By Shaun Fillion, LC | OSRAM SYLVANIA
Walking the floor at LightFair 2014, it struck me that the evolution of SSL luminaires is a story focused more on engineering than on aesthetic design. Progress continues on efficacy and output from diode, light engine and luminaire. Quality of light has been a hot topic, and improvements in CRI and R9 were evident at the show, and a healthy dialog comparing blue-pump and violet-pump LEDs. Improvements in thermal management have yielded LED boards and light engines that can be driven harder. Flexible LED boards and Innovation award-winning moldable silicone add useful tools to shape and create light. Integrated wireless controls have made significant progression, so much so that it deserves its own article. In short, some of the best engineering talents reside in the lighting industry, and are doing their fair share to enable LED design to reach the next level.
How did this progress manifest on the floor of LightFair 2014? In general, I would say it was not evident without reading the fine print. Lower wattage with maintained lumen output, and iterative improvements in CRI were in evidence, but generally the appearance and light distribution from luminaires was a familiar sight, showing new technology integrated into familiar forms.
There were several notable exceptions. Innovation award winners like LBL’s Interlace and Hess America’s Moon are among a handful of manufacturers that took risks on new form factors and were rightly recognized. OCL did a commendable job of utilizing the heat sink as a decorative element for suspended pendants. There were other luminaires also worthy of recognition at the show, and I encourage readers to share any that I have omitted.
Given the growth of flexible substrates and optics, better efficacy and thermal management, why are we not seeing a flood of fresh luminaire forms? I suggest that two factors have a major impact on luminaire development: The challenge of integrated SSL, and crowd-sourced design.
Pre-SSL luminaire design did not necessitate an expertise in the light source – fluorescent or filament technologies were supplied by 3rd parties, and sockets were standardized. There were thermal and optical considerations, but fewer other factors. Current SSL luminaire designers choose between integrating light engines, populating diodes on their own boards, or vertically integrating from chip to fixture. Considerable engineering expertise is required to develop the boards and optics, and design missteps can become costly failures in the field. The higher potential risk of an SSL luminaire is eased by using tried-and-true luminaire shapes with a history of thermal mapping, etc. A design process to mitigate risk for a luminaire may result in also holding back change in the aesthetic design.
Crowd Sourced design is a more divisive factor. On one hand, it provides a beacon for young talent to submit ideas, and generates a reserve of diverse designs. Luminaire companies that judge the winner and bring luminaires to production have a brand to uphold, with an established aesthetic and expectations for luminaire performance. Outside-the-box designs may be set aside by a larger brand, whereas a smaller luminaire manufacturer could establish a strong visual presence by pursuing and developing an avant garde family of fixtures. If crowd-sourcing funnels great ideas to gather dust on the shelf of a risk-adverse brand, it impedes the industry by stabling the mavericks who could be stirring up design trends.
The engineers of the lighting industry have provided tools to facilitate luminaire development with lower risks and greater flexibility. My hope for LightFair 2015 is to see SSL technology in new luminaire shapes and forms, and to create an industry where luminaire design can undergo radical transformations.
About the Author
Shaun Fillion, LC is the Lighting Project Design Manager for OSRAM SYLVANIA. In this role, Fillion designs and supervises new product application initiatives including turnkey design solutions for large-scale projects and national accounts. Fillion also focuses on application design narration as part of the Vertical Markets team within OSRAM SYLVANIA and community outreach for the New York City lighting community.