Though modern-day lighting is more complicated than ever, experts contend that its pros outweigh its cons.
Based on her years of experience in the lighting industry, Melissa Cardoni, LC, lighting supplier relations manager for WESCO Distribution, confirmed that lighting has gotten more complex than ever.
“We used to see the introduction of new products every so often, like T5s and coated lamps,” she recalled of the days when conventional lighting sources ruled. “But now, every other week a new product is being brought to our attention. LEDs have definitely changed the paradigm.”
She’s quick to point out, however, that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While Cardoni confirmed that it requires work to stay on top of this ever-changing market in order to remain an expert, “we can do so much that we weren’t able to do before – from being able to change color, temperature, and light level to setting a mood,” she said. “These changes can have important implications for schools, stores, and healthcare institutions, for example, by being able to improve test scores, retail sales, and even patient health and comfort. Overall, LEDs have opened a lot of doors that we weren’t able to open before.”
Chris Andrews, product manager of Low Voltage & Wireless Lighting Systems at Eaton, agreed.
“Energy codes are driving more advanced lighting systems, which certainly can be complex, but they don’t need to be,” Andrews said. “While connected systems may seem more complicated than traditional systems, consider this – the lighting is going to be there regardless of what controls, sensors, apps, or programs are associated with it. By integrating these controls, sensors, apps, and programs into lighting, facility managers, community leaders, and even homeowners can get a far better sense of their space,” he said. “In commercial office buildings, for example, integrated sensory networks – deployed on light fixtures throughout the building – provide analytics that allow facility managers to understand exactly how their space is being used, which ultimately enables them to make better business decisions.”
According to Andrews, manufacturers like Eaton and others have also developed solutions that help improve contractor productivity by taking the complexity out of installation and commissioning from the start. “For example, our Distributed Low-Voltage Power (DLVP) solution recently helped Daigle’s Electrical Service, an electrical contractor in Louisiana, install LED lighting and controls in a leading restaurant chain location in four or five days – instead of two-and-a-half or three weeks,” said Andrews, who noted that other connected solutions are designed with intuitive controls to make them easier to install, commission, and use. “As we work to help builders and end users meet energy codes,” he said, “we’re also moving to streamline the systems by keeping productivity for the installer and user in mind.”
As Andrews sees it, the benefits and capabilities of modern-day lighting systems help eliminate the historical difficulties and complexities of maintaining lighting systems while providing value-added benefits. “Without connected solutions, maintenance teams relied on building users to report issues with the lighting system,” he pointed out. “With connected solutions, teams can be notified of problems immediately – even before issues arise – and schedule maintenance at the least intrusive time, and connected solutions can also troubleshoot faults and offer resolution tips.”
Andrews said that connected systems can also support vacancy and occupancy detection and offer additional insight into the way different parts of the building are used throughout the day. “Together,” he said, “today’s lighting systems can help improve comfort and productivity, promote energy savings, and even assist in asset tracking and monitoring.”
Staying Ahead of the Curve
That being said, “keeping up with new products and codes can certainly be a challenge for distributors and contractors,” Andrews acknowledged. “As electrical manufacturers, we know that our customers are looking to us for education and we’re working to help keep our channel informed about code updates, new products, and tips and training for faster installation and commissioning.”
At the distributor level as well, firms like WESCO are employing many strategies to keep up with an ever-changing playing field.
Among those, “we’ve recognized the importance of controls to modern lighting systems and have specialized control experts on our staff who are licensed, certified, and trained in each of our strategic partner’s control systems in order to troubleshoot and commission those products for our customers,” Cardoni said.
To stay on top of new products, “I have bi-weekly calls with our strategic lighting partners and also visit their product managers at their lighting centers twice a year so that we know exactly what’s available and what’s going to be coming out,” she said. “We also do our own research – for example, our team members attend Lightfair, LEDucation, and other key trade shows, take classes there, and then discuss each of the shows afterwards in terms of what we saw and what we need to learn more about. We also discuss what we’re hearing on the street with our colleagues in the field, such as the growing popularity of new smart poles, which are 5G-connected streetlighting poles that can share messages or ads digitally,” Cardoni said.
Among the areas that channel members find most challenging, “we see a lot of trepidation with lighting controls systems based on their lack of familiarity with the software components,” Andrews confirmed. “For many contractors, software is in the realm of ‘IT’ and simply isn’t an area of familiarity for many traditional distributors.”
Evolving lighting efficiency standards and regulations are also a source of confusion for many. “We have a large lighting team comprised of over 100 people with 6 regional lighting managers and we all discuss the latest nuances of ASHRAE and Title 24 as a team and ask our suppliers questions or watch their webinars to get their take on the topic,” Cardoni said. She noted that the decision to align with reputable manufacturers has been another winning strategy for both WESCO and its customers. “As a distributor, we’re the ones in front of the end user, so if something goes wrong, they often come to us first,” she said. “We represent manufacturers whose products are DLC or DLC Premium-rated to ensure that the solutions we provide are tested/certified, offer strong warranties, and are solid.”
Open to Learning
For a distributor to remain expert in today’s rapidly-changing lighting landscape, Eaton’s Andrews confirmed the importance of being open-minded and ready to learn new things.
“Don’t determine what you can or can’t do up-front without learning more about the system first,” he advised. “Staying abreast of the latest codes and product offerings through education and training opportunities can make a big difference for distributors, and many manufacturers offer everything from basic to in-depth classes to help distributors gain product expertise in various control systems and ultimately support their customers in making more informed decisions.” At Eaton, he said, “we routinely offer both high-level and detailed product certification training at our SOURCE Lighting Education Center.”
WESCO’s Cardoni agreed that in today’s market, knowledge is power. “Education is a huge push for us and should be a priority for other distributors too,” she said. “We want our team members to meet their potential and strive for LC or another certification; we find that this holds a lot of weight with customers, gives our people the tools they need to identify the best solution for the customer, and allows us to educate customers, too.”
As a final best practice, Cardoni concluded, “our lighting team communicates a lot and always works together to help each other.”
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