Below is another contribution to the August issue of tED Magazine, this one on the topic of what’s new in indoor LED luminaires. Reprinted with permission.

Image courtesy of Philips Lighting.

The indoor commercial general luminaire market includes linear, directional, decorative and high-/low-bay luminaires. This market continues its major shift to LED technology.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that in 2015, 12 percent of the installed base of commercial luminaires featured LED lamping, or 136 million units. By 2020, DOE projected that under industry conditions current in 2015, these numbers would surge to 36 percent, or 436 million units. Today, the majority of luminaires sold into new construction and renovation projects feature LED lamping.

As the technology matures, the LED luminaire market has stratified similarly to the conventional lighting market into basic-, specification- and architectural-grade segments. Energy efficiency, life and cost drive the former, with examples such as lensed troffers and flat panels. Aesthetics, performance and value-added features drive the latter markets. An example is luminaires offered as alternatives to troffers that feature advanced optics to reduce brightness and the number of luminaires required.

This article presents the major trends driving LED product development and applications and how electrical distributors can capitalize on these trends to generate profitable sales.

Major trends

Product development focuses on the major luminaire elements of light source, control gear, optics and construction. As lighting controls integrate with luminaires, increasingly, onboard control is part of the mix.

“LED efficacy continues to increase and package sizes are trending smaller,” said Christopher Dolan, Product Marketing Director, Indoor General Area, Philips Lighting. “Drivers will also get smaller as LED power requirements decrease.”

The result is indoor LED luminaires are becoming increasingly efficacious, producing more light per watt, and making this technology ever more competitive against traditional lighting. Higher light output means fewer LEDs are required. Lower source power means drivers can become smaller while also driving demand for higher efficiency.

“Luminaires will likewise trend smaller and will be designed around the forms of the new sources rather than forcing LEDs into luminaires for which form factors have been dictated by older technologies,” Dolan said. “This includes shallow recessed as well as shallow surface. Consider the exploding ‘slim surface’ category where the driver is mounted to the J-box.”

“Additionally, optical control has moved from reflectors behind lamps to lenses or optics over the LEDs, which adds to the sleekness of the new designs,” noted Rebecca McCall, Director of Education & Training, Hubbell Lighting, Inc. “By removing the lamp sockets, the amount of wiring needed inside the fixture has been drastically reduced as well.”

Jerry Mix, President, Finelite, Inc., cautioned, however, that the era of double-digit year-over-year efficacy gains from LEDs is over. “Innovative design will maximize other mechanical, optical, material and control features to achieve the highest performance,” he said.

He added that by breaking with traditional form factors, designers are free to develop novel solutions more specifically oriented to applications. “We are no longer required to use standard lengths to light spaces,” Mix said. “The architecture and design of the space can be used to determine the type, length and all the specifics of the lighting. Long, linear lines of light are trending as the dominant way to light spaces. Lighting vertical surfaces with perimeter slot and grazer lighting is coming back. We are seeing a continuing designer demand for luminaires with an elevated design aesthetic. Custom linear shapes are growing along with squares, rectangles and circles.”

Dolan noted many specifiers are satisfied with current efficacy offerings, and are looking for other performance advantages such as visual comfort. “We’re seeing a trend where specifiers are saying, ‘Efficacy—good enough. Give me visual comfort,’ and asking about Unified Glare Rating,” he said.

Joe Semaan, Director of Marketing and Product Management, Eaton, said integration of connected controls has emerged as another significant trend. “All of our designs for indoor commercial LED lighting now incorporate sensing and communication features,” he said. “We started a few years back with the integration of sensors to detect occupancy/vacancy and measure light levels. We’ve since added the ability to sense temperature and power usage in addition to tracking assets. The aggregated sensor data eventually ends up in easy-to-read dashboards of analytic detail. By collecting granular real-time data from sensors and smart building solutions, our customers are in control.”

A final major trend is tunable-white lighting, options for which abounded at this year’s LIGHTFAIR along with connected lighting. “Options like LEDs with higher color rendering for color-critical applications and white color tuning, which allows changing the color of light from warm to cool in appearance, are becoming more desired,” Semaan said.

“Regulations and customer desire to save energy costs is directing trends to lean toward LED designs that offer multiple functionalities within the same product,” McCall said. “These can range from programmable drivers to allow change in lumen output to color tuning capabilities within a product. One feature of LED that has been preferred from the beginning is the ability to dim the fixtures easily with 0-10V controls.”

Image courtesy of Philips Lighting.

Upping your lighting game

Interviewed manufacturers advised electrical distributors to get educated about lighting, carefully manage inventory, vet new products and suppliers, promote value-added features, and become familiar with controls.

“Electrical distributors will continue to play a major role in the connected lighting industry, provided they begin charting a course for their businesses today,” Semaan said. “Our industry has recently undergone a major transformation from traditional light sources to LED, thereby changing the way luminaires get promoted and sold.”

He added the industry is currently undergoing another transformation to programmable and networked lighting. All of this has changed the conversation from components to energy management to productivity, efficiency, occupant comfort and data.

“As the industry moves toward delivering more lighting systems and services, it is both a threat and opportunity for distributors to keep up with the accelerated pace of innovation,” Dolan said.

He said customers are currently thinking about how to adopt new lighting and services while preparing to embrace emerging technologies. A challenge to distributors seeking to balance their inventory by managing both new products and existing products that may become obsolete quickly.

Mix noted the only real threat to electrical distributors is the declining lamp replacement market. Otherwise, educated electrical distributors will only become more valuable as lighting gets more complicated—given they partner with good suppliers and stay on top of what’s new.

“They will do what they have always done, and that is partner with good manufacturers and educate the market on the difference that exists in product lines,” he said. “Lighting is no longer a commodity purchased at the lowest possible first cost. The industry will continue to become more educated and the technology will rapidly advance, so differentiating yourself through education while demonstrating expertise will lead to success.”

McCall advised distributors to carefully vet new suppliers and products. Make sure the manufacturer has a good reputation and whether their products conform and are tested to industry standards. When in doubt, confirm it is listed in the DesignLights Consortium’s Qualified Products List.

“The reality is many end-users and contractors are not aware of what’s possible today with respect to lighting and advanced functionality,” she said. “An understanding of these concepts will afford you the opportunity to be the technology leader in your marketplace.”