Agility Overcomes Risks of a Maturing Technology

Agility Overcomes Risks of a Maturing Technology

This piece was originally published in the February 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Jes Munk Hansen, CEO, LEDVANCE, formerly known as OSRAM SYLVANIA

Technological and business innovations are transforming what lighting can do, as well as the industry that delivers it. The primary change agent is solid-state lighting, notably the white-light properties of the light-emitting diode (LED).

While still a relatively young technology, LED lighting has already proven superior to conventional light sources in almost every respect. Initially, energy efficiency and long life drove demand. As the technology matures, however, the industry is focused on performance and extended capabilities, including the three dimensions of controllability, communications, and color.

Controllability

The majority of LED products offer dimming as a standard feature or option. The light source itself is easily controllable, with smooth dimming available across a potentially wide dimming range. Frequent dimming may even extend product life. Further, LEDs are instant-on devices. Frequent switching has a negligible effect on service life, making them ideally suited to occupancy-sensing control.

These capabilities extend dimming across general lighting, enabling more cost-effective implementation of strategies such as daylight response, occupancy sensing, and task tuning. For example, an outdoor parking area luminaire could be dimmed automatically at a certain time after business hours, with light levels raised and lowered after that point using an occupancy sensor. Indoors, occupancy sensors could be designed with much shorter time delays than would be cost-effective with fluorescent. Occupancy sensors in an open office could dim to a lower level or turn off to avoid the visual disruption of lights switching. LEDs are well suited to a much deeper level of control, which in turn extends energy cost savings and flexibility.

One of the most exciting aspects of LED control is the adoption of networked intelligent lighting control. As digital devices, LEDs are inherently compatible with digital control. Controllers can be assigned a unique address within a lighting network. This allows for the programming of lighting system behavior globally, in groups, or at the individual luminaire level. Because the miniaturization of controllers and sensors allows for their installation within each luminaire instead of remotely, manufacturers may offer light sources and control packages that are easy to install and come out of the box energy-code compliant.

The rapid development of wireless communication enables control signal communications in buildings and outdoor installations where luminaires are spaced at a significant distance apart. With intelligent lighting, system operators can program and manage their lighting systems to optimize performance, energy savings, maintenance, and information.

Communication

Networked digital wired and wireless communication is typically two-way, enabling operators to talk to devices, devices to talk to each other, and devices to talk back. Measuring and monitoring capabilities offer intriguing application possibilities for energy analysis and maintenance. For example, with a roadway lighting system, operators could identify failures instantly from a remote location, improving service and maintenance efficiency.

A related capability is the notion of using LEDs as infrastructure for delivery of additional sensors, forming an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) strategy. For example, sensors connected to an outdoor LED luminaire could measure relative humidity, temperature, air quality, smoke, radiation, and noises such as gunshots. While the IIoT is still developing, its potential is transformative.

Color

The controllability and diminutive size of LEDs allows them to be separately controlled, which enables color output tuning, including full-color tuning to produce virtually any color, premium dimming operation to imitate the very warm light of incandescent dimming, and tunable-white lighting.

This emerging capability is opening new applications. Designers can realize an ideal appearance for a space or objects, mimic the color of traditional sources, or create entirely new sources. They can use light to communicate and create dynamic and attention-grabbing displays and environments. They can calibrate color quality across luminaires, blend electric lighting with daylighting, and adjust color output to support changing space uses, displays, and finishes. Color tuning is also expected to play a role in circadian lighting, in which light level and color output are controlled to support circadian health.

 These exciting features of controllability, communication, and color will be delivered—thanks to LEDs—in sleek and novel ways that meet the needs of future applications.

Managing Change and Challenges

LED lighting, intelligent control, and network communication optimize familiar applications while creating new ones that were previously impractical. For lighting owners, these trends offer incredible ways to use lighting as an asset. For the electrical industry, however, they challenge business as usual by introducing a much stronger element of risk.

Designers, installers, and distributors must educate themselves about new technology while vetting new products. Everything is becoming more complex, from lighting and controls to metrics and energy codes. New issues are being introduced to lighting, such as network security and integration with IT. Shorter product cycles, lack of standards, variable and uncertain product quality, and the entrance of many new suppliers are all adding risk.

To address this risk, practitioners are encouraged to stay informed, vet new products, and choose their partners carefully. Being informed means staying on top of the enormous number of new products introduced and removed each year; gaining and vetting samples to confirm quality prior to commitment; and keeping abreast of new metrics, energy codes, control capabilities, and changes in best practices. Education is key to remaining competitive.

As new manufacturers enter the industry, they contribute not only innovation and competition but also more risk. Companies that did not exist only a few years ago are offering products supported by long warranties. A large volume of products introduced each year still show a marked variation in quality. Compressed product cycles and the lack of standards means that if a product or supplier fails, it is difficult to replace. Practitioners should research manufacturers with whom they want to do business and vet their products and sales claims, while ensuring that they provide strong training, customer service, and support.

Lighting manufacturers have their own share of challenges with product cycles shortening from years to months. They are taking a more collaborative approach with quality, R&D, and product development teams working simultaneously on projects, and with even more collaboration across regions. Today’s successful manufacturers foster cultures of efficiency, innovation, and agility to address the unique opportunities and threats of the LED era. Lighting has become a fast-moving technology that has more in common with mobile phones than traditional lighting.

Supply chains must efficiently deliver more products that will be available for a shorter period. No longer can manufacturers effectively plan five to 10 years out. Successful manufacturers will continually develop relevant competencies and maintain flexibility in processes and people to be ready for anything. They will not only look forward; using acute peripheral vision they will discover opportunities and threats in areas outside lighting. The traditional model of vertical integration to serve a specific market is eroding into a more transparent, open-source model, with innovation fueled by collaboration and people accustomed to change and bringing outside knowledge into the industry. The value chain is expanding into other areas such as software, analytics, and security.

The LED revolution offers dramatic potential for buildings and spaces while creating new opportunities and challenges for the electrical industry. The most successful players will embrace a culture of agility to thrive in the LED era.

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