Looking at Lighting with Wendell Mork of Commercial Lighting Products

LDS comlighting 400

August 18, 2020
By Blake Marchand

Certified Lighting Specialist, Wendell Mork has been with Commercial Lighting Products for 20-years, now.

“I am an LC and a member of IES, which keeps me up to date. Back in the lamp and ballast days, things didn’t change that much. Now, they’re changing constantly,” said Wendell, who is one that enjoys digging into the tech side of lighting.

After a 10-year stint with the company, he moved on to another distributor who recruited him to help with the opening of a new branch. Already established in the industry, he decided to take on another challenge in the agency side of things. Working with a small agent he eventually found his way back to Commercial Lighting Products in a role where he can utilize the full range of his experience.

“Now I get to do what I was doing as an agent, while getting to play in everybody’s sandbox and pick and choose what’s going to be best for the client.”

The two biggest areas Wendell is operating in, in his current role, is property management and contractor sales.

“With property management a lot of it is financial auditing, trying to show them where the investments are – updating buildings that haven’t been updated in 20 or 30 years,” explained Wendell.

A challenge is getting clients to understand the financing. In particular, that upgrades to a property’s or facility’s lighting infrastructure is going to end up lowering operational costs. “Trying to get property managers to understand LED is an investment, it is no longer an expense. You can make money on it. I can show you a rate of return.”

The priority for Wendell when it comes to working with contractors is developing solutions that are innovative and well suited to the particular space, while also being responsible money-wise.

“They’ll come to me with a job and say, ‘this person wants to do this, with this space…’ That’s the stuff I really love.”

Interesting Projects…

“There’s a tower downtown (Calgary), their exterior lighting is about 30+ years old. The light towers were originally MR-16 and the bases were rusting out.”

“I found a Canadian manufacturer that had a fixture very similar to what was there, so keeping the original architectural design in mind we managed to get a nice LED fixture that isn’t going to change the look all that much but now we’re going to be much more efficient. So, that was a nice challenge… Keeping the architectural idea the same without changing a whole bunch.”

“I wanted to do it in a 3000K,” Wendell elaborated, “because with exterior lighting I prefer it to be a little warmer, if possible. And downtown I thought it would stand out.” But he noted the client opted for a 4000K output, “which still stands out nicely.”

Wendell also does a lot of work on modular classrooms for Alberta Infrastructure (AI). The challenge there is working within strict specifications, “Alberta Infrastructure can be pretty stringent, the spec almost reads like they have a specific fixture in mind. But I managed to find a find a fixture that was budget friendly and still filled all their criteria.”

Often with these types of AI modular construction projects, it can be a challenge to meet criteria and ultimately get approval from AI. There are even instances where a contractor will have to rip out all the fixtures and start over. Wendell was proud to note that he and his client haven’t run into any issues getting projects approved by AI.

Its those types of challenges he enjoys. As well as projects where he gets to implement some design aspects. A hotel ballroom project, for example, where he found a wall sconce that, design wise, blended perfectly with the room. Which is something that lends to his experience in the industry. With projects like these, as well as the downtown tower, Wendell likes to factor in an aesthetic aspect. If a particular fixture doesn’t look quite right for a particular project, its going stick out and take away from the project’s overall look and feel.

What’s interesting to you from a technology perspective?

Wendell noted one of the contractors he works with is doing more and more with tunable fixtures, something he really sees the value in, “I’m a huge fan of tunable white, specially now that the costs have come down. Its just the control systems that start to cost a bit of money. But if you’re going to do a lighting and controls upgrade – to not do tunable white is just wrong in my mind as long as there is a budget for it”

Elaborating on the advantages of tunable white, Wendell explained if you spend too much time under blue light it makes it more difficult for the brain to wind down, impacting sleeping habits.

“Studies have found that with tunable white you can mimic the sun, with colour temperatures changing throughout the day,” he explained, “starting at a warmer colour, becoming bluer, and getting warmer again. Studies have found people are more productive, less stressed, in classrooms marks are higher.”

“Human centric lighting is, I think, a huge part of our future. Partly because the concept has come down in price. It’s just some of the control systems can by pricey, and if you want quality, you’re going to pay for it.”

Wendell continued on that point, “with controls its not just price, its also usability. Studies that have been published through IES over the years have found property managers, who have spent millions on putting control systems into large towers, find that in a few years nobody is using them because they’re too complicated to program and they’re too complicated to use.”

“I have a building right now that has that exact same situation. They’ve got a gorgeous control system, but nobody knows how to operate it.”

Part of the issue, Wendell noted, is that the contractors who installed the system didn’t leave an ‘as built’ guide for the system. “That is something I put together for every job I do,” said Wendell.

Another issue is proprietary technologies that are only compatible with a specific brand or line.

“If you don’t have an open code to communicate with others, you’re really corralling yourself.”

“Having BACnet capabilities and wireless capabilities are very important.”

Wendell explained a practical scenario relating to the benefit of open source products/systems: “If you’re a property manager and you’ve got a large tower and you have one tenant that wants controls, but you already have your BOS and you don’t want your tenant to be away from that. You can use the Lutron Vive system for that tenant and your building operating system (BOS) can still tie into it. So, the tenant has their own control, but you as the building owner are not losing all control.”

Looking ahead…

“I had one manufacturer at a seminar, a number of years ago, he had a six-inch surface mount downlight and it was just a circuit board, and he asked, ‘what do you want me to put on here’?” Whether it’s a motion sensor, Co2 sensor, noise sensor etc., standard fixtures can be easily programmed and inexpensively, “In that sense, we are just at the beginning of what lighting can do.”

Looking at the potential of lighting in a broader sense, Wendell noted data communication as something intriguing to him, one option so far is LiFi, however technology is changing quickly.

“Lighting has become more than just lighting.”

How will new technology impact the broader industry landscape?

“There’s a lot of consolidation going on in the industry, has been for the past couple years. There’s also been some diversification as some companies are dropping their lighting lines because they don’t see anything in it. Some are spinning them off, its now a much longer-term investment. You go from what used to be 90-day to 6-month sales cycle to 5-7 years.”

“Your initial investment has grown considerably but the expense to operate has come down considerably. Again, it comes down to making sure people know it is an investment.”

“Where the industry is going to go, who’s going to be around? I don’t know, the industry is changing so rapidly. Are some of these big technology companies going to start pushing out our tradition lighting companies? Or are they going to start working in collaboration with each other, because your light now is just a piece of hardware and software. What can you make it do? That’s up to the software guys.”

Blake Marchand is an Associate Editor with Kerrwil Electrical Group

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