After more than three decades in lighting, Ron Schimmelpfenning occupies a rare space in the industry between the worlds of design and manufacturing. He got his start working for Appleton Lamplighter while still in high school, helping with the drawings and fabrication of a canopy being installed at a new hotel in his hometown of Appleton, Wis. Let’s now jump ahead to 1995, when he was asked to join Winona Lighting. There, he carved out a career working with lighting designers across the country, creating custom luminaire solutions. In 2010, Winona was acquired by Acuity Brands. Schimmelpfenning now leads all of the R&D teams at Acuity, bringing his unique skill set and technical capabilities to developing the next generation of custom lighting solutions.
What fascinates you about light?
I love the fabrication that’s involved, and going about creating new lighting effects that solve a particular design challenge.
Do you have a lighting philosophy?
I would never design something that I can’t build myself, because I don’t ever want to promise a design that cannot be accomplished.
What, in your mind, makes a great piece of lighting equipment?
Simple designs that can enhance the experience of the space. Often, we get tied up making fixtures too complicated. Nevertheless, simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Achieving something that appears simple can be very hard to do.
In terms of luminaires, what’s the difference between custom and modified?
Custom usually entails the need for a special lighting effect or an issue of size variance. With modification, there’s some aspect of an existing fixture that doesn’t resonate with the space, so you need to adjust a specific component.
What do you consider innovative in lighting?
True innovation is creating new light sources and forms of illumination, such as the LED. The rest of us are then tasked with repackaging certain technologies in innovative ways.
How has the business of lighting changed since you first started working in the industry?
Speed. No one—designer or manufacturer—has the same lead time they once had. A project cycle is so much shorter than it used to be.
What’s the next advance you’d like to see the lighting industry take?
More focus on quality of light and stabilization of correlated color temperature. It’s something we’ve been battling for years.
“The important foundation for a successful business comes down to one word: service. It has to be part of the company culture so that you can build relationships with others in the industry that are respectful for what each party brings to the table.” -- Ron Schimmelpfenning, director of engineering, Acuity Brands