Every so often, a groundbreaking product comes along that has the potential to transform an entire industry. The Convia programmable building platform, introduced by Chicago-headquartered Convia/a Herman Miller Co., may be one such innovation. Launched in November 2006, the next-generation system is a modular, programmable infrastructure for power and data that offers plug-and-play connections for any interior light, electrical device, or control — almost any location within a commercial space without the need for hardwiring of devices or switches.

“One of the biggest issues in commercial environments and for developers is the cost of ‘tenant churn’ — that is, the turnover of space from one tenant to another or the change of space for an existing tenant as it grows or contracts,” says John Knott, president and CEO of the Noisette Co., a North Charleston, S.C.- based developer of sustainable communities that recently installed one of the systems in its 11,000-square-foot office. “Convia solves this problem by creating a framework infrastructure — either horizontal or vertical — that deploys our control, communications, and power technologies in a shielded, integrated system that allows us to basically move anything, anywhere.”

Convia's nucleus is its low-voltage communication network and protocol, which the company says allow unlimited interconnectivity between the number of lights controlled by a single switch. The system also features modular plug assemblies that carry 120V or 277V power as well as the ability to transmit data-over-power lines. In the open-grid version, plug-and-play power is distributed every 10 inches along the product's grid. All devices can be hung from the grid and are fully programmable — allowing trained and untrained users alike to install, upgrade, or relocate any electrical device. Associations between switches, sensors, and lights are done in minutes via a secure, remote-control two-button wand employing infrared technology.

“Instead of having to manually rewire lights, you point the wand at the switch and click it to change which lights are in use,” explains Knott, whose company also deployed the system in a tenant space leased by McMillan, Smith and Partners in North Charleston. “You can even change lighting patterns or preprogram an environment such as a conference room or classroom. At McMillan, Smith, and Partners, we deployed the vertical system, where walls were hung from the infrastructure with power moving through them. The product creates a high-tech, contemporary, 21st century environment.”

In development for five years, the product's major design considerations were to provide flexibility in electrical systems as well as energy management, according to Convia's President Randy Storch. “With this system, users can measure any electrical event that occurs in a space,” Storch says. “When someone flips a switch, you know which lights are on, how long they have been burning, and at what dimming level they are operating. This lets our customers calculate how to benchmark a truly efficient electrical system.”

A study commissioned by the company and performed by the Weidt Group, Minnetonka, Minn., supports this claim, concluding that an average office building using Convia programmable infrastructure would realize 6% to 30% in annual energy savings as compared to the current energy standard for buildings (ASHRAE standard 90.1-2004). The study also revealed that the product offers the ability to recoup a further 20% to 60% energy savings that are otherwise lost when implemented with traditional electric systems.

Since the launch of the device, commercial offices and retail spaces are proving to be fertile market segments for Convia, according to Storch. “We're also seeing a need for this kind of flexibility in education facilities,” he adds. “And we're starting to look into the health care industry as well.”

Made of 100% reusable components, the product is available in either an open-ceiling grid or a plenum-rated system for use in conjunction with traditional finished ceilings incorporating air-handling systems. Designed for closed or drop ceilings, the plenum-rated system is compatible with HVAC systems.

According to the company, the programmable infrastructure is comparably priced to conventional pipe and wire with junction boxes. “However, the product offers a number of other systems, including lighting control, audio/video control, and energy management,” Storch says. “So far, no one else takes an integrated approach to all of these pieces.”

For more information, visit www.convia.com.