KNX – how does it work?

KNX – how does it work?

KNX is now accepted as the worldwide standard for home and building control, but how does it work? Paul Foulkes, KNX UK Association Vice President, reveals all.

A generation ago, the controls industry could already see the writing on the wall – that there ought to be a common standard for communication in the digital world. To its credit, the big players were quick to act, and different companies worked together to collaborate on a project that has benefitted us all: the development of the KNX standard.

We’ve come a long way since then, with systems based on the open KNX communications protocol available for projects of any size, anywhere in the world and over 500 manufacturers on board.

Communication via one language

The underlying premise of KNX is that smart home and building automation doesn’t have to be difficult. It simply requires a system that does away with the all the problems and inefficiencies of having lots of isolated devices by ensuring that all of them can communicate via one common language. Then the type or brand of device you want to use doesn’t matter anymore.

You can choose from thousands of devices to create the system you need. This freedom of choice has become important during the recent chip shortage, highlighting that having more than one manufacturer of the product you require means an integrator can still meet their project delivery schedules.

Whether you want to control lighting, shutters, security systems, energy management, heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems, signalling and monitoring systems and video control, all these functions can work together, with devices from different manufacturers managed by via the single KNX open-source software tool.

KNX brings everything together, from lighting and heating to security and entertainment, with devices communicating via data bus cable, RF or internet at the backbone (Powerline is even an option). This common digital language allows everything from visible wall panels, detectors, lights and heaters to behind-the scenes power supplies, timers and switches to work in harmony, giving you endless possibilities to design the right systems for integrated control and efficiency.

KNX isn’t complicated for professionals

Integrating KNX isn’t complicated, and the depth and breadth of both products and support from suppliers, stockists and training providers in the UK makes it the logical route to more profitable smart installations.

As a skilled installer, you already have the core skills you need to design an integrated system for your clients. More good news is that choosing the KNX automation platform doesn’t mean wiring running to a rack from every device (and there could be hundreds or thousands of devices).

Instead, you simply connect each device to a single data cable that runs around the building and carries all the signals needed, adding or upgrading as the need arises. What about Wi-Fi you ask? Yes, Wi-Fi devices have a place in smart control, and can be part of an overall KNX solution, as can voice control.

For larger and commercial projects, bus-mounted gateway devices will interface with multiple protocols such as DALI lighting control and BACnet, giving you the option to continue to use them but also integrating them with the overall building control ecosystem by using KNX as the overarching master control system. With KNX, all three levels of control can be enabled; from field to supervisory.

That said, KNX can provide all the functionality those protocols offer. You do need to become proficient in using ETS, the software tool for configuring a KNX system. That, like most software tools nowadays, has become progressively more straightforward over the years and the latest release, ETS6, has an intuitive visual interface and multi-project management capabilities that match the way you work.

Basing your smart installation business on KNX automation platform is safe. The software is continuously updated to take advantage of new technologies and keep ahead of users’ cyber-security concerns, but is always compatible with the long term existing products and installations.

Winning customers for life

A KNX customer can be you customer for life. An installation based on the KNX standard is future proof – nothing will ever be redundant. As you add new devices and functions for them over decades, backwards compatibility will always be guaranteed by KNX product certification process.

Every device on the network, no matter how old, will still work alongside its newer neighbours – otherwise the newcomers won’t achieve KNX certification. In a nutshell, that’s because so much of the intelligence is distributed to device level. Another benefit of that is that there is no big, expensive and dominant controller at the centre that might crash and collapse the whole system. If an individual device should fail, you just replace it and update the installation using the project’s ETS software file.

What does that mean in practice?

You can adapt, update and expand a system with ease. Compare this to proprietary systems, where devices can be retired and abandoned in a software wilderness, and you have to explain to the customer why their desire to expand or upgrade their system will involve major expense and disruption.

With KNX as the platform for your smart building project, you are always in charge – now and in the future.

To learn more about KNX training and support on offer from KNX UK, click here

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