Do you remember the early days of LED? Back when the average CCT (Correlated Color Temperature) was +/- 1000o? When you had to choose between Cool White or Warm White!
Or, if you are a distributor, you had to stock multiple manufacturers, and items from each manufacturer, to ensure you had all of the CCT’s that a supplier offered?
What this essentially meant was that there were different definitions of white? Not just the typical three of 3000OK, 4000OK and 5000OK but multiple versions that approximated each of these!
In all seriousness, when LED’s were new, we as an industry (albeit much smaller) wrestled with the wild swings in CCT AND at the time having to choose between 120v or 277v.
Providing customer with all of these choices and it was a wonder we could convince anyone to stock, specify, or sell the product let alone get a customer to buy the correct LED for their application and ensure they were satisfied. It became a running joke of “what is the color of light … yellow, white or shades of white?”
Solving the CCT Lamp Challenge
Coming from the electrical distribution channel, we started to look for ways to make our products more customer friendly and reduce the number of sku’s a distributor needed to stock.
Early on, START Lighting worked on the wide band solution, allowing either 120v or 277v incoming voltage with a single lamp. We got that to work, and were off to the races. Now distributors, contractors, and end-users can focus on stocking / ordering from three different lamps instead of six (three color temperatures for 120v and three for 277v) since our lamps could handle 120v AND 277v.
Vari-Just, CCT and Wattage Adjustment for Flat Panels
We introduced our first LED Flat Panel four years ago, and approached it the same way. Our goal was one wattage option and three separate CCT’s (3000OK, 4000OK, 5000OK).
To be expected as the demand grew, so did the variation on wattage for rebates. We’d have an electric utility on the East Coast that would want a 30w 2×2 panel, and another on the West Coast that would want that same panel in 25w!
Once we saw the fluctuations in wattage requirements, and of course CCT, our engineering group looked at the multiple sku’s and colors we were producing and also considered the number of skus that a distributor had to stock to serve their customers.
We determined the best way to handle the various wattages and CCT’s was to flip the switch to save money (inventory investment for distributors, time for contractors and a product comparable priced to single function products that are in the market.)
This was what sparked the idea for our Vari-JustTM platform, which we launched earlier this year.
Literally flip two switches on the fixture, and you have what you need! A fixture that can be adapted to address six variations.
One switch controls wattage. One controls color temperature.
As 3000OK and 3500OK are close together on the temperature spectrum, we have always manufactured in 3000OK, 4000OK, 5000OK, with the tuning capabilities. At customer requests, we’ve now added a 3500OK option.
For distributors this makes product selection easier and can reduce inventory skus, hence reducing inventory investment.
For contractors this means always having the right panels and troffers on the job site. A simple flick of the switch ensures you have what you need, when you need it making jobs easier and faster to install … saving you time and money.
And since quality and creativity is our standard. There is no additional cost for this advanced functionality.
Let me put my biases aside, and write this from two perspectives. I sat on the electrical distributor side of the table for the majority of my career, I also took a gigantic leap of faith 10 years ago to be one of the first to introduce LED lighting to the market.
I’ve chosen a path for our company, and that is to sell and support one channel…..electrical distribution. Going back three generations in my family, this has always been a loyal, straight forward, honest, and talent rich channel. Electrical distributors and manufacturers have generally worked well together, the majority of the business written on both sides came from this alliance.
Perhaps the largest disruption in decades, LED lighting enters the market. I look back at the first 4 years in the LED business and view it as a time wherein I did more educating than any other single task. I made wild predictions that the traditional “Big 3” lamp companies would not remain on top, and that they’d experience massive change in the coming years. I was asked to participate on a panel at Lightfair several years ago, speaking to investment professionals with Piper Jaffray. The panel consisted of executives from Philips, GE, Sylvania….and me? I was the odd man in this scenario, and I was the lone man as I disagreed with their premises on almost every point. It was a lot of fun for me, and when time had ended, I spent another hour with the audience in the hallway answering questions and explaining why I thought the market would be dramatically different in 5 years. No need to elaborate here, we’ve all seen what has happened.
The general formula for a good relationship in the electrical distribution channel is balance. The manufacturer provides products and services at a consistent and fair price; the distributor provides the access to the channel for the manufacturers, through the product, service, pricing, and wide market coverage. Both sides rely on quality product, relationships, performance, continued growth, and most importantly profitability for both. This formula can only work with one intangible, trust.
It is a healthy process, that healthy distributors engage in often, and that is evaluating your suppliers. The basics of these evaluations cover a lot of data driven discussion, and not as often is there communication with the supplier. It’s common to review turns, service, sales, profit, product issues, warranty claims, ROI, etc. Note I did not include the intangible….trust. With all of the LED lighting suppliers that have sprung up over the last several years, it may seem as if it’s murky waters. Many times we’ll see distribution try “xyz” supplier this time. Next time it might be “abc” supplier, and again it maybe “123” supplier. But is there any review of these lines, wherein a cohesive bond and trust are fostered? My experience would tell me that while Salesperson Joe may like “abc” and Salesperson Diane may like “xyz”, the only time these lines are discussed is when something goes wrong. And many times “management” doesn’t even know what companies its salespeople are buying from. The so called “Manufacturer” may, or may not be available to talk when the problem occurs. He or She is off with a new Company (or calling on another distributor or maybe no longer in the job), and out of the loop. Now the problem is in the distributor’s hands, and it’s costing them money and damaging trust with their client.
So, should those lines be reviewed? Yes! It is vital that the distributor understand the basics of working with a “new” LED lighting manufacturer. As more and more Asian companies set up businesses in the U.S. selling LEDs (lamps and fixtures), understanding their approach to business is critical. They don’t follow the typical model, they are happy to sell it direct to your customer, sell it to your competitor down the street, or sell it to the end user. They don’t care or respect the model which has existed in the electrical channel for many decades. They are not going to change their “immediate sale” mentality to foster a long term partnership model.
Here are the five questions I’d ask any new “manufacturer” wanting to do business:
- How long have you been in business? – If the answer is less than 5+ years, I’d be concerned on how they plan to warrant their product for 10 years?
- Can you give me a list of distributors you have an active vendor status with? If they can’t produce any, that’s a red flag. I’ve had many LED companies ask me, “how can you afford the insurance that these distributors are asking for?”
- Do you go to market through manufacturer reps? If yes, ask the agents about the company and the positioning on their line card. If no, how do they market and support the distribution channel?
- What is your support structure? Who do we contact for sales, project management, quotations, technical support, and warranty claims? Most of these companies don’t have infrastructure built out to support distribution.
- Where is your manufacturing and/or warehouse located? If the answer is anything short of brick and mortar in the U.S., how can they supply and fulfill your orders?
Not all LED lighting companies are playing on the same field, as I mentioned previously. Most don’t understand the role of distribution, or how to support it. These are the same companies selling on Amazon Business, E-bay, Build.com, etc. The key to success is trust, and if they aren’t squarely in your corner, then there is no way that trust can be built.
Perhaps you’ll give me a call and let me earn your trust?
UL alerts the public that improperly installed or uncertified kits could be posing safety hazards.
In many states, utility providers are offering rebates and other financial incentives to businesses that upgrade or retrofit their facilities with more energy-efficient lighting. While the move is a positive step, care isn’t always taken to use properly certified retrofit kits and/or to complete the retrofit according to kit installation instructions to assure that the resulting upgraded lighting fixture meets the equivalent certification requirements of the enforced code. Compounding the issue is that companies and individuals performing retrofits are not always obtaining the proper permits, and not all authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) mandate inspection of lighting retrofits, so the hazards are not always easily identified.
“Many of these retrofits are being completed in ways that create safety hazards where none existed before, creating unintended consequences in the name of energy efficiency,” said Marguerite Carroll, regional manager for UL’s Regulatory Services division.
The components used in the retrofit may be UL Listed or otherwise certified, but if the whole system, including the ballasts, drivers, lamp holders and lamps, is not evaluated and certified for safety as a complete kit for the specific type of luminaire, problems can occur.
“The common thinking is that LED retrofits are low-voltage. This is not true. All retrofit kits will include branch circuit connections and should be treated with proper safety precautions,” said Bahram Barzideh, principal engineer with UL’s lighting division.
For utilities providing financial incentives for lighting conversions that modify the existing luminaire, consideration should be given to implementing minimum specific criteria before the retrofit installation can begin. The minimum criteria should include proper permits, use of the proper certified luminaire retrofits kits by qualified installers, and proof of inspection by the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). In most jurisdictions, this is the electrical inspector.
UL urges those undertaking a lighting retrofit to use only certified retrofit kits in accordance with their certification to help ensure the continued compliance with certification requirements for the retrofitted luminaire and the NEC and to have the installation inspected by their local jurisdiction. Certified LED retrofit kits can be verified on UL Product Spec at productspec.UL.com or in UL’s Online Certifications Database at bit.ly/RetrofitKits. More detailed information about retrofits and retrofit safety can be found here.
View START Lighting’s retrofit listing on ul.com.
I have been hearing a lot of buzz about LiFi in the last few weeks. People around the world are raving about how it will change the way people access the Internet. And while I love the idea of innovating Internet availability, important questions abound: How will this affect the lighting business? What can we expect in the future? Are we seeing another revolution in the industry? As lighting manufacturers and providers, these are questions we need to be answering.
What is LiFi?
If we want to talk about how LiFi will affect our industry, we need to understand it first. LiFi, short for Light Fidelity, is a wireless communication system that uses visible light instead of radio waves. Like WiFi, it transmits data electromagnetically, but LiFi has been shown to produce speeds that leave traditional wireless services in the dust. Recent lab trials have clocked speeds over 18,000 times faster than the average US internet speed. Coupled with many other advantages including security and resistance to interference, it’s no wonder people are getting excited about it.
How Does LiFi Work?
LED lamps produce a constant stream of light that can be dimmed or brightened at rapid rates. The LiFi system harnesses that functionality by fluctuating the light levels emitted by an LED to send signals to a photosensitive device. These fluctuations happen so fast that they are imperceptible to the human eye, but are strong enough to be decoded by the device and translated into binary code. The device then sends signals back to a LiFi capable LED lamp and the process repeats, giving you an extremely fast connection to the web.
Why Should I Care About LiFi?
There is a dilemma right now in the lighting industry pertaining to LEDs. How can anyone support a business when clients only need to buy product once every ten years? The numbers just don’t add up. This has rocked the core of how business is done, and has left some people questioning whether they should get out while they can. LiFi, and products like it, are turning this perception around.
Everyone uses lighting products in their everyday lives, but hardly anyone thinks about where the light comes from. People take light for granted, and expect to have it wherever they go. But the advent of lighting as a conduit for other services has shifted the paradigm. It is now being seen as something of immense value. That gives distributors and energy service companies an incredible opportunity to sell their products as an ongoing program, constantly providing innovative new functionality with every lamp or fixture purchased.
How Will LiFi Affect the Lighting Industry?
LiFi is just the beginning of this revolution. These kinds of advances will continue as businesses seek to limit their environmental footprint and cut costs to improve their bottom line. If we want to survive we cannot let this incredible opportunity pass us by. As experts in this field we should be spearheading the movement and reaching for ever greater advances. This is the future of our business, and it’s time we start getting in on the action. Lagging behind just isn’t an option.
Had an interesting discussion today with a distributor regarding lighting / lamp manufacturers which created the thought of “what is the future of these companies?”
For clarity, the discussed manufacturer marketplace is:
- Philips, Sylvania and GE being companies that are lamp and fixture companies. And, it appears, that all 3 are attempting to figure out what their model is / should be for the future.
Then there is Cooper, Acuity, Hubbell, Juno, Cree and others that are traditionally fixture lines (and yes, some of Philips’ lines falls into here – Lightolier, Thomas Lighting, etc) and smaller lines like Rab, Atlas, Topaz Lighting and others or LED companies like Digital Lumens, **Start Lighting** and Lunera (essentially think of these lines as “who?”)
- and we can’t forget companies like TCP (known primarily for lamps but now also into fixtures), Eiko, Satco and others that are more on the lamp side of the business.
And LEDs, plus consolidation, have muddied the waters.
The discussion then turned to perhaps a more philosophical / blue ocean discussion … what will LEDs mean to lighting supplier “relationships” for the future?
- With LEDs growing, does this diminish the need for lamp replacements? Is lamp replacements a profitable, and large enough, segment of the market for many distributors?
- With LEDs growing, and if a distributor focused on new construction and retrofits, and minimally on the replacement / MRO market, do they need a “major” lamp line (Philips, Sylvania, GE) or could they do very well with fixture lines and “tier 2/3” lamp suppliers?
- Given that LEDs are 35%+ of fixture manufacturer sales, the component suppliers are now different with LED components being available from a multitude of suppliers. Does this make the “big 3” less relevant longer-term?
- What does it mean for someone like Cooper Lighting and the potential leverage they may have given their ownership by Eaton and a potential relationship (lead generator) with Eaton’s ESCO business?
- While many talked that Sylvania should have / could purchase Acuity, is Acuity in the drivers seat now?
- Will the lamp “big 3” that we remember of 2009 be of important in 2019 (5 years from now)? Will the drive to “control the hole” in the ceiling and cannibalize existing business (which was necessary given the technology change) result in changing corporate dynamics in the lighting industry? And what does this mean for distributor relationships? The companies that they align with? Have they staff and train their organizations and the resultant impact on profitability?
Will being a “solution / system” sell and offering the fixture, lamp source and dimming control system be what your customers want? Being locked into a system longer-term? Will designers recommend this? Will purchasing accept this?
And, for a distributor, could the answer be “just align with whichever fixture manufacturers have the best salespeople / agents in your territory” (unless you train your own) and consider these relationships “transactional?”
Just some food for thought and a reminder that the events of yesterday do not have to be the precursor for today nor a suggestion for tomorrow’s strategies. The market, especially the lighting market, is changing rapidly.
What are your thoughts on the future of the “big 3 lamp lines”?
Most people have accepted that it’s all but over for old incandescent bulbs. But CFLs—compact fluorescent bulbs, the titular replacements for incandescents—may be rapidly becoming extinct as well.
LEDs or light-emitting diode bulbs are the next lighting generation, and they’ve made significant advances in the last couple of years. I’ve been testing dozens of bulbs from companies such as Cree, GE, Lighting Sciences, Sylvania, and Toshiba, and found that not only are LEDs a better alternative with superior lighting characteristics, they offer more features than any previous lighting technology—as long as you understand how they are rated and what to look for.
LEDs offer several advantages. First and foremost is the fact that LEDs are more efficient, saving electricity—and money. A typical 60-watt replacement LED actually uses just 11 watts to produce the same brightness. They can also replace everything from reading lamps to overheads, although LEDs vent heat from the base of the bulb and so are not appropriate for completely enclosed fixtures.
Compared to CFLs, LEDs do not contain hazardous, mercury-tinged gas, and they can withstand being turned on and off repeatedly without reducing their life span. LEDs also come on instantly, unlike CFLs that typically have to warm up (which is why some people just leave them on all the time). Most LEDs are also dimmable (an expensive feature for special CFLs), and they do not suddenly burn out without warning (LEDs gradually lose their brightness before failing).
The solid-state components of LEDs can also make them potentially shock resistant and virtually unbreakable, depending on the kind of glass used. I accidentally dropped a couple of Sylvania’s Ultra bulbs from a height of about five feet onto a living room carpet. No broken glass, no poison gas, and the Sylvania bulbs still worked perfectly.
The biggest downside to LEDs has been their price. Just a couple of years ago, 60-watt equivalent LEDs were $40 each or more. Today, however, the price of such A19 (standard household lamp bulb sizes) bulbs has dropped to under $10 each. That may still sound like a lot of money, but these bulbs have a usable life span equal to about 30 to 50 incandescent bulbs or 3 to 5 CFLs. In other words, based on 3 hours a day of use, an LED bulb may last you for over 20 years.
So why are some LEDs so expensive and why do some emit harsher light than others?
To understand what you’re buying and the kind of light you’ll get, you need to know a little about LED specifications.
Rather than looking at wattage ratings or replacement equivalence ratings, you should look at the lumen’s rating of a bulb to see how bright it will be. An 800 lumens rating, for example, is about typical for replacing a 60-watt incandescent bulb.
Color temperature indicates what kind of light the bulb will emit. A “soft white” bulb that has a comfortable yellowish light similar to incandescents of old will have a color temperature of 2400 to 2700 K (K is for Kelvin). A “clean white” LED bulb that has less yellow and a whiter glow will have a 3000 K rating. “Day light” or “natural white” bulbs will have a 4000 or 5000 K rating. These bulbs, called “cooler” because they have a bluish hue even though they have a higher K rating, look harsh to some viewers but can be ideal in certain situations. I found 5000 K bulbs worked extremely well in lamps that were near a window, mimicking day light on cloudy days. A GE lighting expert told me that folks in the sunny south tend to prefer “day light” bulbs; those in the darker (and colder) northeast tend to prefer yellowish LEDs.
However, brightness and color temperature ratings alone will not tell you how certain colors or shades appear under a particular bulb. For example, while sorting laundry under a 5000 K, 800 lumens Cree day light bulb I found a pale pink shirt looked white but under a soft white 2700 K bulb from Cree with the same lumens rating the shirt was obviously pink. The reason for the difference is how accurately a given bulb displays the full spectrum of light.
So-called CRI or color rendering index numbers are supposed to give shoppers a way to judge how a bulb will look in terms of revealing colors, but the numbers can be deceptive. Both Cree bulbs, for example, had CRI’s of 80 (as do most household LED bulbs). But the CRI number doesn’t tell you where in the color spectrum the light falls short or may over emphasize a given color. Another design from Lighting Science, for example, has the same CRI as the Cree bulbs but uses a special filter to remove specific wavelengths of light and encourage melatonin production to improve sleep patterns, according to the company.
If color accuracy is very important to you, invest in higher CRI bulbs. These are sometimes called “enhanced spectrum” bulbs or use brand names like GE’s Reveal bulbs. These lights have a higher CRI of 90 or more and colors have a crisper appearance under them. But expect to also pay more for high CRI bulbs; a 60-watt replacement GE Reveal LED is just under $20, for example.
Still for all these nuances, even 80 CRI rated LEDs are much more accurate than CFLs. In the future, you may also be able to tune your LED lights, yellow for late at night, whiter for overcast days. In fact, Philips already offers a $200 Hue 3-bulb lighting package that you can program from a smartphone.
In the meantime, there’s no reason to buy CFLs, which are yesterday’s technology. LEDs are safer, brighter, and better.