Commentary | May 15, 2012

Solid State Luminaires Pave the Way for an Industry

From metal sheet forming to optoelectronic systems: Luminaire manufacturing began soon after the production release of incandescent bulbs and since then has been linked to the peculiarities of the used light source.

Over a time span of almost 150 years, luminaires have also been built around other light sources like fluorescent tubes and various gas discharge lamps as well as the halogen lamp. These light sources commonly use a glass body with appropriate electrical contacts that fit into standardized sockets. Via standardized ballasts and normed terminals and cables the light source is connected to the electrical grid. It took decades to establish this multi-billion Euro industry with well structured worldwide standards and value chains. And now, within a period of less than ten years, this industry has been shaken to the core and, in fact, this process is ongoing.

A major impact is the emergence of solid state light sources with current ground-breaking luminous efficiency and features that meet customer expectations. Today we have perfect conditions to apply solid state light sources in all application segments of professional lighting.

Beyond that, there are other criteria that have an impact on the luminaire business. Consider that approximately 19% of the electricity worldwide is used for artificial lighting. For years we have been seeing an ongoing quest for controls and ballasts that help to save energy with traditional light sources. Now, for the first time, the integration of semiconductor based emitters in combination with complex electronic circuits containing sensors and (micro-) controllers pave the way for the development of highly efficient “digital” light sources.

The industry again faces the challenge of building a luminaire around this new light source. But for the first time there are tighter lacing bonds between the luminaire and the light source like the thermal path to dissipate thermal losses to name just one. As a consequence, mechanical engineers have to learn electronics, optical engineers have to study semiconductor assembly and standardization is not as easy as it was in the past.

These technical hurdles are overlapped by a transformation in the supply chain and the speed of technology enhancement which is all new to the industry. This is definitely a big challenge but it is also an opportunity.

Luminaire manufacturers have to deal with optoelectronic systems and have to adapt their processes accordingly.

The new features of this digital light source have to be understood and the technology push has to be translated into innovations the customer is interested in. One example is the possibility of changing the emission color next to the brightness. This is not new, but nowadays, easy to integrate.

There is some truth in the words of T.S.Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Artificial light will be needed in the future more than ever and luminaire manufacturers will be there providing their service.

Christian Hochfilzer
Christian Hochfilzer works at Regent Lighting, the Swiss market leader for professional luminaires as a Technical Director and Member of the Management Board. He holds a doctoral degree in solid state physics from the Technical University Graz, Austria. He has also worked in different management positions at Tridonic. Prior to that he was active in a start-up company focussing on solid state lighting and optoelectronic systems.