Product of the Month: Altman Smart-Track Lighting System


What It Does

The Altman Smart-Track Lighting System is one of those hybrid products so cleverly obvious it's a wonder no one thought of it sooner. Designed to bring digital control signals to addressable architectural luminaires without dimmer packs or cable runs, Smart-Track allows the user to control each luminaire hung on the track system, either via architectural control stations, a laptop, or a DMX-based theatrical lighting console.

Designed to be easy to layout and install and geared to museums, retail, churches, clubs, and other such venues, Smart-Track provides users with a large amount of flexibility; it can control an individual fixture or a group of fixtures of your choice. It's compatible with DMX and DALI (digital addressable lighting interface) digital control protocols, as well as RDM, LonWorks® and 0-10V analog controls. It has an integrated data bus, so there's no need to run digital signal cables to the luminaires, and it can integrate with existing systems.

The system features a heavy-duty aluminum track with secure bus bar insulation firmly crimped in place to prevent movement of the conductors or the insulation; oversized conductors for reduced overload potential; separate mechanical suspension points to increase weight-bearing capacity and maintain the integrity of electrical contacts. Installation is painless, featuring surface mounting with easy-to-use mounting clips or direct mounting to ceiling through predrilled screw holes; L, T, or X connectors simplify the installation, especially with grid configurations.

Smart-Track features three 20A circuits combined with a data bus; quartz, CDM, and LED luminaires can be run on the same circuit and individually controlled. By including the digital control signal in the track, the Smart-Track system allows dimming, switching, and effects to be obtained when using Altman's Smart IQseries of luminaires. The IQseries fixtures retain their identity and programming on the system, even when moved to a new location. Automated luminaires as well as DMX accessories can also be controlled from the system using the DMX outlet adapter to break DMX out of the rack. The three-circuit configuration allows for energy savings, since individual lights can be dimmed or turned off.

How It Came To Be

According to Mark Walsh, sales executive at Altman Lighting, the Smart-Track was developed in response to what it considered a gap in the crossover architectural world.

“Altman saw the possibility of giving designers, consultants, architects, and engineers the ability to create the environments and various looks that they want even within the parameters of a track layout,” he explains. “We saw the opportunity to bring individually controllable and programmable track fixtures into a market that had a desire for specific control of individual LED or quartz fixtures with the simplicity of installing a track layout.

“No one had truly fulfilled that desire,” he continues. “There were infrared handheld controllers, and certain other rotary dimmers, and certain other minor applications but with very limited control and not with this flexibility. Nordic Aluminum had come out with a DALI system, but they had no fixtures, nothing to put it with, and nothing to complete the system,” he continues. “We saw the potential to do a lot more with it, with DMX, RDM, and even DALI applications in the North America region.” So Altman approached Nordic about using some of its hardware to create this new product.

From there, Dean Reiter, the director of engineering for Altman, assigned John Luk as the project engineer, who coordinated with Nordic Aluminum on components and track accessories that could match well with Altman's fixtures. In the Altman engineering and R&D department, John Ryan coordinated with Doug Fleenor Design on the development of the dimmers, power/data supplies, and the CDM on/off switching units that would be needed for the fixtures. And then, primarily Tom Keefe worked on the development of the fixtures and the housings that needed to accommodate everything.

After over a year of development, Smart-Track made its debut at Light-fair in 2005, where it was honored with a product of the year award, a feat it duplicated at LDI2005 in Orlando.

What's Next

Walsh says that no major changes are in the offing for Smart-Track, but that Altman will continue to tweak the existing product, mostly by adding more fixture options to the line.

However, one interesting development with the system is that it's generating interest beyond its initial targeted market. “Initially, we had seen the market as being museum and retail, but it has grown into churches, bars, and clubs,” Walsh explains. “We've even started to hear from schools wanting it for small rooms that have been converted to black boxes or even light labs. It's something of a bridge between the architectural and theatrical markets, because you have the track, but you have the individual control of fixture heads as though you were designing shows.”

What End Users Have To Say

Brenda Shepard of Barbizon New England specified the Smart-Track for an unusual install: it's a high-tech office that can also be used as a webcasting facility. “There are two reasons I chose the Smart-Track,” she explains. “One reason is the different types of fixtures you can put on the track. You can do dimmable fixtures, plus CDM and LED fixtures that are DMX-controlled. The other reason is that it's a very peculiar office environment; I don't have a place to put a dimming system, and I want good dimming. They will be using cameras in that room for webcasting, and I need to be able to have a certain amount of control of the fixtures.”

For this project, Shepard is using the Smart-Track in conjunction with the Cue Server, the self-contained lighting playback controller from Interactive Technologies. “The owner wants a more theatrical-based controller,” Shepard notes.

At press time, Shepard gave the Smart-Track high marks for this project, which is to be completed by the end of May. “It's a very simple way to get dimmable control into an office environment,” she says. “And it's really sweet looking. I pulled the gear out of the box and thought, ‘Wow, I can hang my car on this!’ Well, maybe not, but….”