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Smart Lighting Brightens Proceedings, but LED Remains Most Bankable

Smart Lighting and IoT optimised illumination provided welcome new developments at the Spring Edition of the Hong Kong International Lighting Fair, although – as ever – LED systems were still taking top billing on the must-have front.

Photo: A warm welcome to the 7th Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Spring Edition).
A warm welcome to the 7th Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Spring Edition).
Photo: A warm welcome to the 7th Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Spring Edition).
A warm welcome to the 7th Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Spring Edition).

Smart lighting has bright prospects, a development that certainly gave visitors to the Hong Kong Spring Lighting Fair something new to think about. This was somewhat of a relief for buyers, who could be forgiven for worrying that light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have completely dominated proceedings over recent years.

Smartphone controlled light bulbs that dim, change colour and even play your favourite tunes gained considerable attention at the show, while winning entrants in the Hong Kong Lighting Design Competition showcased just how creative lighting can actually be. The Avenue of Inspiration bent the bounds of the possible with products combining both intelligent lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Among the most dazzling and popular exhibitors at this particular iteration of the event was a local company – Mipow, which stood out with its bar-themed booth. Mipow started producing its Playbulb smart lighting series in 2014 and has upped its game this year – with speaker light bulbs, candlelights and garden lamps. Fittingly, staff dressed like cocktail waitresses were on hand to show how the Bluetooth-enabled bulbs could be controlled with a phone app, creating rainbows, dimming and even playing music. Speaking candidly one of the representatives said: "I'm a technology idiot, but even I can do this."

Sales Manager, Edna Kwan said: "We premiered the Playbulb at last year's lighting show. It's new, fun and functional. It's easy to use with the app and good to play around with the smartphone or iPad."

As with most Hong Kong lighting companies, Mipow's city office concentrates on research and design, marketing and logistic support, while production is outsourced to Shenzhen.

Overall, Hong Kong's lighting industry has suffered recently, with exports decreasing by 4% last year on the back of poor sales to Europe. While export categories such as torches, lanterns and decorative items are expected to stay stable, there is cautious optimism for sales of LED lamps for outdoors, sports and diving.

Another major theme at the expo was eco lighting. Getting in on the action was Cathray Industrial Co, a Chinese company from Jiangmen. Its futuristic-looking brushless DC fans ticked many environmental boxes.

Using a DC motor reduces wattage, temperatures and increases safety by preventing overheating. Solar charging and power saving increases energy efficiency by up to 60%, while the DC motor and magnet design also reduces noise. Explaining their appeal, a company representative said: "They're popular because they are new and, compared with traditional AC fans, they save money."

Other eye-catching products at the show included 'wake-up' lights from E-Safe Technology. These combined the functions of an alarm clock with an adjustable brightness table lamp. While there is a radio function, the best way to wake up is to one of seven natural sounds, accompanied by a gradual illumination that simulates sunrise.

Photo: Illuminating exchanges.
Illuminating exchanges.
Photo: Illuminating exchanges.
Illuminating exchanges.
Photo: Creative lighting at a premium.
Creative lighting at a premium.
Photo: Creative lighting at a premium.
Creative lighting at a premium.

A Red Dot Design Award winner came in the form of the Flip-N-Light lantern from Hong Kong-based Lomak Industrial, an item that doubles as a flashlight and uses LED technology. For cubicle jockeys, there was the ionizing LED desk lamp from fellow Hong Kong manufacturer, Vincent Raya, which purifies polluted air at the same time as providing a range of colours and dimming options.

With the current vogue for apps, wireless and digital solutions, this inevitably dominated the Asian Lighting Forum, which ran concurrently with the expo. Jo Shum, Senior Director and General Manager of Lighting Hong Kong and Macau, Philips Electronics Hong Kong set the scene, saying: "Lighting looks beyond illumination – major companies are focussed on digitisation, flexibility and smart networks. The world needs more light and the emerging countries need smarter and more environmentally healthy solutions."

Addressing the issue of Global Market Trends in Lighting Product Development, Roger Chu, Research Director of LEDinside, part of Taipei-based Trendforce Corp, identified one of the major problems for smart lighting – the piecemeal state of the market and lack of a single standard. He said: "The market cannot grow rapidly given these circumstances."

With incandescent light on the way out (banned in some countries, about to be phased out in the world's major markets) LED lighting, though, is finally coming of age. Addressing this development, Chu said: "Lighting companies need to rethink their strategies. In the past, LEDs were used for backlighting, while cell phones were a key driver. Very soon they will reach maturity and have a successful future. Post-2020, the LED industry will involve big money and capital."

The figures bear this out, as LED lighting is an ever more common feature in all kinds of buildings, vehicle headlights and outdoor lighting. Navigant Research, based in the United States, suggests that shipments of LED lamps and modules will be about 864 million this year, but will exceed 4.1 billion by 2024.

One big problem with LEDs, though, has been the competitive and occasionally misleading nature of the market, with manufacturers frequently making unfounded claims for their products. This has led to disaffection, as assessment of performance in terms of power consumption (Watts) compared with brightness (lumens) and colour spectrum has been patchy. This is a view that was neatly summed up by the appropriately named Light Xu, of the Chinese Lighting Designer Association, at the Declaration of Green Lighting Design forum. He said: "In the LED age, it's very easy to mess with the numbers."

This aspect of the industry was addressed head on by Teresa Zhou, a Sales Executive with Xiamen Top-Succeed Electronics Technology. She said: "We have been working in this market for at least seven years, so it's kind of old, but I would say that it has been growing very fast over the past three years.

"Previously, there were a lot of fake parameters, but now customers are pretty knowledgeable and are not just after price, but are looking at quality. A lot of fake companies have gone to the wall, the crazy ones have gone and it's just the best that have survived."

Photo: One Lighting’s stand.
One Lighting's stand.
Photo: One Lighting’s stand.
One Lighting's stand.
Photo: Light relief at the show.
Light relief at the show.
Photo: Light relief at the show.
Light relief at the show.

Zhou believes that mainland producers now have an opportunity to set the pace of technical development as the LED lighting sector matures. She said: "The technology has improved so much that it's time to replace incandescents and fluorescents. While Europe and the United States were the initial pacesetters, it's now China's OEM manufacturers who are making waves. LED competition exists, but there's no dominant player yet. That will come. With the slowing economy, there's a focus on long-term savings, functions and the environment.

"The next big thing is smart systems, the Internet of Things, and all-connected, systems. This is a trend in life and lighting. Simply put – LEDs are easier to adapt to smart systems."

One buyer who was slightly underwhelmed with the plethora of LED products and their competing claims at lighting fairs over the past few years was Henry Mianmi, a director of Brazil-based St LED. He said: "LEDs remain an emerging market. This is not big money yet. It will change, but it's a baby market in the United States, which is the major territory. There it's nearly all about commercial use, while it has quite limited uptake in private homes."

Addressing the legislative changes that are phasing out incandescent light bulbs, Mianmi said Europe, typically, has led the way, but China has become the market leader, not just in terms of production, but also in terms of implementation. Playing catch-up somewhat, the US initiated a scheduled phase-out as part of new energy standards last year.

Assessing the situation, Mianmi said: "I think legislators are becoming more aggressive about the issue and I think that's a good thing. After all, we only have one Earth, so we better look after it. Mass adoption of LEDs is on the horizon and there's a lot of excitement and a lot of heat, but not a lot of actual commitment yet.

"I go to the Canton lighting fair as well as coming here, and I think there's a lot of shared exhibitord. It's been that way for a few years now. I would like to see more variation. I think LEDs will be big in Brazil in about three years' time. So, now there's a lot of shopping around, with buyers looking to be ready for when they can really make money."

At the sharp end of business were Shenzhen-based Long Sun Optoelectronics, a company that claims to improve or launch new products every 15 days. Sales Representative, Ronnie Liu, said: "Business has been slow, especially in foreign markets, where people have been looking but not buying. I don't know quite why, but I expect that it will pick up in a few years."

Photo: Contemporary lighting: Are the dark days over?
Contemporary lighting: Are the dark days over?
Photo: Contemporary lighting: Are the dark days over?
Contemporary lighting: Are the dark days over?

A record 1,250 exhibitors from 14 countries and regions set out their stalls for the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC) Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Spring Edition) at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Running from 6-9 April, the event drew some 19,000 buyers from 112 countries, including visitors from the United States, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Thailand and Poland.

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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