NGLS Indoor Evaluations: Documentation

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The parties involved in the development, specification, installation, and operation of connected lighting systems – IT and controls engineers, lighting specifiers, installers, and owners – each speak a different language. They may understand specific terms differently, or they may not recognize some terms in this context at all (e.g., “scene” or “device”). What seems clear to a specifier, for example, may be ambiguous to the installer. Miscommunication can occur at any stage of a project and between any of the parties involved, and such problems often show up in the system documentation and installation instructions.

Next Generation Lighting Systems Competition One Installation: Terminology

CHARACTERIZATION

NGLS found a wide variation in the format and content of the control-system installation documents, with a correspondingly wide variation in their clarity and usefulness. Many of the documents relied mainly on text, with wordy instructions and language that was sometimes unfamiliar to the contractors. Contractors generally found that these documents weren’t as helpful as they could have been, and often did not read the detailed text thoroughly, particularly when small font sizes made reading difficult. With some of the systems, the installation instructions were much more graphical, using numerous screenshots, sketches, and diagrams.  In some cases, excessive documentation was provided, making it a challenge to find the specific information that was really needed.

Next Generation Lighting Systems Indoor Evaluations — Documentation

Similarly, the most successful startup and configuration documentation used quick-start guides or screenshots, or located instructions directly in the app or computer program. Lengthy, detailed instructions were the most frustrating and, often, confusing to the installers. Installation videos, especially for the retrofit kits, were particularly helpful to the contractors, provided the links were readily accessible. And since most people are creatures of habit, when something looks familiar they tend to treat it according to their previous experience, without reviewing the documentation that’s provided – which, in the case of connected lighting systems, can lead to problems if the equipment needs to be treated differently from the familiar item!

Typically, control system installation and configuration instructions are shipped in the same boxes as the equipment. But when controls are integrated into the luminaire, and the configuration tool is a phone app, there is no “box” in which to ship the control documentation.  Additionally, installers may not be aware of, or consult, web-based documentation.

Three photos of various connected lighting system documentation.

TAKEAWAYS

Communication in the form of specifications, installation instructions, and product documentation clearly contributed to many of the installation and configuration issues observed during the evaluation process. Consequently, NGLS encourages specifiers to write a clear, narrative specification that articulates how the system is intended to perform. Manufacturers are encouraged to provide clear product documentation and installation instructions using language and illustrations readily understandable by installation contractors. Quick-setup guides, accessible online videos, and instructions included as part of the phone app are also recommended. In terms of improvement, documentation may well be the easiest – and most effective – first step manufacturers can take to make their systems easier to install and configure.