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speaking to nearly a standing room-only crowd, lighting experts Carl Bloomfield of Intertek, Mike O’Boyle from Philips Lighting, David Shiller of Lighting Solution Development, and ALA’s Director of Engineering Terry McGowan shared their thoughts on Residential Lighting’s Top Five Hot-Button Technical Issues.

Selling lighting is not like it used to be, and with technology changing so quickly, ALA members were able to hear what these four members of ALA’s Engineering Committee believe are the key elements to know when selling these high-tech lighting systems to the average homeowner.

According to McGowan, who coordinated the session, the purpose was to hammer out the critical technical issues that must be considered and managed if these products are to be successfully designed and sold in today’s market.

Carl Bloomfield, Director/Global Lighting Business for testing facility Intertek, explained, “Due to regulation differences, there are challenges for a manufacturer to sell a product internationally overseas as well as to the U.S. And the technology involving the ETL and the UL listing mark is rapidly changing. We’ve been at this Conference for two days and there’s probably a new chip or component that’s already come out [ready to be tested].”

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“There are headaches that occur when you have to modify an existing product to suit a new purpose.”

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The second concern, from a testing point of view, is how to address this new technology using current standards. “For example, you can’t always say something must comply with ‘this’ if ‘this’ doesn’t even exist yet,’” noted Bloomfield, who is concerned about evaluating safety and performance issues if there are not yet standards in place to measure it by [because the technology is so new].

Another concern that Bloomfield mentioned was the concept of “lighting systems” versus testing a single light source or element as was standard in the past. “Or how do you evaluate a single luminaire that is connected to another system,” he asked.

Controls for lighting – especially as it relates to wi-fi apps on smartphones and tablets – remain another topic of discussion. “Historically we had standards for testing wall-mounted controls, but now that some of these LEDs and LED systems have the controls built in; it’s not the same as [testing] something that is hardwired on the wall,” Bloomfield recounted.

There has also been growth in what is called “custom products” or “one-offs.” According to Bloomfield, maybe a custom lighting system is designed for a specific hotel. “It might need to do things that there aren’t standard requirements for,” he said. “We are getting called in when the product is there on-site and we’ll hear from the inspector that the building can’t get a C.O. without the testing label.” There are headaches that occur when you have to modify an existing product to suit a new purpose. “It requires an understanding of where you are trying to go with a product,” he affirmed.

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“For lighting to do ‘smart’ things, it needs to communicate with other devices. Imagine if every item in your home needed a separate app in
order to work.”

—David Shiller

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Audience member Jeff Dross, a veteran of Kichler’s engineering department, asked if there are lessons the lighting industry can learn from developments in the electronics industry, which has dealt with solid-state lighting for far longer. Bloomfield confirmed that testing labs do have a knowledge base from TVs and other electronics that might be new to the U.S. market, but have been on the European market for some time. When McGowan asked whether “global labeling” might be something in our future, Bloomfield answered, “Standardization and harmonization will always be a goal, but there will also be differences, such as with insulation requirements and building codes.”

Mike O’Boyle, Senior Manager/R&D at Philips Lighting, agreed that lighting is becoming more of a “system-based approach” rather than an isolated device or product. “A lot of consumers have adopted control functions from their personal devices such as smart phones,” he noted. One of the difficulties in the industry today involves bridging two apps and getting them to co-exist. When it comes to co-existence, lighting specialists have begun adopting the healthcare creed of “Do No Harm.” “You don’t want to turn on your lights and open your neighbor’s garage door,” O’Brien quipped. This is just one area of concern as we move toward what O’Brien called “the digitalization of lighting.”

“If you had asked me 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that [the residential lighting industry] would have moved this quickly and been at this point already,” O’Brien said. “I think there will be a trend to evaluate how reliable the software is in regard to safety. If software is what controls the thermal features in a house, then the reps, designers, and lighting showrooms will need to know this, too. In the context of lighting systems, there’s going to be a lot to learn in the next few years.”

Retrofits and conversion kits are another area of concern. “There is a lot of confusion over retrofits,” O’Brien remarked. “Sometimes consumers don’t want to rip a building apart; they just want to upgrade. Some kits require rewiring a luminaire,” he said. There are performance standards to evaluate as well as the challenge in changing from a ballast to a driver. “There is still a level of concern when it comes to retrofits,” O’Brien noted.

David Shiller, President of Lighting Solution Development, agreed that standardization and communication among devices is key. “For lighting to do ‘smart’ things, it needs to communicate with other devices,” he said, adding, “Imagine if every item in your home needed a separate app in order to work.” There are groups (Connected Alliance, enOcean, Google Nest, Wink, Bluetooth, Insteon, etc.) that are focused on a creating a solution. “The problem isn’t just competing protocols,” Shiller stated. “There are differences – positive and negative – to each. It’s not like deciding between VHS and Betamax. Right now there’s not one protocol that can do everything.”

Shiller suggested that manufacturers should designate someone in their organization who can follow these developments. “Think about the products that you want to be compatible with,” he said.

Another area that is increasing in prominence is what Shiller called “human-centric lighting.” This involves aspects such as how different color spectrums affect our circadian rhythms throughout the day and the interest that the wellness and healthcare industries have in this research.

Shiller pointed to lighting becoming more of a “higher-value product” in contrast to the dropping price of LEDs making it a commodity. He also touched on the developments occurring with OLED and how its primary benefit is its flexibility/bendability versus its efficiency.

Laser diodes is an area of untapped growth. “Think of a laser pointer,” Shiller said. “Laser diodes are extremely small emitters that have no droop, so it’s ideal for fiber optic transport.” He noted that the Space Player from Panasonic (which combines lighting and image projection) resembles a track head and how laser headlights are already installed in Mercedes, Audi, and BMW cars in Europe. “There are even laser diode TVs, like the Hecto from LG,” he commented. “I follow the automotive and TV industries because that’s where the technology is going.”

Another area the panelists tackled was evaluating a product — such as a desk lamp that also can charge a smart phone. “If the light is off, it still provides power to the USB,” O’Brien pointed out. “How do we measure it so that all players are playing by the rules,” added Bloomfield, “so that the light is working perfectly and the standby power is working perfectly when it’s all really ‘one’ product.” Shiller concurred, mentioning that ENERGY STAR is wrestling with [evaluating] this type of convergence.

McGowan’s top concerns is that government regulations will continue to set the bar unreasonably high for lighting. “We’re going to be squeezing the lemon tightly,” he joked of the expectation that there could be even more efficiencies to be realized. “When it comes to ceiling fans, must we determine how much energy each fan speed uses?”

When it comes to screw-based fixtures, McGowan questioned whether there will be a move toward having integrated bulbs or a light engine. “I’ve seen such innovative work done by manufacturers,” he stated. “We love choice in this industry, so I hope we can continue to have both options.”

One aspect that the retailer – and therefore the consumer – is not aware of is how many more choices they might have if certain procedures weren’t so daunting. “Many manufacturers have told me that testing costs can limit whether or not they bring out a certain fixture design,” McGowan commented.

For the ALA’s part, the organization will continue to be actively involved in legislation, regulation, and all areas impacting the residential lighting industry and plans to keep its membership apprised of any changes as they arise.