Let there be light: Q&A with Serralux Chairman David Willets
A recent Harvard University study found that employees working in green-certified offices display markedly higher levels of cognition than those that don’t.
A similar study found that 77 percent of 200,000 employees surveyed state that natural light is important to them. Happy and healthy people perform better, that’s no mystery.
What are the origins of SerraLux?
SerraLux Inc was founded in 2012. The origins of the technology however were earlier, born of the unique relationship between Peter Milner, an innovative “first principles” automotive engineer and an internationally accredited architect, Professor Michael Wigginton.
An experienced, serial inventor, Milner had been challenged to “do away” with the original car wing, rear view, mirror – notorious for being the most aerodynamically inefficient and clumsy component on a car. Milner’s solution was to design a prism structure to “bend light” from outside the vehicle so as to present the rear-view image on a reflector inside.
Wigginton came across the report on the award-winning Milner Mirror and realised the potential of designing prismatic structures to achieve what was hailed as the “Holy Grail” of daylighting - redirecting natural light from the outside to the inside of a building while preserving the view to the world outside. Michael explained the building design aspects, Peter did the maths and the rest, as they say, is history.
What is it about natural light that improves people’s mind-sets and health so markedly?
We all feel better when waking up to a sunny day. That’s not rocket science, it’s just a normal, natural human response to natural light. Natural light has been found to help beat seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D), increased levels of Vitamin D, aid concentration and alertness, improve a variety of skin conditions and even boost our overall immune systems.
How was the technology for SerraGlaze developed?
The first prototypes were produced in collaboration with Saint Gobain and 3M using machines designed to manufacture micro-structured prismatic lenses for overhead projectors.
At that time, there were no specialist micro-processing companies to be found in the UK and very few optical scientists with relevant manufacturing experience.
The market in the USA for daylighting technologies, although small, was homogenous and growing, supported by world class research institutions such as LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories) and the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in Colorado. Moreover, there was a greater number of US property owners, architects and engineering firms that were early adopters of new building technologies relative to their European counterparts.
This is why I made the strategic decision to come to the US. Once there, I recruited the experienced entrepreneur and local Californian, Bob Ford, and assembled a small technical and commercial team.
What have the company’s biggest achievements been over the last 12-18 months?
I think our biggest achievement in recent months has been our success in commercialising our family of “daylighting” film products. Our latest version has been developed to manage glare more effectively, in line with feedback from our current customers.
At present, we operate in both the UK and US market in schools, offices and commercial buildings. We are particularly delighted with a recent independent comparative study by LBNL that has demonstrated the unique performance of SerraGlaze in improving energy efficiency in an already efficient building by up to 25 percent.
We are also delighted that SerraGlaze is being installed in the new Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) offices in Boulder Commons, Colorado, as home to 100 RMI researchers and consultants.
We’ve had inquiries from within the retail and healthcare sectors now too – which I think is testament to the reputation that we have built on both sides of the pond.
Are there any exciting upcoming or ongoing projects happening for SerraLux and what is your vision for the next 2-5 years?
Without saying too much, we do have a new product on the horizon. We’ve been developing this with newer technology, really focusing on how best to bring light deeper into the room, helping people to harness the maximum amount of daylight.
There is also considerable interest in our developing a version of SerraGlaze® that will help prevent the millions of deaths each year from birds slamming into window glazing.
Our vision is two-fold. First, we want to commercialise our products globally– we have designs in the pipeline and lots of behind-the-scenes work which is coming to fruition. The next logical step after production is to then get that rolled out more widely, on a global basis. We are also currently conducting research into markets in the Middle East and India, and we’re all really excited about expanding our geographical reach.
The second goal is rather ambitious but, in our view, necessary for the discourse and thinking around daylight. Rather than make good use of beneficial daylight and turn off the lights in the day time, we live in a society where all too often everyone from facility managers to architects, property and business owners, only see the unwanted effects of the sun and automatically seek to block it out by drawing the blinds.
We need to encourage thinking which recognizes the importance of daylight on our bodies, and our environment and strive to educate the next generation about the benefits. Instead of blocking light out – rather, let’s let the light in!
This task requires important research which we are planning from our UK operation based in the STFC Campus at Harwell in Oxfordshire and is a way in which we believe, in conjunction with our daylight redirecting technologies, we can enhance the living and working environment for millions of people.
Intelliwave SiteSense boosts APTIM material tracking
“We’ve been engaged with the APTIM team since early 2019 providing SiteSense, our mobile construction SaaS solution, for their maintenance and construction projects, allowing them to track materials and equipment, and manage inventory.
We have been working with the APTIM team to standardize material tracking processes and procedures, ultimately with the goal of reducing the amount of time spent looking for materials. Industry studies show that better management of materials can lead to a 16% increase in craft labour productivity.
Everyone knows construction is one of the oldest industries but it’s one of the least tech driven comparatively. About 95% of Engineering and Construction data captured goes unused, 13% of working hours are spent looking for data and around 30% of companies have applications that don’t integrate.
With APTIM, we’re looking at early risk detection, through predictive analysis and forecasting of material constraints, integrating with the ecosystem of software platforms and reporting on real-time data with a ‘field-first’ focus – through initiatives like the Digital Foreman. The APTIM team has seen great wins in the field, utilising bar-code technology, to check in thousands of material items quickly compared to manual methods.
There are three key areas when it comes to successful Materials Management in the software sector – culture, technology, and vendor engagement.
Given the state of world affairs, access to data needs to be off site via the cloud to support remote working conditions, providing a ‘single source of truth’ accessed by many parties; the tech sector is always growing, so companies need faster and more reliable access to this cloud data; digital supply chain initiatives engage vendors a lot earlier in the process to drive collaboration and to engage with their clients, which gives more assurance as there is more emphasis on automating data capture.
It’s been a challenging period with the pandemic, particularly for the supply chain. Look what happened in the Suez Canal – things can suddenly impact material costs and availability, and you really have to be more efficient to survive and succeed. Virtual system access can solve some issues and you need to look at data access in a wider net.
Solving problems comes down to better visibility, and proactively solving issues with vendors and enabling construction teams to execute their work. The biggest cause of delays is not being able to provide teams with what they need.
On average 2% of materials are lost or re-ordered, which only factors in the material cost, what is not captured is the duplicated effort of procurement, vendor and shipping costs, all of which have an environmental impact.
As things start to stabilise, APTIM continues to utilize SiteSense to boost efficiencies and solve productivity issues proactively. Integrating with 3D/4D modelling is just the precipice of what we can do. Access to data can help you firm up bids to win work, to make better cost estimates, and AI and ML are the next phase, providing an eco-system of tools.
A key focus for Intelliwave and APTIM is to increase the availability of data, whether it’s creating a data warehouse for visualisations or increasing integrations to provide additional value. We want to move to a more of an enterprise usage phase – up to now it’s been project based – so more people can access data in real time.