No one would argue that LEDs aren't changing the shape of the lighting industry, and yet the shape—the form-factor—of LEDs and their luminaire housings have yet to be clearly defined. To date, we've lived in a world where light has principally been delivered in spherical forms offering diffuse illumination. Now, with solid-state lighting, there is a move toward slimmer profiles. As LED technology has blistered ahead at an unstoppable pace, the lighting industry has struggled to understand how best to create a package to deliver this source and maximize its pointlike characteristics. It's still early as manufacturers work with designer input to figure out what an LED luminaire could or should look like.
The first LED fixtures to appear on the market, earlier this decade, repurposed existing housings, and it was painfully evident that source and shell were messily out of sync. Then there was the introduction of numerous LED replacement lamps. It has always seemed ironic to dress LEDs up in an A-lamp or PAR lamp form, but I suppose it's understandable. When change is under way, it's easy to stay with something familiar and go with what you know. Still, it doesn't seem to support the case as to why the industry should make this filament-to-electronic transformation.
But now, for the first time, in what might be considered the most comprehensive launch of LED introductions, at this year's lighting trade shows, manufacturers are finally starting to design luminaires that respond to an LED's characteristics. In particular, the introduction of a group of what are referred to as LED modules — components that integrate diode circuit boards and heat syncs— allow OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to start the fixture design process without getting bogged down in electronic components and in figuring out how to dissipate an LED's heat. These modules—pucklike in shape —could very well be today's parallel to the ubiquitous A-lamp form-factor.
And with this new lighting form also comes a different kind of interaction with light and with luminaires. People are only just beginning to understand what these flatter, more planar fixtures can do. It invites a whole new world of luminaire development as manufacturers and designers rethink the position of the source to its exterior envelope and to viewer sight lines. We need to encourage the development of LED luminaries in their own right. We should throw all preconceived notions of what light sources and luminaires are out the window. Who knows? Maybe it's a flat world after all.