Lightfair 2009 was the coming out party for LED lighting. Lightfair 2010 turned into LEDfair, and by Lightfair 2011 LEDs had gone mainstream. As Bob, Fritz and I headed into Lightfair 2012’s exhibit hall we speculated on what we would see – and how over-the-top LED lighting might have become.
We were not disappointed – and it was a bit overwhelming.
Last year’s Lightfair had broken records (474 exhibitors, 200,000 square feet, 23,709 attendees from 75 countries) and this year’s exhibit hall had been sold out since last November, with over 500 vendors pre-registered. At previous Lightfairs we’ve prided ourselves on our detective work (finding hot new LED products within the massive convention center) but the sheer volume of LED products at Lightfair 2012 made this so much harder. LED lighting is fully penetrated. Where last year we quickly passed by any booth prominently displaying HID, fluorescent or induction based lighting, these old fashioned technologies are now virtually nowhere to be seen.
With that as a caveat, this year we were collectively struck by the following:
The Old Big Guys (Sylvania, Philips, Cooper, Acuity, GE) – all on board, all products LED, technical representatives that know the speeds/feeds performance data off the top of their head. Products are still high priced relative to smaller newer LED players, but Big Guys are not as defensive, know more about rebates and are more focused on the energy savings-oriented retrofit market, not just spec/new building lighting designers.
The New Big Guys (Toshiba, Sharp, Samsung) – making a stronger push into the US market, not yet with complete LED product lines, but based on their current marketing investment, let’s assume they will be there by next year.
The Chip turned Chip & Fixture Guy (CREE) – post the acquisition of Ruud/Beta, CREE now has a full line of products and interestingly assembled two booths instead of one, located at opposite ends of the convention floor – one for chips, one for fixtures.
Glare – Earlier LED fixtures struggled to produce enough light, and designs rarely tried to reduce glare as any additional diffusers (plastic lenses covering the LED chip) had the side-effect of reducing light output. With the benefit of another year of price/performance growth, this year more fixtures had LEDs inside – but you couldn’t tell. No more wearing sunglasses.
Lighting Controls – a number of newer wireless companies/products hidden amongst the older traditional wired products (think grey metal boxes with LCD displays and buttons, mounted at the breaker panel ). Lighting controls used to be about physically connecting to lighting fixtures – but now its about a software interface which wirelessly connects and makes the control magic possible.
And in software, these older controls players just cannot keep up. Ever seen a back-office PC with a dusty keyboard running a Windows 2003 based program with hard to understand icons? That’s this world. These companies are not proficient at developing and releasing new software products. At one demo the product manager told us “this control software isn’t released yet” and then whispered that he had given this same demo at LAST year’s Lightfair. His partner interrupted saying, “it should be out in six months…”
Contrast this with the newer wireless control players (Adura, Daintree, Enlighted, Redwood) who have slick, easy-to-understand software with graphical interfaces – they talk about cloud, hosted, multi-user support and open standards. We should expect these guys to get rolled up by the New and Old Big Guys within the next few years.
Office – While LED office fixtures debuted by CREE last year, this year CREE has broadened this line of fixtures, lowered prices and is claiming that adoption is early, but happening. Other players are now showing their own versions of the classic dropped ceiling 2×2, 2×4 and pendant mount office style fixtures, all of which is goodness for customers.
Quality – Customers are now seeing so many fixtures from so many manufacturers and the market is moving to the next level of differentiation – fixture quality. As you pass a booth you now hear “we used with the highest performance chip” or “our company has been in business for X years”, etc. It’s no longer about the chip, but about the fixture design. This is why our friends at CREE have come up with a novel way to help certify a particular fixture design – it’s called TEMPO and it gives fixture manufacturers another good housekeeping type seal of approval. 80 companies using CREE chips have already gone through the testing and more are in process.
As we fly back from the city of sex & sin we’ll be busy trying to capture these observations and more of the last year’s developments within our soon to be re-released 2012 Enterprise LED Lighting Research report, which we’ll shortly be publishing again with our friends at Greentech Media.