Operating costs are a concern for all building managers, whether they’re in charge of an office or a factory. LED lights can help — and when those lights connect to the internet of things (IoT), they can deliver still more benefits.
Intelligent lighting can make energy adjustments automatically, using sensors to decide when to light up a room — or to turn down the air conditioning.
And that’s not all. Intelligent lighting can have surprising benefits. It can improve indoor air quality, tighten facility security, and even help factories run more efficiently.
Lights That See and Hear
Intelligent lighting combines LEDs, sensors, and wireless networks with building automation software. Pulling these technologies together takes a team effort.
Consider the approach taken by Current, a smart energy startup within GE. By combining GE’s lighting knowledge with Intel’s sensor-processing expertise, Current created a full-fledged lighting solution that is as efficient to deploy as it is to operate.
In commercial buildings, Current’s lights can detect ambient temperature, humidity, and carbon monoxide levels. They can determine whether a room is full of people, has a just a few occupants or is empty.
Together these measurements provide the information needed to adjust temperature and lighting automatically. Plus, intelligent lights can integrate with conference room scheduling systems to simplify planning and keep energy bills low.
Intelligent lights can “see” a building and its grounds using cameras and motion detectors and “hear” what’s going on with sound sensors. In many cases, the sensors can eliminate the need for single-purpose security cameras and motion detectors, helping cut capital expenditure (because less equipment is needed) and operational expenditure (because there are fewer systems to maintain).
If a window breaks or someone yells for help, those lights can alert owners, police or firefighters. Over time, property managers might spot trends to help with long-range planning and predictive maintenance.
The benefits can be massive. GE used the technology at a manufacturing facility to achieve a 24 percent reduction in energy use and a boost in productivity worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How Intelligent Lighting Works
Setting up Current’s lighting can be surprisingly easy. The lights connect to a local controller through a wireless ZigBee network, which in turn connects to a server either on the premises or in the cloud. From there, data can be sliced and diced in any number of ways. Controller dashboards can display information as granular as a burnt-out light bulb or as broad as the annual cost of heating 500 offices.
“Companies can take terabytes of data from all of their branches and quickly evaluate it,” said Samuel Grebe, director of strategic accounts, commercial and hospitality at Current.
Secure in The Middle, Open on the Ends
Current’s platform has an open architecture, which means it can work with sensors and other hardware made by any manufacturer. Analysis can be done either in the cloud or on the local controller using powerful Intel processors to crunch data on-site.
In either case, the analytics run on GE’s Predix platform. This secure platform lets third-party developers create custom apps that allow building managers to focus on the information most important to them.
“We provide an open bottom, a secure middle and an open top, so companies aren’t restricted to using GE equipment or one kind of software,” Grebe said.
More Efficient Factories
Manufacturers, too, can use lighting to improve operations. At a plant run by GE Power in Greenville, South Carolina, GE and Intel are installing LED lights with embedded sensors. These lights will measure the temperature near a turbine assembly stand, where it’s critical for parts to be heated and cooled at a uniform rate. By tracking temperature with intelligent lighting, the factory expects to identify potential defects that could avoid rework — dodging weeks of possible downtime.
Temperature information will be uploaded to the Predix cloud, which will use Intel technology to deliver readings in real time along various points of the turbine as parts are heated and cool down. Data will be visualized, letting the workers know if there is a potential defect.
Other factories could find their own ways of using intelligent lighting. The built-in sensors could detect malfunctions or parts that are wearing down, benefiting both product quality and equipment maintenance. Or they could optimize air quality, enabling manufacturers to maintain safe conditions without running ventilation systems excessively.
Make Intelligent Buildings a Reality
The more building and factory managers use intelligent lights to collect information, the more insights they stand to gain. Though their needs may change, they will always have access to the latest and most detailed information to guide their decisions.
When humble light fixtures are outfitted with sensors and connected to the cloud, they can unleash truly brilliant ideas for cities, buildings, and factories.