Exciting times

RELUX-CEO Markus Hegi on challenges and changes in the era of digitalization

RELUX CEO Markus Hegi knows the automation and lighting industry from the most different perspectives. In this interview, he talks about the challenges he faces in his work and the growing desire for standardisation.
Nowadays, there are few industries that can do without specialised software, the manufacturers of which are therefore often among the key players in entire economic sectors. In the sensor and lighting industry, one example is the Relux planning software. CEO Markus Hegi talks about the changes, challenges and perspectives in his work.

He was a site manager for electrical and security systems, managing director of an electrical installation company and a long-standing department and project manager in the international lighting industry – Markus Hegi, an engineer with a degree cum laude, can justifiably claim to know his industry from every angle.

For more than 20 years now, he, together with his team, has steered the fate of the Relux lighting and sensor planning software and has also been involved on a part-time basis in his favourite topics: As a lecturer at universities and vocational schools, he inspires young people to get involved in lighting, electrical and measurement technology.

Mr. Hegi, when was the last time you planned your lighting?

Not that long ago. About three weeks ago.

So you actually still do it yourself?

I do it every now and then. Not least to try out the functions of the software. Even though I no longer do it every day, of course, I want to be there and feel for myself: Is it easy? Is the handling OK? Do I find it pleasant from the user's point of view?

And when did you carry out your very first lighting plan?

It must have been 1988/89 – before Relux in any case. A lot had to be done manually. C# calculator, type it in, length, width, then select the LDC and so on. It was all harder work back then. Done either with a DOS program or by hand. And there weren't many people who could do that.

»Time-to-market is the be-all and end-all for software.«

In the meantime, that has changed radically. We live in the age of digitalisation. What are the biggest challenges in software development today?

One of the biggest challenges are the disruptive things that are happening globally in the market. For example, the Internet of Things. The industry itself is not sure where the journey is heading and at what speed. They always need a head start of several years. Time-to-market is the be-all and end-all for software. If we're dragging two or three years behind like a lame duck, but the market needs it now because new technologies would make it possible, then the goal has not been achieved. They need to have a flair for knowing where the market is heading and where new needs are emerging – always be two or three steps ahead in planning and also in implementation.

The timing of a beautifully lit outdoor shot also needs to be well planned: RELUX main building near Basel.

There are also constant changes in standards, which are an central accompanying factor in their work. How do you manage to keep up to date?

When the company started up, it was actually difficult to find out about standards at all, because you didn't find out anything until the draft. But that is no longer the case today. In Europe, people know each other and talk about it. But if someone comes along and says without notice that this or that standard is going to be launched within a few months, it can mean that we are a year and a half or two years too late.

But the worst thing when it comes to standards is when they can be interpreted in various ways. It's okay if a standard only covers part of a physical truth, because maybe you just can't do any better or the cost-benefit ratios are so far apart, but then just write it down clearly: Yes, here are the limits.

Can you give an example?

Take street lighting. Street lighting is calculated in luminance values for certain street classes. This can be simulated and can also be measured on site. However, depending on the quarry from which the stones for the asphalt come, the asphalt will be slightly different from the average reflection tables used in the standard. There's no way to change this. So, if you want to be certain that you're adhering to the values as described in the standard exactly, then absurdly enough there ought to be only one stone supplier for asphalt in Europe. You can see from this example, of which there are many: Standards have their limits.

Perhaps a second example to illustrate how problematic different interpretations of a standard can be. This was about glare evaluation according to UGR in indoor areas. The standard for this allowed two different ways of calculating the background luminance. The result was that the simulations came up with different results and the industry justifiably asked the question: So, which one applies? Who are we supposed to believe? We then, via the shortest official channels, agreed on a uniform calculation method together with our competitors in the market. But if that were not possible, such a standard would be counter productive.

»If we can really concentrate on just a few things,then the quality will also be better.«

As far as variety and the wealth of variants are concerned, you as a software manufacturer are certainly also troubled by the large number of file formats.

That's why we've now turned the tables. Together with other software manufacturers, we're defining a new, uniform file format for the industry. This should give the industry a breather when it comes to delivering data in a wide variety of formats. The effort demanded of the industry today when it comes to the preparation of commercial and product-related data is enormous. This can quickly bring a company to the edge of its capabilities if it's not very well organised.

What does the new format provide?

It will be a transparent, public data format for the sensor and lighting industry, covering needs reaching from the European Product Database to BIM. It will contain much more comprehensive information than the commonly used IES and LDT formats. I'm also expecting there to be a gain in quality. If I as a manufacturer can concentrate on a few standards that are constantly evolving in line with market requirements, then that will give me peace of mind. This is something everyone is familiar with. If we can really concentrate on just a few things, then the quality will be better.

Putting fast cars in the right light: Relux planning project on the Formula 1 race track in Abu Dhabi.

The leading manufacturers of presence and motion detectors in the SensNorm association also strive for standardisation. Relux itself is one of the founding members. What is your contribution?

The simulation of sensor measurement data in programs. It is, of course, important to ensure that the results are consistent with the specified technical data. That's why we made every effort to get the manufacturers around the same table, so that we could define a uniform measurement
and test methodology for the industry with the help of SensNorm.

Relux was the initiator?

Yes, we were the main initiator. We said hey, we have to get together, even if we are competitors. We have to agree on how we measure. It's not possible to do such a big job alone. It was really a huge delight to see how the companies were able to jump over their shadows and put something like this together in just a few years. That is a really great achievement.

»Proper BIM planning means more to methan just dragging a stupid 3D object intothe building without any technical data.«

SensNorm is headquartered in Bern, where the first test laboratory that will work according to the new standards for presence and motion detectors is currently being built. Relux is also located in Switzerland. Are the Alps a particularly good breeding ground for building services engineering?

Well, I worked for a lighting company for a long time. When the first electronic operating devices came onto the market, Switzerland was used by the major brands as a test market. And this is still happening today. The country is small enough, and the people in Switzerland are quite the technophiles.

But the fact that the new laboratory is located in Switzerland is a coincidence. It only depended on which institution was willing to take up the challenge and set up a neutral measurement laboratory. And that was Peter Blattner, President of the International Commission on Illumination CIE and head of the optics laboratory at METAS, the Swiss metrology institute. We found it to be a good thing, because the company is an independent state enterprise, i.e. neither a lighting nor a sensor manufacturer. I hope that the industry will benefit from this independence.

Sensor and lighting data are also used in planning with building information modelling, with BIM. How does this influence your work?

A great deal. It is becoming an increasingly integral part of the construction industry, and we have been convinced. We also believe that people involved in BIM projects want to work with native data and don't want to accept any loss of information. That is why we have developed an add-on for Revit, the BIM tool for electrical planning. It can also be used to simulate the technical data of PIR sensors with presence and motion areas. For me, proper BIM planning is more than just dragging a stupid 3D object, which at best still knows what it's called and which company it comes from, into the building without technical data.

ESYLUX is »BIM ready«

Building information modelling is being used more and more often when planning larger projects and ensures greater transparency and efficiency across disciplines. The automation and lighting solutions can also be easily planned by ESYLUX with ReluxCAD for REVIT, the BIM program for electrical planning – as with the PD-C 360i/32 presence detector above. The appropriate RFA file is available to download for every product.

How would you explain the advantages of BIM in simple terms?

With BIM, everyone works with the same building model and can use the information for their own planning activities. There's the person responsible for ventilation who draws ventilation pipes in the rooms, then there's the electrical planner who routes cables on the ceiling so that they don't get in the way of the ventilation pipes. The electrical planner takes this information into account, for example, when planning the lighting and the motion and presence detectors. The goal is greater efficiency, transparency and sustainability. However, some effort is still required before this is achieved. A small but important piece of the puzzle is the suppliers' product data.

Will BIM change job profiles in the field of building services engineering?

It's already doing so. I have the greatest respect for all these planning offices, which actually had to get their heads around all this from one day to the next. They were all thrown in at the deep end. They were suddenly told: You now have to plan using BIM. And lots of countries jumped right on the bandwagon. You could really see how more and more countries, from England right down to the south, started to specify BIM for public works projects, without knowing exactly what they were demanding. So, we are going through an extremely exciting time.

»I never wanted to be involved in software,it just happened!«

Mr Hegi, in your younger years you were managing director of a electrical installation company. Does that help you with your work today?

It helps me massively. Especially because electrical installation technicians also plan the systems for smaller and medium-sized buildings themselves before they then implement them. I still benefit from this experience of how people work and plan. It is a very good basis and helps with seeing the situation from the user's point of view. That is one of my strengths. I never wanted to be involved in software, it just happened! Luckily, I have excellent people with excellent knowledge.

Finally, if you take a look into the future, what does lighting planning look like in say 20 or 30 years?

Here, I'm reflective and hope it is for the benefit of people. But, thanks to artificial intelligence and the networking of data and programs, a lot more will be automated. However, I actually find the expression machine learning more accurate than the term artificial intelligence. If we make the machine and the software that controls it so intelligent that it performs certain routine tasks better and more efficiently than a person.

The machine knows much better than a person where the optimal place is for a presence detector in the room, if it knows what you want to achieve with it. Then, the thing swooshes through the whole building automatically and, about five seconds later, they are all placed. There won't be any more manual copy and paste.

Many thanks for the interesting conversation.