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Lightsystem DALI

Issue 41 Feb / Mar 2008

David Morgan puts the Lightsystem DALI control software through its paces and likes the results.

Lighting control systems are an arcane yet vital part of almost every lighting design scheme. A variety of both analogue and digital systems are available to cover all sizes of lighting scheme from a single room up to a complete, multi-story commercial building. The use of digital systems is now growing after a rather slow start but one of the problems with these systems is that they are considered to be complex to install and commission. Simple dimmer based and analogue 0 – 10 Volt systems are still used for the bulk of the lower end of the market and the entertainment lighting system, DMX 512, is widely used at the complex colour changing end of the market.

ERCO has successfully marketed it’s own analogue lighting control systems for many years and has recently introduced a DALI based digital system that combines software and hardware in an attractive and user-friendly design.

The Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) was developed by a number of European ballast manufacturers as a dedicated lighting control system for digital control of lighting scenes. The first digital dimming fluorescent ballasts were introduced into the European market in the early 1990s and by the end of the decade Philips, Helvar, Osram and latterly Tridonic, formed a cooperative group called DALI to create a common standard for digital dimming ballasts. It is designed to fit a niche between the lower end analogue systems and the more complex universal bus systems, which are too advanced for many applications.
In the US Lutron has dominated the lighting control market for all levels of lighting control having invented and marketed the first solid state dimmer in 1961. Lutron offers both analogue and digital lighting control systems and reached an accommodation with DALI since it’s digital ballasts can be used on DALI systems as well as Lutron’s own digital system.

DALI allows up to 64 luminaires to be individually switched or dimmed on a single circuit and for these to be combined in up to 16 freely definable groups, in which individual lights can be assigned to one or more groups. Two way data communication allows failed lamps or ballasts to be identified remotely and cabling for DALI is also simplified as a 5 way mains cable can be used to provide both power and data connections.

The ERCO Lightsystem DALI has been designed to be as user friendly as possible for installers and lighting designers.

The hardware and software elements of the system all conform to the strict minimalist design rules that one associates with ERCO products, literature, showrooms and other elements of their corporate identity.

There are four elements to the ERCO DALI system:
• The Server – which acts as the controller for up to 64 luminaires;
• The Light Changer – a wall plate controller;
• Light Studio – software that includes the Light Master, Light Book and Light Timer modules;
• Luminaires with a DALI interface.

One of the great advantages of a digital system compared to an analogue one is that the enclosures needed to house the dimmers, interface modules and power supplies can be replaced with much smaller server units. In most cases all the power handling is done at the luminaire end. The ERCO Light Server is small and cleanly designed in standard ERCO style.

To make installations as simple as possible the server automatically identifies ERCO luminaires as they are added to the system and updates the Light Book list with all their details. A complete luminaire schedule can be prepared directly from this database. Luminaires from other manufacturers are also identified by the system and their details can be added manually to complete the schedule.

Each ERCO Light Server can handle up to 64 luminaires. Installations with more than 64 luminaires can be implemented by networking up to 12 Light Server 64+ units via an integrated Ethernet interface. This allows up to 768 DALI addresses to be handled.

An automatic test routine can be run to allow the installer to check that all the luminaires on the system are working correctly and are under control from the server. The lighting designer only needs to come to site to set up the scenes once the installation is complete and the automatic test routines have been run. This would obviously avoid time wasting in the event of installation problems that had not been identified prior to commissioning.

Once the hardware is installed and is working the lighting scenes can be set up in the Light Studio software that runs on a PC and is connected to the Lightserver by a USB cable during the scheme commissioning.
Scenes are set up in the Light Master module that incorporates a Photoshop style colour wheel interface to allow colour changing luminaires to be adjusted in real time to evaluate the desired result. The timing of scene changes are set in the Light Timer which includes a light sequencer module for creating dynamic lighting effects.

The Light Changer wall plate is neatly designed in the ERCO minimalist style and allows manual override of the setting for any luminaire, scene or timing set for that group. All the luminaires on the system can be identified on the display by scrolling through the list. Any manual changes made via the Light Changer are not saved to the server and the system reverts to the original settings once the next time cycle starts.

Based on an initial investigation it would appear that the ERCO Lightsystem DALI is a well-presented and neatly designed system. It should be useful for schemes where the limited number of luminaires that can be controlled is not a problem.


The hardware and software conform to the strict minimalist design rules that one associates with ERCO products and has been designed to be as user friendly as possible for installers and lighting designers

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