5 Dec 2018
Connectivity Is New Beacon of Hope for LED-Saturated Lighting Sector
With LED power-saving technology now fairly ubiquitous, many lighting industry players at Chicago's LFI Lightfair were looking to connectivity as a way to deliver more value to customers as part of the ongoing Internet of Things revolution.
Energy saving is nothing new in the lighting sector, with low-power, high-output light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) now well-established, while the comparatively profligate incandescent bulbs have been phased out or banned in many areas. As these technologies mature and efficiency gains tail-off, however, many players in the lighting industry are beginning to look for new ways to deliver savings, at least according to exhibitors at Chicago's LFI Lightfair.
With this in mind, many at the event were pinning their hopes on lighting systems, a key part of integrated smart building control and very much in line with the growing trend towards Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, whether for home, commercial or public use. Among the big boys focusing on developments in this area was Osram, the Munich-headquartered lighting giant.
Outlining the growth in the sector, Harry Palatucci, an Application Engineer with Digital Lumens, a Massachusetts-based Osram subsidiary, said: "Facility managers are starting to want to do more with lighting control. They want to do more with the deployed network and then have the infrastructure to do a lot more still.
"At the moment, we are rolling out Sense, our new environmental monitoring app, while we also have a temperature and humidity meter that can go into any space. It's battery-powered, so you can put it anywhere in your facility, then pool that data and upload it to the cloud, so that you can see it all from one dashboard."
This approach, which finds new ways to use existing networked systems, has enjoyed a high take-up in certain sectors, especially those relating to temperature or humidity-sensitive products. Explaining this particular spike, Palatucci said: "With cold storage, you have food products that can't go above a certain temperature otherwise they'll spoil. At the same time, they can't go above a certain humidity as water will condense on the product. It's clear, then, that we have a bunch of customers who use this kind of data to protect their assets."
Highlighting the cost savings possible through acquiring and analysing building data through existing lighting-control networks, Paul Matthews, Product Marketing Manager for Osram Digital Lighting Systems, said: "People want to get more data from their IoT networks and want to use Big Data analytics to crunch it.
"In order to facilitate this, we have fixture-mounted sensors, which give us occupancy data, daylight harvesting and valuable fixture integrated information from every single fixture. We can then take all that information and use it for what we need on the light-management side, while also passing it up to the cloud where it can be scaled via a variety of analytics."
Maintaining this approach could deliver savings many times greater than those possible from reduced lighting use alone, he said: "In a metropolitan area, such as here in Chicago, lighting is about $3 per square foot, but rent here is around $30 dollars per square foot – so if we can help with space optimisation that is a 10 times more effective problem solution. Inevitably, then, high-density metropolitan areas are really interested in 'spatialisation'."
Areas with high demand for heating or cooling are also good candidates, with Matthews saying: "Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is way more expensive than lighting. What we hear from Hong Kong customers etc is that they prefer management systems that are able to communicate directly with their HVAC units, so that, when the office isn't occupied, they can turn the HVAC down and make some significant savings."
Despite being billed as a lighting event, a number of exhibitors had a focus solely on building sensor systems, including California-based Enlightened. Essentially, the company's philosophy is to focus on future-proofing building sensors by installing over-capacity at relatively low cost, which allows future upgrades to be installed by simply updating software.
Explaining how this works in reality, Senior Product Manager Reid Senescu said: "We have our fifth-generation sensors here, which are 10 times more powerful than the previous generation. We have been doing this a long time and one thing we have learned is that there is always more capability that can be built, while there are also better algorithms that we can devise later. We have built this with a lot of extra capacity so that we can easily install software upgrades for the foreseeable future."
Mobile 'asset tags' are proving to be particularly successful for Enlightened, with many commercial customers finding new ways to improve efficiency far beyond the context of lighting and HVAC. Citing the medical sector as an example, Senescu said: "Nurses spend about an hour of the day looking for things – equipment, other nurses, doctors and so. In order to help with this, we have developed an Android app that helps them locate the nearest wheelchair or a particular doctor. It will even work in all of a company's premises across the world."
While commercial customers have been leading the way in finding uses for IoT-networked systems, the technology is also now finding its way into consumers' homes. Looking to exploit this, Georgia-based Eaton had on offer its Halo Home consumer-targeted system.
Outlining its benefits, Vice-president Brad Paine said: "With smart-home personalisation very much in demand, we designed Halo Home to help homeowners build a lighting plan customised to their exact preferences. It's unique in that a customer can scale up from adding a single light to expanding to a full control system for indoor and outdoor lights."
Although IoT connectivity occupied much of the show's bandwidth, improved lighting technology also got more than a look in. As with the headline-grabbing IoT applications, differing priorities between general consumers and commercial customers saw quite a variety of products and approaches on show.
Marc Dyble, Regional Marketing Manager for Osram Opto Semiconductors, noted that many consumers' focus on up-front capital costs when it comes to energy-saving LED lighting, while commercial customers are more concerned about performance and lifetime costs. Putting this into perspective, he said: "Consumers have different metrics they want to measure by. For commercial users, it is more about lumens per watt efficacy, as well as the lumens per dollar cost. For consumers, it's all price, price, price.
"The professional market does care about price, but it's now often secondary to colour quality, other feature sets and lifetime maintenance. They are also quicker to adopt new innovations.
"If you think in terms of a lamp for home use, it has, maybe, a 25,000-hour lifetime. By contrast, professional product lines need to have closer to 85,000 hours or higher, maybe 100,000 hours. It is all about lower maintenance costs."
Squarely targeting these same commercial customers, North Carolina-based Verbatim Americas launched a new high-output commercial spot lamp at the event. Again, noting the importance of low maintenance costs, Product Manager Seth McMurchie said: "This kind of installation hasn't existed at all in the market until now – it is an LED PAR56 lamp for the auditorium, stage lighting, theatre and places of worship market.
"It has a 50,000-hour lifespan, as opposed to a 5,000-hour lifespan for a standard halogen. It doesn't radiate any heat so you don't have to worry about HVAC problems – plus, when you're on stage, it is already hot enough, and you don't want any additional heat from your light sources.
"Where it really reduces cost, though, is when it comes to maintenance, especially if it's used in a church or somewhere similar – places where they have a very limited budget and don't have the capacity to hire a lift and change all the bulbs."
The 2018 LFI Lightfair expo took place from 6-10 May at Chicago's McCormick Place conference and exhibition centre. The event featured some 600 exhibitors and attracted more than 28,000 registered visitors.
James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Chicago