LightFair 2010 Highlights the Potential of LEDs and the Need for a Reality Check

May 21, 2010
One California lighting distributor best summed up North America's largest lighting show: LightFair? This year they should call it LEDFair. Indeed, the

One California lighting distributor best summed up North America's largest lighting show: “LightFair? This year they should call it LEDFair.”

Indeed, the more than 20,000 lighting professionals who attended LightFair 2010, held May 11-14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, certainly got an eyeful of LEDs, as more than 200 of the 475 exhibitors were marketing LED products. And just as this reporter came away a little dazed and seeing green dots from staring too intently into an LED downlight while visiting one manufacturer's booth, so too did many of the lighting professionals who tried to connect the dots between the game-changing potential of the hundreds of LED lamps lighting the show floor in Las Vegas and the realities of current market demand for these revolutionary products.

Make no mistake about it — because of their energy savings, long life, potential for terrific color, design flexibility, and developing product standards being jointly spearheaded by Jim Brodrick and his team at the Department of Energy and key associations, LEDs will forever change the lighting world. But because of their cost, the uneven quality of some products that hit the market early on and the fact that they are still relatively early in their design cycle, even some of the biggest fans of LEDs at LightFair had to admit that there's a bit of a disconnect between the potential and current reality of LEDs.

You don't have to look much further than the first wave of LEDs designed as alternatives to screw-in 40W incandescent or 60W incandescent bulbs to see the R&D work that still needs to be done for LEDs to take over the lighting market. GE Lighting, Osram Sylvania Lighting, Philips Lighting, Toshiba Lighting, Sharp and Lighting Science Group (with its Ecosmart LED it designed for Home Depot) all had their LED alternatives at LightFair. But at $20 to $40 per bulb, compared to 25 cents each for the traditional A19 40W incandescents they are intended to replace, the price has to come way, way down before the general consumer takes any real interest in LEDs. So you might say the bold statement emblazoned on a sign at Cree Inc.'s booth: “The End is Near — The end of CFLs and the Tyranny of Inferior Lighting,” is for now a bit of a reach.

That being said, many major lighting companies are placing massive bets on LEDs for the future. GE Lighting will spend 50 percent of its total 2010 R&D budget on LEDs, according to John Strainic, general manager, global lighting product management. However, at a press luncheon on May 12, Strainic said GE will fully support and continue to refine its other lamp lines.

WAC Lighting is also investing heavily in LED research and one source close to the company said WAC Lighting is spending more than 80 percent of its R&D budget on LEDs. Along with showcasing its growing selection of LED products at LightFair, WAC Lighting had a prototype for an OLED chandelier at its booth. OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes) produce light from ultra-thin flexible sheets or substrates and will offer some mind-bending design alternatives once perfected.

Another sign of the times at LightFair 2010 was the splash that Sharp and Toshiba made at this year's trade show with their new lines of LEDs, and the growing number of exhibitors at LightFair from the LED end of the consumer and industrial electronics markets, including component manufacturers like Nichia, Luminus and Seoul Semiconductor and distributors like Avnet and Arrow Electronics.

Toshiba and Sharp have been manufacturing LEDs in Japan for many years for applications such as computers, cell phones and other consumer electronics products, and they used LightFair to roll out new LED products for the North American lighting market. Toshiba showcased its E-Core LED, and Sharp promoted its soon-to-be-released PAR and A19 lamps. Toshiba made news in the lighting market earlier this year when it ended its production of general-use incandescent bulbs in March, a product it had produced for 120 years.

Sharp recently inked deals with eight manufacturers' representative agencies to market LEDs in the commercial/industrial electrical channel: the Yanow Companies (New England), Brazill Brothers & Associates (Mid-Atlantic), McDonald Associates, Inc. (Illinois), Fox-Rowden-McBrayer, Inc. (Southeast), JD Martin Company, Inc. (Texas/Oklahoma), Allied Group Sales, Inc. (Southwest), ElectriGroup, Inc. (California), and Robert A. Amey Company (Pacific Northwest).

In a press statement, Christine Lewis, associate vice president, LED Lighting, Sharp Electronics Corp., Mahwah, N.J., said, “As a leading electronics company, we understand how to manufacture, market and service electronics products and this foundation enables us to provide LED lighting innovations for eco-conscious customers. We will also look to Sharp's strength in solar technology to offer future LED lighting solutions for both businesses and consumers.”

Nowhere was the onslaught of LEDs at LightFair more apparent than at the show's annual Innovation Awards, which this year attracted almost 200 submissions in 14 product categories. Many of the product categories were almost all LED products. This year's big winners were the Helieon Sustainable Light Module System by Bridgelux and Molex, which won “Most Innovative Product of the Year” (LightFair's highest award); the Light-Drive Elite by Traxon USA, which won the Design Excellence Award; the SSL2102 by NXP Semiconductors, winner of the Technical Innovation Award for the most forward-thinking advancement in lighting technology; and the LightLouver Daylighting System by LightLouver, which won the Judges' Citation Award for special recognition of an innovative product.

Despite all of the emphasis on LEDs and other solid-state lighting at LightFair, the “Big Three” lamp companies — GE Lighting, Osram Sylvania and Philips Lighting — all said they would continue to perfect and support their core incandescent, fluorescent, halogen and HID products that still account for the lion's share of their business. And there were plenty of other companies at LightFair marketing innovative non-LED lighting products.

For instance, Len Thomas, marketing manager, EYE Lighting, Mentor, Ohio, was very proud of his company's Brutus family of pulse-start metal-halide lamps for severe vibration applications such as tunnels and bridges. Cathy Choi, president, Bulbrite Inc., Moonachie, N.J., said her company is working hard to show how its new line of A19 halogen lamps meets the tough energy-efficiency standards set by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007, which says that by 2012 general-service incandescents must be 30 percent more energy-efficient.

Along with all the chatter about LEDs at Lightfair, there was plenty of talk — and mixed feelings — about the show's move to Philadelphia next year, (May 15-19 at the Philadelphia Convention Center) instead of its every-other-year visit to the Big Apple's Jacob Javits Convention Center, which will be under construction. The recent success of the Light+Build trade show last month in Frankfurt, Germany, also created a buzz. That show attracted more than 180,000 visitors who wanted to see the latest in green building products of all sorts, and it got very favorable reviews from LightFair attendees who made the trek to Europe. Light+Build will next be held in Frankfurt on April 15-20, 2012.

Jim Lucy, LightFair, Las Vegas