It’s time to get smart

By Steve Payne, KNX Sales Manager for Timeguard Ltd

There were some amazing new ideas at the Light+Build show in Frankfurt in April.  It’s great to see so many new controls and ideas coming onto the marketplace, but all too often they are either ignored in the UK or have been installed as little more than a direct replacement for what was there before.  It’s time for a paradigm change and, at last, I am truly optimistic about the direction the UK is taking. I think we are going to see big changes in our approach to building services over the next few years so you need to take care that you are not left behind.

I’ve worked with some real forward thinkers in the years that I have been charged with bringing to the UK market Theben’s thinking on open protocols like Opentherm for boiler control and KNX for smart buildings. I’ve seen brilliant integrators creating amazing schemes that are catapulting the buildings they work on into the 21st century and I’ve seen more and more manufacturers signing up the open system ideals to give these integrators more choice. The spirit of collaboration in which we all work is genuine and it is an enjoyable environment to work within – which is why more companies are joining KNX.

So what’s next? 

There is going to be a long tail as proprietary control systems that have been installed come to the end of their useful lifecycle. Increasingly there are gateways between these and the emerging de facto standard that is KNX, but my own feeling is that they will eventually be displaced by KNX and the shape of our industry will change.

It’s a big challenge for the businesses whose revenue model is based on selling repeat licensing for proprietary technology and maintenance revenues but I have no doubt that the systems integration sector will find its way.  If that means the emergence of more of the type of smaller, dynamic firms and informal associations of independent installers that I’ve come across, then the UK is onto a winner.

On top of that, the next generation of apprentice electricians are coming through the ranks with a whole new mindset that will help to drive us forwards and help to create buildings that are not only more comfortable and practical, but are truly energy efficient.

So it seems that we’ve won the heart and minds of many controls manufacturers and System Integrators. Now let’s make sure that specifiers realise that the industry is ready.  I still estimate that no more than 10% of new projects in the UK are adopting the KNX standard, which is remarkable because, as I see it, all the barriers to adoption have been removed.

Change your way of thinking

Consultants need to change their specifications to include KNX, but doing this effectively will mean breaking down the Chinese Wall between lighting controls and HVAC control specifiers. Quite simply, they need to get together and not work separately.

The installers and integrators are already thinking across both sectors so there are enormous cost savings to be made from joined up thinking.  And it is not such a big conceptual leap from where we are now in the UK, because there are also gateways between KNX and other common protocols, in particular DALI lighting controls. There are several KNX-DALI gateways enabling lighting to be integrated with, for instance, sophisticated and zoned presence detection with constant lighting control.

But remember that this is not just for big, new build or total refurbishment projects. As things are now, with a wide choice of products and no shortage of highly competent installers,  I would encourage anyone involved in a partial refurbishment, for example a hospital working ward by ward or firms refurbishing office space floor by floor, to start to introduce KNX and build gradually on their new infrastructure.

Work together

Every two years, our industry presents its latest innovations in lighting, electrical engineering and building automation at the Light+Building show.  Here there is no doubt that lighting is just one of the many services in a building that must all work together. By combining lighting and networked building services technology, exhibitors have shown how integrating products and services make a decisive contribution to exploiting the energy saving potential of buildings to the full, making progress towards an ultimate goal of self-sufficient and sustainable use of energy; all without compromise on comfort and convenience,

The technical arguments speak for themselves – as does the moral imperative of sustainability. If all else fails, the nation’s boardroom will have the last word as fuel prices rise and carbon levies bite.

Is KNX the panacea? It will of course continue to improve and one day it may be superseded but one thing is for sure – any successor will be a fully open system.

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