HCL Control Unit: A fascinating outlook into the future of modern lighting

A brand new HCL Control Unit from LEDVANCE is one of the most popular innovations in the lighting business and a prime example of a successful innovation process. Customers and partners can take a closer look at the HCL Control Unit at the SHOW:LAB in the German headquarters in Garching. We took a look behind the scenes.

Dieter Lang, R&D Expert Human Centric Lighting

Dieter Lang, R&D Expert Human Centric Lighting

Human-centric lighting (HCL) has almost degenerated into a buzzword – everyone talks about it, but only few know what it really means. Someone who knows what he’s talking about is Dieter Lang, Research & Development Expert at LEDVANCE. “HCL solutions are still so complex and expensive that they’re mostly implemented only in new buildings. What’s been lacking to date is a simple and practical solution, especially for small offices and meeting rooms that suffer from insufficient daylight availability, i.e. a lack of natural light.” That assessment tallies with what our Sales colleagues experience. HCL projects have often not been implemented because solutions involving installation of complex lighting systems and the related renovation of the premises would be too time-consuming and costly.

A team from Innovation and R&D therefore seized the initiative and set about developing a smart solution. It became clear relatively soon that the right luminaires to launch the project already existed. What was missing was a smart, but also individual, means of controlling these luminaires.

HCL Control Unit

The idea: a smart HCL control system

Thus, the team began developing a control system. It was to offer an intelligent basic configuration, yet also allow users to intervene actively. The LEDVANCE HCL Control Unit is geared to the changes in light during the day and simulates that with the connected luminaries. As a result, light can also unfold its biologic effect on the body in rooms that don’t have windows. A special feature: Users can also actively intervene using an intuitive rotary knob and choose from five operating modes with further nuanced settings – such as “Creative” for a mode with warm light colors and a slightly reduced intensity, which is conducive to creative work. In contrast, “Concentration” mode enables focused work thanks to its higher illuminance and a color similar to actual daylight.“ The settings are based on the latest research findings on the biological impact of light,” explains Dieter Lang. User intervention is confined to reasonable bounds: “According to the latest knowledge from the field of chronobiology, certain settings – such as cold white light in the latish evening – are pointless and can disrupt your sleep at night. Consequently, not every setting is possible at every time of day. The good thing about that is users can’t go wrong and still have very extensive ways of influencing the lighting.”

However, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the HCL Control Unit is the quick and easy installation. “The basic settings have already been made, eliminating the time and effort users need to configure the control system. And thanks to wireless control and its compatibility with many of our luminaires, we’re trying to reduce the installation work involved even further.”

HCL Control Unit

A prototype for Light + Building

The project team achieved the first milestone by developing a prototype, which was presented at Light + Building in March 2018. That was made possible by the entire R&D team led by Thomas Dreier and Manuel Bauer, Head of Innovation: “The idea won us over right away. We therefore assembled a small interdisciplinary team quickly and easily. Working together very closely, and virtually overnight and with many hours of overtime, we formulated a functional prototype we were able to showcase at Light + Building and now, following its success among visitors, we’re developing it further into a product.” Just about the entire project team was on site to talk directly with customers and hear their feedback. “Our customers’ response was overwhelmingly positive,” is how Dieter Lang sums up the results. “The system seems to be exactly what customers want. We were also able to learn what other requirements our customers have, so we’ll now examine and gradually implement them.”

The HCL Control Unit now installed at the SHOW:LAB is the same prototype as shown at Light + Building. “That means our colleagues and customers can already get a picture of our product – in a realistic ambiance,” says Dieter Lang.

Where do things go from here?

The team is working flat out to make the HCL Control Unit ready for the market as soon as possible. “There are still a few steps to be done. We now have to develop a C- sample that can be mass produced and has all the necessary quality features and certification. We can then embark on larger pilot projects with it. Several customers at Light + Building voiced an interest in piloting it.”

However, the process of innovation will not come to an end when the solution is ready to be put on the market. There are already initial ideas and concepts for further developing the product iteratively over several generations. For example, some customers at Light + Building said they’d like to see presence and daylight sensors included in the HCL Control Unit in the medium term. That would ensure rooms are not lit when they are not in use. That would open up other applications, such as classrooms, where such a function is expected. And, of course, the HCL Control Unit can also be developed into a complex light management system for larger facilities.

“Such an iterative innovation and development process has a model character: It will help us launch the product as soon as possible and also tailor it to and optimize it for our customers’ differing requirements. In that way, we minimize the risk of creating innovations that ignore customers’ needs,” sums up Manuel Bauer.