KNX@30 : A personal journey
From the desk of Colin Price, Director & Founder.
How extraordinary it is to think that a small idea, born out of a twinkle in the eyes of a handful of European companies, has turned into this global phenomenon.
My story started in 1999 when myself and Ben Lewis (now of KNXConsultants) decided we would try to design a brand-new environmental control system for buildings. In evenings and at weekends we got our pencils out. We designed circuit boards, communication protocols and ultimately our route to world domination.
Later, market research (in the time-honoured fashion of engineers) meant we discovered this thing called EIB (which was to later be renamed Konnex and then KNX).
It was a low moment when we realised exactly what we had been trying to achieve had been done already by minds immeasurably superior to ours. Perhaps what we should have done then was to embrace this new protocol and manufacture our own products. Instead we approached the market to install KNX into homes and buildings.
THE OPEN PROTOCOL THAT OPENED DOORS
At the time, few people were using KNX in the UK and though well established in Europe, there was no real feeling that environmental controls for buildings was an important subject.
What happened after that was extraordinary. Everyone that we spoke to was excited by the idea of this open protocol. The early adopter KNX installers did some amazing work in some amazing homes, which I would expect are still running and taking advantage of the benefits of an open protocol to this very day.
As time went on, new switches were introduced from designer manufacturers like basalte, gira and lithoss, which quickly changed the trajectory of KNX in the residential market. It was the beginnings of the globalisation and standardisation of KNX.
The success of KNX began with the enthusiasm of a few, before a groundswell of popularity took over.
MY KNX JOURNEY
Personally, I am delighted to have been involved in the early days of KNX in the UK. To have been able to be a part of the birth of KNX in New Zealand, where its use was similar to that of the UK’s when we started the business was even more exciting. It is now seen regularly on many specifications.
Australia has been another case where KNX was adopted early and is now becoming mainstream, accepted as a better answer to the perceived local solutions of CBUS and Dynalite.
NOT WITHOUT ITS CHALLENGES
One of the challenges over the years has been to manage the rapidly developing number of manufacturers and products. It is important for new adopters of KNX to understand that, though the protocol guarantees products will speak to each other, it does not guarantee their efficiency or quality.
We often talk about how, “all KNX products are equal, but some are more equal than others!”
Growing the number of manufacturers in order to simply have a larger number is a questionable goal. We would always council the KNX Association to consider supporting existing members ahead of the blind introduction of all, while making sure that the current members meet the high standards required for an international control system.
The open protocol, multi manufacturer, philosophy that is KNX, is both its greatest strength and weakness. To be able to theoretically mix and match products from different manufacturers in a single project is a huge advantage, but the reality of doing this depends somewhat on the skill of the integrator.
To be able to take the best out of each product whilst maintaining a simple and reliable solution for the end customer is a skill in itself. There is no point in presenting a smart, yet complex, integrated system if the end user finds it so complicated that they throw up their hands in exasperation, not understanding what has been delivered for them.
Arguably KNX also needs to weaken its ties from a few larger member companies and become a truly global player in the IOT without perceived bias.
The association between KNX and CEDIA is also worth noting as an important step in the acceptance of KNX globally in the AV industry. While not as critical in Europe as some other countries, CEDIA is a significant influencer in the USA, where many would argue KNX really needs to succeed in order to reach its global potential as it grows older and into its middle age.
I would like to finish by joining you all in congratulating the KNX Association on its governance and single-minded vision to establish KNX as a world standard and look forward to the cementing of this position over the coming 30 years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Colin has a background in electrical engineering including 4 years working in Japan for Invensys designing advanced power supplies. One of the very earliest adopters of KNX in the UK he initially ran a custom installation business and then decided to use his skills to offer KNX to the market as a wholesaler and formed Ivory Egg.