NET LED reflects on the rapid development of LED to become the technology-of-choice for commercial applications and looks ahead to the addition of “smart” lighting systems.
Following the invention of the first red Light Emitting Diode (LED) in1962, it was to take more than40 years for white light, LED lighting to be introduced into the UK market.
During the five years between 2008 and 2013 the commercial LED lighting industry saw significant developments in terms of product build and industry standards. For example, LED tubes were developed with rotatable end caps to enable them to be angled appropriately, but with no internal electrical connectivity between the two ends to comply with the Low Voltage Directive; polycarbonate housings were replaced with aluminium to provide rigidity to prevent sagging and better heat sinking for prolonged life expectancy. Significant energy savings were being proved in the region of 60-70% and the LED lighting was lasting three times longer than the conventional ﬂuorescent tubes it replaced.
By 2013 LED was generally accepted as the technology-of-choice for commercial applications and the demand for LED lighting took off. This attracted a large number of new players into the market, all trying to ride the LED wave. To compete, many suppliers attempted to win market share by cutting prices. In some cases product prices have halved! However, they have only been able to achieve such significant price reductions in essentially one of two ways: by reducing product specification, or by reducing product build quality.
Reducing price by lowering product specification
Reducing price by lowering product specification is normal practice seen throughout most industries. Consumers have a choice of specification according to their needs and budget. Lower specification products can still be of high build quality but are simply designed to perform at a lower level which may be completely acceptable for their application. For example, the latest production LEDs provide a light output of 140-160 lumens per Watt, where older technology LEDs provided 80-90 lumens per Watt. These lower lumen output LEDs are considerably cheaper than their high output counterparts, but can be of high build quality and may be quite acceptable for certain applications where higher light output is unnecessary.
Reducing price by reducing product build quality
Reducing price by reducing product build quality, however, is a different story. Now, take a cheaper LED slim panel light; there are typically three ways cost savings can be achieved by reducing build quality. To cut costs, some panels use plastic frames which do not provide heat sinking for the LEDs, so are more prone to higher heat and hence reduced life expectancy.
Secondly, the material used to diffuse the light down into the room in these panels needs to remain completely transparent and colourless over many years. A quality panel will use PMMA (Poly(methyl methacrylate), however costs can be cut by using a cheaper plastic material diffuser, however these tend to discolour, turning yellow over time. Thirdly, the quality of the electronic components used in the driver of the panel light can have a significant effect on the cost. All these factors result in higher maintenance costs and shorter product life expectancy which goes against the whole reason for using LED lighting in the first place. Reducing product build quality will result in poorer reliability and is therefore a false economy!
The third strand
The last 12 months has seen a bifurcation in the market with two strands of products being supplied: high quality, high specification products used for specified lighting projects, and lower specification (and sometimes lower quality) products being used on day to day contract jobs.
However, 2016 is seeing the introduction of a third strand; the trifurcation of the commercial LED lighting industry, namely the introduction of connectivity and control, and in particular user-friendly wireless control.
Many organisations have resisted adopting control technology to date due to its cost, complexity and appropriateness for their applications. However, by going wireless, these concerns can be overcome as the need for dedicated control wiring is eliminated, thereby significantly reducing installation costs and removing many complexity concerns.
A wireless lighting control network is easily scalable at a low additional cost. Additional sensors, switches and lights require minimal labour and disruption and can be added to the existing system without the need for new control infrastructure. The lighting is simply controlled using an app on a smart phone or tablet.
These “intelligent” or “smart” lighting systems are delivering added end-user value in terms of enhancing the working environment. This can result in increased productivity and a sense of wellbeing, with these benefits supporting higher industry pricing.