This month's blog comes from the Anolis UK team.  Ashley Popple, Business Development Manager for London and the South East delves into the vital importance of getting the control specifications right in your next architectural lighting design and how this is a crucial factor for all involved.

When designing dynamic lighting it’s always important get the controls design right. Quite commonly this is an afterthought, “you can do the controls, right?”

It’s essential to master the controls specification as it can make or break a lighting scheme in the eyes of an end user. It can also lead to many extra man-hours troubleshooting onsite to resolve the controls ‘issue’ and possible additional costs in rectifying problems or supplying different software or hardware.

One size doesn’t fit all. Some clients have greater technical knowledge at their fingertips-and thus a clearer picture of what is required. Interfaces must be carefully considered, especially where more complex DMX specifications are designed.

There should be a ‘fit’ for the clients use. Whether they want the scheme to run autonomously, or whether they want the ability to select or edit and write their own sequences, or add their own content.

The client has an active part to play in this process and designers must know how they can manage the control.  What control do they need? Who gets access to the controls? Where do controls need locating. These may sound like minor concerns, but I have been called back to sites where the “lights weren’t working properly”.  Only to find that the controls were being “played with” by night security guards!

Leisure or retail complexes present challenges where there is more than one tenant who uses and benefit from the lighting control. For us, an initially dynamic coloured lighting scheme on a leisure project became a compromised simple on/off time clock with white light scheme. Unresolved design aspirations led to this compromise on what was possibly a missed opportunity for a more imaginative and innovative lighting scheme.

Onsite difficulties with control  extends to a lack of knowledge and experience with installation of DMX controls. From minimal understanding on cable runs and types,  especially longer cable runs, installers ask us to assist and give onsite training.

Thought needs to be given to the programming process. Often the programmer is expected to program an extensive lighting scheme from a position where he or she has little or no clear visibility of the scheme. This can be a broom cupboard in a plant area on a roof where there’s no ability to see lighting effects working fully. Expensive programming time is thus wasted going back and forth to check results. Another example of wasted time and money in rectifying problems which had no clear control strategy from the start.

The revision of BSRIA’s ‘Soft Landings’ protocol in 2018 https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Soft_landings has reiterated the need for ensuring operators fully understand systems like lighting control before occupation. The focus is on the design team having a better perception of the client’s needs throughout the project.

Once the system is in and programmed it’s important the people using it understand how the system works. Training needs should be identified and the controls programmers must provide adequate documentation of how the system has been programmed and addressed. This becomes more important with the growth of public realm spaces and multi use venues where clients may need to be able to pass over temporary control of the lighting for specific events, for example.  A clear understanding of how a system is configured and addressed can save huge amounts of time for the incoming parties.

Designers must consider maintenance for items such as software and hardware updates. Key pads and touchscreens do wear out and may need replacements. Remote controls may get lost or need batteries and the current favourite- tablets- get dropped, lost or stolen. And then everyone wants to know who has the back up!

At Anolis we have 14 years of experience supporting lighting projects using DMX technology and control. As sister company to the top ‘moving heads’ Robe Group, we work at the forefront of both optics and control-specialising in 18 bit technology. We understand the technical merits and flexibility with this type of control and at the same time pitfalls which occur with bad installations. What to recommend and what to avoid.

A way of solving these issues has been to offer onsite support (second to none..) and training for integrators and contractors alike. And to ensure that lighting control figures at the start, middle and end of each lighting design we’re involved with.

To be part of some of the most amazing dynamic lighting projects around the world means that you have to understand the simple mantra..It’s all about control!

For more information on Anolis Lighting and contact information, click here.