A debate has recently emerged between industry thought leaders, about whether or not innovation has significantly slowed in the lighting industry. On one side, industry thought-leaders Mark Lien and Randy Reid argue innovation has slowed in this video interview during Light+Building. On the other side, thought-leader Carrie Meadows at LEDs Magazine argues that innovation hasn’t slowed, but rather needs to be redefined, in her opinion piece, here.
I strongly agree with Ms. Meadows. Massive LED chip performance gains have ended, so innovation has simply changed directions…….in many directions. Rather than repeat Ms. Meadows arguments, here are some examples of how innovation has shifted from chip performance to lamp and luminaire performance, form factors, and convergence features:
- Materials, such as incorporating graphene in housings and heatsinks. Quantum dots and other novel downconverters.
- Controls. Numerous innovations, both toward simplicity as well as advanced networked complexity. Both wired and wireless. Also, motion detection without sensors.
- Dramatically smaller luminaire form factors for linear highbays, UFO highbays, emergency luminaires, wall packs, streetlights, spotlights, downlights, and more.
- Profound driver innovation with size reductions of 50% or doubling of light outputs.
- Mini and micro LEDs that are beginning to move from the display industry to general lighting, driving some of the advances in filament LED lamps.
- Amber LEDs for street and area lighting driven by dark sky concerns.
- LED filament replacements for HID lamps that have increased lamp efficacy, increased optical control, and reduced lamp size, all at the same time.
- Multi-channel tunable lamps and luminaires for nearly every application, moving the industry closer to its color-mixing white LED future (only 5-10 years away in DOE predictions).
- Electrification-driven innovations such as EV chargers in streetlight poles and increased development of DC fixtures for microgrids, including PoE.
Which side of this debate do you fall on? Have I neglected to list other important lighting innovation directions? Comment below.
Hi David-Thanks for prompting further discussion about lighting innovation. Your perspective has always proven valuable. To clarify, I said there was innovation in design with luminaires finally utilizing the unique nature of LEDs rather than just using the previous luminaire forms. There was also innovation from fusion with other trades, the convergence you noted, but the innovation comes from fusing an advancing technology with lighting not progress from the lighting technology. There is also incremental improvement, which has been the business model for shareholder-based lighting companies for decades.
You cite nine innovations. Three of these are part of the trend toward miniaturization. It is a sequential process for digital technologies that after prices fall, products get smaller. This looks good for sustainability but also using less material can be a profitable move. It will allow LEDs to become part of other products and ultimately integrate into the electrical infrastructure of our built environment. These changes are incremental.
The iPhone 14 is an incremental improvement over 13 but Apple also has very innovative projects in their pipeline with combination AR/VR glasses and a rumored Apple EV in their labs. Our industry has incremental progress but no similar significant innovation in the pipeline and very little lighting research occurring. Graphene and quantum dots have been in my presentations for over twelve years and are slowly being used as new materials in our industry. Carbon fiber is another interesting new material for luminaires in corrosive environments. These advancements come from other industries that have application for lighting too. The inventors of graphene won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2010 but lighting was not their focus.
We agree that there is innovation in controls but not from the lighting technology. Our industry has talked about controls but not led. Controls submissions to the IES Progress Report for ‘significant advancement to the art & science of lighting’ have averaged 14 per year for the past decade with fewer than half of those being accepted into the report. Most of the control innovation is coming from other industries that want to control the lighting along with other disparate devices.
Amber LEDs are not new nor are LED filaments. When I first showed LED filament lamps to the engineers at OSRAM a decade ago they thought it a gimmick with limited application. Multi-channel tunable lamps and luminaires are progressing incrementally. We do not have EV chargers in street lighting poles. Our poles have been hijacked and are now digital platforms. Adding an EV charger to them is a nice incremental advancement but not an advancement in lighting technology nor did the lighting have anything to do with it other than sharing a location that powers both.
So we agree that our industry has innovation. My point is that it comes from design and fusion with other progressive materials and trades. There have been innovative products shown at Lightfair that never were produced due to their perceived inability to return their investment quickly enough to satisfy shareholders. Our risk averse industry has survived on incremental advancements that provide a short-term market advantage without investing in future technologies that could expand our industry and influence others. Now that LEDs are commoditized and profits have fallen, is it too late?
Thanks for sparking the conversation David and I look forward to seeing you again soon.