Just when you think the lighting industry finally might have a chance to catch its breath—to adjust to the latest generation of lighting technology as well as the most recent round of manufacturer mergers and acquisitions—events take place that cause a bit of a stir. Two events, to be specific: the introduction of a 40W and a 60W A19 replacement lamp at the $10 price point, and the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission’s recall of 554,000 A19, G25, and PAR20 LED lamps.

What’s cause for concern about these two events is not the events themselves or the manufacturers associated with them, but what they represent in the larger context of the lighting industry as it works tirelessly to adapt to changes—both economic and technological—that are already well under way.

As new players enter the industry from other arenas, what’s at risk is its historical sense of fair play and communal support. No one is denying a company its ability to be successful and sell goods in a free-market economy. But in the current lighting marketplace, with seasoned and fledgling manufacturers competing for the same customers, the gentlemanly type of business etiquette that was so essential to the lighting industry’s formation may now be at risk. And that’s where the two examples I mentioned above come in.

A $10 LED Light Bulb
The price barrier that separates traditional filament-style light sources and LED products has been a huge issue in the industry, and it has culminated in a holy grail–style quest to create an affordable LED replacement for the iconic incandescent. Many companies (Philips, GE, Toshiba, Sharp, Lighting Science Group, and 3M) have introduced versions of an A19 incandescent, both on their own and through programs such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s L-Prize Competition. But it was not until Cree’s March introduction of the aforementioned 40W and 60W A19 replacement lamps that anyone has approached the $10 price point, making these products a more competitive alternative for consumers. (Only the 40W actually dips below $10, at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $9.97, while the two 60W versions retail for between $12.97 and $13.97.)

This seems like an important step forward. It also seems to fly in the face of programs such as the L-Prize Competition, which was launched to create an outlet for everyone in the industry to work toward a shared goal. The L-Prize process was by no means perfect, but its intent, to encourage technology developments across the industry that aid in establishing baseline product standards for solid-state lighting, is crucially important.

So what does it say when companies introduce products outside of industry platforms such as this? How can the lighting industry as a whole get a handle on the complexity of solid-state lighting and establish the next generation of lighting metrics? Is lighting better off when everyone is playing in the same sandbox? Or is it more advantageous to have multiple sandboxes?

Lamp Recalls: A Technology Self-Check
The recalled lamps noted above were produced between Oct. 4, 2010, and March 18, 2011, by the Lighting Science Group (LSG), and were sold under the brand names Definity (Lighting Science Group brand), EcoSmart (Home Depot brand), Sylvania, and Westinghouse. The reason for recall? Reports that overheating was leading to fire.

Product recalls are not new, but the one that effected the LSG LED lamps is the first one with these particular shapes (A19, G25, and PAR20). Of course, no technology is perfect, and companies such as LSG know that a key part of innovation is risk. This specific recall gives rise to important questions that the lighting industry is figuring out how to deal with now that solid-state lighting technology has introduced a new set of issues. These are questions such as: What is at risk when the manufacturing process relies on both in-house production and outsourcing of components? How does a manufacturer find trustworthy suppliers? Where do warranties factor in?

And what about price? This too is part of the overall issue. As prices drop, is it because the cost of materials has dropped, or are compromises being made unknowingly in the production process?

Another unfortunate side-effect of this recall is that it provides an excuse for some in the industry to pile on the usual LED bashing. To that, I would simply ask: Haven’t we moved beyond this?

The next few months will be interesting. Having sorted through more than 300 lighting related products for this annual product issue of architectural lighting, I feel as though I might know the manufacturers’ product offerings as well as they do themselves. I’m curious to see who shows what at Lightfair and how each will be received in the marketplace.

I’m also eager to see who decides to operate within industry channels and who decides to play outside those boundaries. For the moment, at least, I haven’t been able to decide if that’s progress or if it’s a type of market disruption that handicaps the lighting industry in the long term.