Kevin Parmenter, PSD Contributor
Currently solid-state lighting is the state-of-the-art favorite application for managing light more efficiently through energy-management controls. The technology is fantastic, the improvements dramatic, and the uses seem almost unlimited. However, the entry of solid-state technology in lighting has not been without its drawbacks. First and foremost, the lighting industry has seen itself as a commodity for decades.
The market for control ICs is crowded with hundreds of parts from many semiconductor companies, usually without much differentiation. The LED lighting power supply market is also very crowded and competitive, and also provides little differentiation. The new types of differentiation may come in the form of sophisticated wireless control technology, such as Bluetooth and or Wi-Fi connectivity, with or without DALI interface capability. This allows individual lamps or fixtures to control light output, on-off or dim or sometimes color temperature of the light output, from a phone, computer or router that is part of the IoT.
Commercial retail stores re looking to modulate light as a way of pushing location-based communications to customers. For example, a phone app for a retailer can pick up location-based information from the modulation of the solid-state lighting and can tell if the customer is located in the cosmetics isle so they can push a bar coded coupon for 30% off a product to them. This is no longer a commodity and it comes out of a different (larger) budget than the lighting for the store.
One side of the lighting market is a race to the bottom and in other niches it’s all about adding features and functionality. As we replace electrical products with sophisticated electronics we are learning that transients and surges, which were no threat to electrical lamps and magnetic ballasts, are now able to easily destroy sensitive electronics – especially sensitive are ones that have been highly cost reduced to take out that expensive protection!
This has led to some great protection devices from companies such as Littelfuse with their LSP10xxx series that protects from lightning strikes. In applications where repair and downtime are expensive such protection is highly desirable. There is still innovation to be had in the area of thermal management of the fixtures and lamps themselves.
I believe we are in the realistic phase of the adoption of LED lighting in actual productive applications, which are new and varied. The market will continue to grow with pockets of profitability; the market has many of the same attributes as the consumer electronics market – you have to have the latest technology at the best price and keep up with the innovation, the market is brutal so make sure you have what it takes to compete.