The Smart Building Industry Begins to See Cleaning in a New Light

Few in-building technologies have experienced a more significant boost from the COVID-19 pandemic than UV-C light disinfection. The sanitation solution has been used for more than 40 years in disinfecting drinking water, wastewater, ventilated air, and pharmaceutical products, against a range of human pathogens. This year’s on-going global health crisis, however, has focused extra hype on cleaning methods that could help control the spread of viruses. Recent developments in the industry now suggest that the hype around UV-C light disinfection may have some real growth potential.

Signify is increasing its UV-C lighting production capacity and expanding its UV-C product portfolio, leveraging its experience in the technology and acquiring GLA, a small, Netherlands-based company with extensive expertise in UV-C. Part of the new range is targetted specifically at offices, schools, and restrooms, using sensors and controls to ensure they only operate when people and animals aren’t present. Other products include mobile, freestanding UV-C luminaires designed for hotel rooms or and public transport.

“We have introduced 12 families of UV-C lighting fixtures specifically designed to disinfect air, surfaces, and objects. These products target different customer segments ranging from offices, schools, gyms, retail stores, warehouses, as well as on public transport,” Harsh Chitale, Leader of Signify’s Digital Solutions Division. “The assets and know-how acquired from GLA will help us to accelerate the development of our roadmap of UV-C based upper-room air disinfection systems. We plan to make these products available across the world soon,” added Paul Peeters, Leader of Signify’s Digital Solutions Europe.

Upper-room air disinfection is a solution that allows UV-C to be active with humans present. The luminaires are installed at a height which, in combination with shielding and optics, prevents harmful occupant-exposure. Meanwhile, the air in the upper part of the room is constantly disinfected using UV-C irradiation and the natural convection of airflow in the room, thereby continually supporting occupant health. As buildings become a primary market for UV-C lighting, a range of other creative solutions are also emerging.

Smart building platform solution provider Igor, have launched Nexos Intelligent Disinfection. The solution pairs UV-C with Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) based IoT controls to connect it with other smart devices, such as occupancy sensors and motion detectors, and enable widespread automated disinfection. “As more spaces reopen, intelligent disinfection becomes even more crucial,” said Igor Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dwight Stewart. “Building owners and business operators are anxious about keeping their employees and customers safe,” he added.

The development of Igor’s solution was supported by the Clean Energy Trust and the Wells Fargo Foundation, underlining the strong appetite for the integration of new sanitation approaches in the building space. “We’re very excited about the possibilities Igor has opened up with its PoE-based smart building platform,” remarked Erik Birkerts, chief executive officer of Clean Energy Trust.

All the big players are getting in on the act; GE Lighting has pushed its 365DisInFx Technology, Hubbell Lighting is driving its SpectraClean Sanitation Solution, and OSRAM is highlighting a range of industry-specific UV-C applications. While smaller players like Vital Vio and Orion Energy Systems combined to adapt quickly with a COVID-19 focused UV-C solution launched by early March.

Meanwhile, Robotics companies like Texas-based Xenex and Denmark-based UVD Robots have also seen a rise in sales for their UV-light enabled robots that move around unoccupied rooms to zap the virus from every angle. Many agree that robotics technology is not quite ready for the mass market but see cobots (collaborative robots) as the next evolutionary step in that direction, as discussed in our April article titled: Everybody Wants to Save the Planet But Who Wants to Clean the Floor?

“There are too many tales of business leaders having their fingers burnt, pinning a great deal of hope (and money) on new cleaning machinery, only to discover that what they have bought has little or no impact on their operations, and new machines being shunned by their cleaning teams,” says Nils van der Zijl, vice-president of sales and marketing for Softbank Robotics EMEA. “In order for the cleaning industry to move towards this exciting, cobot-inspired future, we need to re-frame the narrative around automation.”

As we look ahead beyond the crisis, it feels like we need to reframe almost every narrative, and in that process, certain markets may find their drivers and barriers have changed for good or for bad. While the evolution of our buildings will continue, the shape of that evolution will change in-line with the new priorities, opportunities, and limitations of a post-COVID world.

Just a few months ago, cleaning was a relatively dull building market generating little interest. Today, it is the centerpiece of corporate marketing strategies and the key focus of building managers all over the world. Soon, we may even see cleaning as another catalyst for establishing the connectivity, automation, and intelligence needed to drive the smart building industry forward.

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