Cheryl English, VP Technical Marketing Services
Acuity Brands Lighting
The construction market is a mature industry with strong competition resulting in commoditization. The benefit is quality products at affordable prices. When commoditization occurs in a balanced form, it is not negative as long as commodity products meet the expectations of the end user. This business condition allows designers more flexibility in managing their lighting budget to allocate more money to specialty products in certain areas of a design, creating more demand for niche products. The 'commodity phase' often lasts longer during economic downturns because of constrained construction budgets.
The disadvantages of excessive commoditization are threefold. To the manufacturer there is profit erosion, to the design community and owner there are fewer solutions and to the research industry it creates stagnation. Manufacturers must aggressively work with the design community to understand the challenges and provide novel product solutions. Product innovation requires research and development of new products as well as technology improvements to existing products. These innovations result in new lamp and optical technologies, improved energy characteristics and new aesthetics.
Three-name specifications are often used to encourage competition, but become barriers to innovation. The development of new products and technologies is hindered by this practice, and in the end three-name specs speed commoditization. Specifiers must challenge traditional design approaches and protect their specifications as outlined in the IALD Guidelines for Specification Integrity. Manufacturers and sales agents must respect the design intent and quality attributes of the specification. Manufacturers must communicate with the design community and invest in research and development. Researchers must focus in areas that impact lighting design trends and communicate the results throughout the industry.
As lighting professionals, we all must make a personal and professional commitment to furthering lighting education and research with our time and our money. Acuity Brands Lighting has taken that challenge by developing the Besal Lighting Education Fund and the Jim H. McClung Lighting Research Foundation. If we are committed, it will be exciting to see how our industry can continue to change!
Paul Gregory, Principal Designer
From the redevelopment of Times Square to significant buildings around the world like the Bilbao Guggenheim, lighting has become a key player in the world of architecture. Global demand for electric lighting equipment is forecast to increase approximately 5 percent per year through 2006 to $100 billion. This growth has caused a few conglomerate manufacturers to produce a wide variety of standard products and reduced the number of custom manufacturers. This change is an opportunity for the lighting designer, not an obstacle. There are so many more finished products now available; time can be spent on the design and concept of what the inside of a space will look and feel like. Designers no longer have to create the lighting fixture to do the job; they can utilize what's in the marketplace in new and exciting ways. There is also an increasing demand from consumers. People are more visually educated than they were 10 years ago. The patron of a restaurant has seen the Bellagio fountains; they've been to Disney World and London. The spaces we design are looked at with an increasingly discerning and critical eye. Consumers know what looks good and looks bad. Overall, this is good for the industry; it provides great challenge and excitement.
» Susan Hakkarainen, President
No, lighting has not reached a stage of permanent commoditization, because every industry goes through cycles of reinvention. There are many different types of innovation-only one is 'electronic/optical technology.' I think that there are numerous opportunities to innovate in the field of graphic user interface (GUI) and materials. Lighting manufacturers have been able to make great improvements through the development of smaller and inexpensive electronic componentry and improved optics. Now it is time to address other areas, in addition to continuing research in the traditional areas, so that all people can experience quality lighting.
Although, the computer industry has done a significant amount of work in the area of GUI, there is still much to be done. If one defines GUI more broadly to mean how people interface with lighting, there are several specific areas where innovation could occur:
1. People that install products often have minimal experience and training with advanced technologies-greater flexibility in products would help.
2. We need to create a new way to describe lighting that is easier for other people outside the industry to use. Not only will this grow the market for the manufacturers, but for lighting designers as well.
3. Products need to be easier to understand; people are bombarded with too much technology these days and too many applications of this technology.
Lastly, there have been a number of advances in materials and manufacturing processes, which architects are beginning to investigate for use in building construction. If lighting can assimilate some of these advances, it will move into an area of interest to the architectural community.
» George Mueller, Chairman and CEO
I see abundant evidence to the contrary; not only is the industry not commoditized, it's reinvented. From the New World Center in Hong Kong, to Caisse des Depots in Paris, to the Time Warner building in New York, lighting is undergoing a transformation-both in the tools and technologies that enable it, and in the extraordinary designs and applications that manifest it. And it's not just in the lighting of spaces. Advances in the industry will find new and previously unimaginable uses. For example, researchers continue to explore the link between light and health, including Alzheimer's disease and seasonal affective disorder. Within 20 years, virtually all lighting will be semiconductor-based, and this will open a completely new realm of possibilities via intelligent, highly controllable, energy-efficient light. Imagine luminous walls, lighting systems that communicate data, and a 50 percent reduction in global energy use for lighting. For me, it's like living through an accelerated adoption of the automobile, cell phone, computer or Internet-and the chance to break ground with new lighting technology is exhilarating. Nails and bricks may be commodities, but the architecture industry thrives. As designers continue to break boundaries in their use of light, the underlying tools and technologies will flourish, and so too will the industry as a whole.