LED product lines can alter significantly between the time a fixture is specified and installed, requiring designers to make informed choices particularly for projects with lengthy timelines.
Image courtesy Flickr user Michael Hicks via a Creative Commons license. LED product lines can alter significantly between the time a fixture is specified and installed, requiring designers to make informed choices particularly for projects with lengthy timelines.

The ongoing evolution of LEDs in lighting has upended the traditional specification process, making it difficult for designers to know whether the luminaires they spec today will be available in a few months or even years, whether the manufacturer will still be in business, or even whether the product’s performance will be competitive with new offerings available when the project is completed. Given these constraints, how should designers and manufacturers specify luminaires today?

“With this constant, ongoing shift in the product landscape, specifiers are looking for ways to specify lighting products without having to redesign their completed projects as they head into construction,” says Antonio Giacobbe, a commercial engineer at Osram Sylvania.

Manufacturers suggest that designers keep their specs loose and stay in communication with the company. “An overly rigid specification could actually limit the ability of the customer to install the best technology,” says Jerry Duffy, GE Lighting’s global product general manager. (Manufacturers also should be notifying designers about items that might impact product changes and availability.)

Concerns vary by product category. For example, when specifying decorative luminaires, designers often want to know whether the exact fixture will be available at the project’s conclusion, but for applications that can handle more flexibility when it comes to fixture selection, “the concern is more about making sure delivered light, distribution, and other control options match the original specification,” Giacobbe says.

Lighting manufacturers say they are doing their part, too. While LED improvements allow luminaires to use less energy, Lance Bennett, vice president of specification sales at Eaton’s Cooper Lighting, says the company and its brands aim to keep form factors consistent through performance upgrades to ease integration woes. And Duffy recommends specifying core product types, such as troffers, that will be continually upgraded rather than phased out. Among the ways Osram Sylvania facilitates consistency is making its LED boards compatible with the requirements of the Zhaga consortium to help fixture manufacturers accommodate upgrades; maintaining lumen output across generations on distributed array LED boards, even as system wattages decrease; and keeping lamps’ beam angles and color temperature options consistent. 

The biggest issue, however, is making sure fixtures specified today can be used with increasingly sophisticated lighting controls. “[A] project being designed today may be built in 2018,” Giacobbe says. “Couple this with the trend of lighting manufacturers embedding their own proprietary lighting controls in their fixtures, and you wind up with the potential for a control compatibility problem to extend down the road. How will the lighting professional who specified the project make sure that all of the new fixtures added to the project are compatible from a controls perspective?”

Technological changes are keeping the lighting industry on its toes, and manufacturers must help ensure that lighting designers are informed about short- and long-term changes that may effect their specifications.