and approve.

Never ever use documentation that says “[x] provided by others.” This is a guaranteed scope gap and will add time and cost to the project during construction. Good integration design identifies these components and should say something like “[x] is provided by division 23 contractor,” but there should be additional documentation to break down responsibilities if other contractors are responsible for work specified.

Now that the integration is complete, what’s next? How often should a client expect to perform maintenance, updates, and recommissioning?

If the owner wants it, a good integration designer will make sure to include futureproofing devices and services in their documentation. Futureproofing can be as simple as identifying the person who will answer technical support questions, but it can also include follow-up visits by the contractor for fine-tuning the system or ongoing software support for a custom user interface.

How do you make sure an integration can easily be expanded or scaled in the future?

As mentioned above, futureproofing is an essential part of modern lighting controls design. Fortunately, most networked lighting controls will provide the necessary tools to be scalable but for most manufacturers, this does tend to “lock” an owner to a specific manufacturer. Additional specifications, such as interfaces, non-proprietary terminations, and open protocols, can open a system to work with a different manufacturer, but these will require an integrator to be involved on the project that ties into the first manufacturer’s system.

What are some trends in lighting integration that make you excited?

Right now, awareness. People are starting to become much more aware of not just the existence of systems integrators and lighting controls integrators, but the need for them. There has also been a lot of innovative technology, such as color changing LEDs, Internet of Things data tracking, and Smart City designs, which has increased the demand for integrators. Lighting controls get a bad rapport when the execution is sloppy, so I’m excited to see the continued success, and hopefully a better public image, of lighting controls thanks to integrators and integration designers.