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Paradigm Changes in Lighting Are Challenging Lighting Companies

Fabien Bubendorff has a Master in Electronic Engineering and has 10 years' experience in the lighting industry. He has spent more than 13 years living in China. He worked as a Product Manager for a Retail Lighting Company, for the Last 5 years he was responsible for Wever&Ducré as the Head of R&D in China and for the last years Head of R&D at XAL in Austria. Now he has founded an independent consultancy to support European Lighting Companies to deal with these future challenges. He specialized in finding the optimal balance between function and cost to increase product profitability.

The current era of electronic and software control within the lighting industry is a cause of major disruption, which is pushing many companies to invest heavily in wireless technologies as a form of future insurance against obsolescence.

A common problem of adoption is that there is no real industry standardization due to most companies opting to go proprietary to lock-in its customers within their ecosystem. Without the desire to create an open platform, there is too much fragmentation, and most single brands end up failing because of the inability to scale up.

Some non-lighting companies like Silvair, WiZ connected and Casambi are trying to push their systems to the lighting manufacturers in order to provide easier access of connected solutions. However, the transition to wireless systems for lighting manufacturers can still be a burdensome step forward. This requires basic electronic knowledge, proper testing tools, adapted marketing strategies, specific training, and qualified after-sales services.

Introducing more electronics into the system creates a new level of complexity for the product and its development. The company's global operations have to be scaled up for the complete product value chain from idea, to development, mass production and sales. Using standard electronic components simplify the value chain, while customization complexifies it. Through design differentiation one can achieve customization with little complexity by adopting some control systems from the non-lighting companies. A tough decision that has to be weighed carefully for each product development cycle.

An example is a recent project where we could not avoid packing the LED driver on a 160 mm diameter ring LED module with a narrow edge width below 12mm. Recognizing costs, customization efforts, and the right support throughout all levels of the cycle from top management, we found a Chinese partner to be beneficial for this customization.

While lighting is not rocket science, without the right partners, it comes with many challenges. But with the proper exposure and understanding of what China can offer, this whole process can be very enlightening and beneficial. This does not mean that such a cooperation has no challenges. However, the experiences demonstrated that the positives outweigh the negatives - provided one is smart in approaching a partnership and manufacturing in China. Europe and North America are still superior in R&D and IP. However, a premium Chinese manufacturer brings together the best of both worlds leading to a "win-win" situation.

China, like every country, has its inferior quality producers and its premium quality producers.  Diligent research lets you identify the right partner whose production setup offers a tremendous advantage to the lighting entrepreneur who has not yet made this leap. For those companies or entrepreneurs who used to only assemble in China, there's another game-changing paradigm shift to smart electronics.

To make luminaires compelling and cost effective, one needs a trove of knowledge that has become much harder to acquire. Creating these lighting systems requires more effort. Moreover, cost effective off-the-shelf standard components are becoming scarce, and lighting companies need to be efficient and nimble. Using just in-house resources might not be sufficient. External specialists in optics, design, IoT and electronics, to name a few, should be hired in order to gain access to the wide knowledge necessary to achieve those goals.

External collaborations can also be linked to the supply chain to reach more profitable solutions. The combination of external experts coupled with Chinese flexibility and premium manufacturing can produce great results. Shaping a well thought lighting modular platform to attain a good level of customization while keeping the advantages of an Asian supply chain and Western IP, is a keystone to success.

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