Lauren Nassef

Symphony orchestra programs often note the “performing forces,” which are instruments that dominate the piece being played. Over the past 25 years, the performing forces—or change drivers—in the lighting industry have been the instruments of energy efficiency, technological advances, and speed of information. Industry leaders who have championed change (everything from product development to acquisitions) look back with us and reflect on how the lighting specifier has changed, how products have changed, and how the customer has changed.

Project Design and Product Specification
In 1986, lighting designers and specifiers working on a job reached over their drawing boards and pulled a manufacturer's 4-inch binder off the shelf, filled with a thousand cut sheets of product details. If the date on a page was more than a year old, the designer would have to call their local rep to verify the technical data. The rep would then call the factory to check the information. It could be days before the lighting designer received the information that they were looking for, a process that could be repeated multiple times until the job was complete.

One of many unproductive byproducts of this laborious process was that there was often little time available to explore different design options and alternative product selections. Today, the situation is somewhat reversed and while the design/build process is faster and more integrated, which provides more access to product information, there is still a lot of pressure to make timely product selections that maintain the project's design integrity. “Lighting designers have so much more to learn now,” says Charlie Jerabek, CEO and vice chairman of Osram Sylvania from 2001 to 2010. “The rapid change in technology has led to increasingly sophisticated products and an overwhelming amount of easily available online design information. It was a lot simpler in 1986.”

But as design practice has evolved in the past 25 years, so too has the business of lighting and the manufacturing process. Changes in technology have impacted not only light sources and lighting technologies, but how the industry does business, communicates, and shares information. “Lighting design professionals used to be highly focused on how light was delivered to a task in an office or factory,” says Bill Astary, senior vice president of Acuity Brands Lighting from 1999 to 2011. “Now, they are broadening their field of vision to understand the total illuminated environment, made possible by the control and integration of all the energy-management systems in a building.”

But lighting designers and architects have always been integrators, and they're even more so now with today's smart buildings and smart grid. This integrated approach to comprehensive building systems requires not only smart lighting products, but smart design—and that starts with understanding how lighting can be embedded in all of the parts of a building, from the floors to the walls to the windows, in order to create a quality lit environment.

“There [has] also been a major shift in the lighting designer's type of work,” says Ken Honeycutt, senior vice president of Toshiba International Corp. and chief venture executive of the Toshiba LED Lighting Systems Division. “The acceleration of renovation and retrofit projects, versus new construction, has had a major impact. And I am struck by the fact that many younger lighting designers have never laid a hand on a pencil or a piece of paper in their design work. Their world is one of electronic design and calculation tools.”

No matter how the modern tools of design have changed the designer's relationship to his or her work (for the better or the worse), most people would agree that, in general, the quality of design has improved with the help of these contemporary aides. “Today's lighting technology has resulted in the lighting designer's ability to deliver greater aesthetic appeal and functionality than ever before,” says Tom Salpietra, president and COO of Eye Lighting.

New Products: Long-Distance Run to Dash
Any new technology, including lighting, that is incubated in research laboratories eventually migrates to the commercial sector. Here, more time is needed to find the proper application. But that time frame has changed as well. “It used to take lighting manufacturers three to four years to develop new products,” says Osram's Jerabek. “It wasn't that urgent to speed to market because products were around for 20 to 30 years. Today, if you took the same amount of time, you would miss the entire product life cycle.”

And it's not just the pace of light-source technology that has accelerated. Fixtures, ballasts, and controls are on the same pace too. In the case of lighting controls, the time frame may even be faster than that.

And yet, for all of these other product developments, solid-state lighting design is changing the world of luminaire development unlike anything that has come before it. Over the years, each wave of new lighting technology has found its application in specific areas that made the most economic sense and offered the best performance. But solid-state lighting may be the first lighting option to challenge incumbent technologies in every area.

The industry's trade shows, such as Lightfair and Light + Building, are often good ways to observe the industry's shifts in technology. The buzz at Lightfair this past year was the suggestion that by 2015, solid-state luminaires will account for half of the market-available lighting products. “The interest in solid-state technology and performance, including LEDs, is the same as when pulse start, compact fluorescent (CFL), and metal halide were emerging,” says Keith T.S. Ward, president and CEO of Luminus Devices. “The ability to control LED light sources [in terms of] dimming, instant-on, instant-off, and color, is getting the most attention across the globe.” Everywhere, sophisticated control of lighting systems is now de rigueur for any new construction where a lighting design professional is involved.

“The difference now is knowledge,” says Brian Dundon, CEO and president of the Advance Transformer division of Philips from 2002 to 2007. “Historically, all lighting players [acquired] their knowledge slowly and incrementally. The result was that our industry was staid and insular. Use of the Internet and the shift to electronic products occurred at about the same time, and information flow and product life cycles were changed forever. Up until 1993 there were three manufacturers of electronic ballasts. We showed up at Lightfair that year [1993] and there were 63.” Today, even though most of those companies are no longer in business, they were a driving force in transforming how the market operates today.

The Supply Chain: Adapt or Die
New lighting technologies and fast information flow have also had an impact on how new products get to market. Those involved in the lighting supply chain can no longer be just a conduit between the manufacturer and the end user. Sales people, agents, and distributors must adapt to constant change in order to survive as the business of selling and providing service to the customer evolves.

Those in the supply chain must have expert knowledge of lighting as a system, not just discrete components, and know how all building systems operate together in commercial, institutional, and industrial structures. Also, since light sources can now last upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 hours (as is the case for LEDs), there is an extreme amount of pressure on winning bids because it could very well be four times as long until a building owner considers lighting renovations.

“Twenty-five years ago there were many sophisticated customers, and because of the comparatively simple technology, these users dictated what lighting they wanted in a space,” Ward says. “Now, decision making about lighting products and systems has been pushed back up the channel to energy-service companies, distributors, manufacturers, and lighting designers.” Large electrical distributor chains, in particular, are reinvesting in lighting design and application departments, geared to capture renovation and retrofit as well as new construction markets. The result is that customers, regardless of their knowledge of lighting technology, now have multiple options to obtain the optimum lighting systems for their applications.

Sustainability as a Business Strategy
In 2002, Businessweek ran a cover story on why sustainability is good for business. Up until that point, most major companies viewed sustainability as an encumbrance to its profits and growth. But as the issue of sustainability shifted to become a business opportunity, companies soon began adopting strategies that included sustainable measures in their value streams.

In the lighting industry, energy efficiency has always been a force, especially when it comes to lamp design. Fluorescent was more efficient than incandescent, and it continued to improve over decades. High-intensity discharge lamps found space in the market. LEDs gained traction. Today, lighting controls are adding even more value to the energy-efficiency equation.