Electrical accessory manufacturers enter home automation sector
Several electrical accessory manufacturers have begun entering the home automation market. Cameron Grimes takes a look at some of the solutions on offer and how they might affect the custom channel.
Since it began, the custom channel has largely been isolated from the rest of the electrical industry. The electrical accessory market is a multi-billion dollar industry, with the custom channel making up a small percentage of its total business.
The demand for custom control and home automation from end users has seen a significant increase in recent years, though, so it is no surprise that a number of large electrical accessory manufacturers have begun to enter this market with their own home automation solutions.
Companies like Legrand, ABB, Hager and Clipsal by Schneider Electric have all recently introduced product lines into the smart home automation space, which aim to offer simple to install, simple to use solutions for homes and offices.
However, unlike traditional solutions adopted by integrators, these products are marketed towards electricians and similarly qualified contractors who will be capable of installing and programming the control themselves.
Legrand national systems and solutions manager Luca Frigerio says it was only a matter of time that companies like Legrand looked for ways to expand the potential of their electrical products.
“Technology is rapidly evolving and connected devices are now the standard for everyday living. These changes have transformed the industry’s landscape, which impacts how our products are designed,” Luca says.
Legrand’s MyHome and Intuity home automation solutions enable control over a household’s lighting, air-conditioning, audio entertainment and video intercoms.
“Our main goal is combining simplicity with technology. We want our systems to be streamlined for those who use them. We want our systems to be user-friendly for the end user, giving them complete control over that they’re using,” Luca adds.
“We also want a streamlined installation process for the integrator, and finally, we need our products to be simple and versatile for the contractor.”
Hager national training and technical services manager Wayne Mosch agrees, and says that simplicity in the installation of the company’s newly introduced Coviva system, and its other offerings such as KNX Easy, is an important aspect for the future of these types of technology.
“If you give contractors full-blown polytechnic systems at the beginning, they’ll get scared. We’re trying to ease people into these types of systems so that they become comfortable with them, and in turn, experts,” he says.
“Maybe at some stage, they’ll go to the larger systems. That’s how we’re going down the path of automation in our business. We’ve got an ambitious goal that we think is very achievable.
“The thing that we’re finding is that they’re typically younger contractors or contracting companies that have seen the opportunity to expand their business and developing their younger employees because this is what they see as the future of their businesses.”
Smart Voice managing director Paul Detering echoed this view, arguing that the nature of the modern electrician is changing.
“Previously they’re doing the wiring for homes. The ‘electrician of today’ is embracing the smart home and becoming a networking expert. There are a lot of young people out there building good businesses and expanding them,” he says.
“Electricians are critical. There are plenty of young electricians that are out there, but it is a trade that is in desperate need of growth.”
A concern that integrators have is that these home automation solutions might result in their line of work being made redundant, but there is plenty of involvement and collaboration from the custom channel required, according to Clipsal by Schneider Electric smart space director Ben Green.
“In a new home or build, you’re working with the electrician on what points and light switches you want where, and they can ultimately advise you of the overall structure of the setup. That’s where their role stops,” he says.
“Electricians are great at putting cables in walls and keeping it regulated and compliant. Where the system integrator comes into play is where you want to make it all the technology work together.
“In a modern residential environment, you’ve got a lot of different things that are connected now and we want to avoid too many remotes on the table, too many apps on your phone, and so on. The integrator is in charge of making them all work together.
“They are still, as a service in a highly connected environment, really important.”
ABB Australia training and technical specialist Ian Richardson says that the company’s Free@Home solution is heavily targeted towards electrical contractors, but when it comes more complex systems, integrators are still very much at the forefront.
“Often integrators are using a higher level product than Free@Home, such as a KNX system,” he says.
“Usually, they’re more involved with a higher level home or commercial business. It’s something that’s out of reach for Free@Home.
“I think there’s always going to be a place for the electrician, likewise, definitely a place for the system integrator. It comes into the level of what complexity of the installation that they have to be working on. The two will always go hand in hand.”
The time commitment required to become familiar with these systems is significantly shorter than traditional control systems. Free@Home and KNX Easy for example, have training courses that can be completed within a few hours.
“Those that have taken up this technology are contractors that are working on second or third homes, where there’s a requirement to have some sort of automation but not at a highly complex level,” Wayne says.
“They’re people who have said that they don’t really want to do any complex training, which is the market our solution is catered for.”
The training required and offered varies from company to company. Legrand, for example, provides education that includes in-depth training in technologies, sales advice and market trends. This aims to give contractors using Legrand systems gain theoretical and practical experience for its solutions.
“Our training provides support through every step of the contractor’s journey. This involves pre, during and post installation and also throughout the commissioning process,” Luca says.
“Communication is key. Our smart home solutions are catered towards the trade and end-user markets. As such, our messages must be tailored to suit each market’s needs.”
Post-installation support for these systems also varies, but the simplicity of these solutions aims to provide basic troubleshooting options for both end users and contractors.
“With Free@Home, once the installation is complete, the electrician still has a role to play, which is quite important. Not only are they in charge of the programming and the installation, they will provide the ongoing support as well,” Ian says.
“Though ABB can provide technical support on products, as a rule, we don’t get involved with programming. That is the realm of the electrician and we don’t want to tread on their toes and take away any potential business or income.
“Through this process, the electrician can look like quite the expert to their clients.”
Luca argues that the need for systems that are simple to install is a reflection on the market, and with the attention that home automation has received, the more options available to end users and consumers, the better.
“Within approximately three to five years, smart technology will be integrated into every single device within Legrand’s portfolio,” he says.
“Smart technology is embedded into contemporary culture. In a volatile, yet exciting time like this, we need to make sure we’re keeping up with these trends.”
Ian agrees, saying that the international market for smart technology is expanding rapidly, and will eventually become more widespread in Australia.
“Unfortunately for us, Australia always lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to home automation, he says.
“However, we also get to see what is working, which allows us to work out what direction we can go, and what end users are interested in having in their homes.”
CEDIA regional development consultant Lauren Tuckwell says the organisation acknowledges the increase of electricians entering the custom channel as a positive step for the industry, but ensuring that comprehensive training and appropriate certification is completed is essential in delivering the best possible service to clients.
“Technology is increasingly infiltrating the home. As a result, many require comprehensive wiring infrastructures and data network systems that are suitable for the modern smart home. In order to prevent opportunists from ‘doing it themselves’, it’s crucial for electricians to offer a service that homeowners can benefit from,” Lauren says.
“The rise of ‘smart’ wiring presents a great opportunity for electricians to offer a service that homeowners can benefit from. By offering a more complete service for the home, including specialist services, electricians can guarantee their businesses will be more resilient to the tough times and pick up more work from new and existing customers.
“To make sure electricians are equipped with the correct skills and knowledge, CEDIA is on hand with the best available training when it comes to wiring for smart homes. For electricians to gain credibility within this market, it is important for them to achieve certification.
“CEDIA Certification establishes clear, objective standards for knowledge within the home technology industry.”