What You Really Need to Know About OLEDs & More

lavignaWe sat down with David LaVigna, president of 0energyLIGHTING – a company offering fully designed and integrated lighting solutions from product development & OEM fabrication to energy retrofits and design/build applications – to discuss where lighting technology is headed.

EnLIGHTenment Magazine: Readers have been asking, “Is OLED getting more affordable?” and “How practical and relevant will it be for my business?” What’s your opinion?

David LaVigna: I think the short answer is “Yes, it has become relatively more affordable, more practical, and more relevant” — but that doesn’t necessarily mean affordable, practical, and relevant for widespread use and acceptance in the marketplace. There is a huge issue with the overlapping value propositions between OLED and LED technology in today’s current market.

There have been technological developments in the way that OLEDs are manufactured, but the biggest and most important one (in my opinion) is the introduction of polymer that allows OLEDs a flexible and pliable medium that can be put into the hands of luminaire and fixture designers. That said, I believe it’s going to require these designers to use their imagination and creativity to help propagate OLED as a viable and accepted illumination source.

As we have seen with other technologies, we really do need to monitor the OLED display market in order to understand the impact. The display market is going to drive the cost of manufacturing down, which is going to allow us – as fixture designers – to gain better access at a better price to this new source.

What I don’t think we will see is the integration of OLED into lamp-based applications. The technology is great for artistic decorative [applications] as opposed to an element that could be put into a socket like an LED. The OLED’s flat nature and ability to make thinly profiled products that have 60-100lm/watt with limited heat and high CRI support that type of decorative use. It would also require a company that is committed to the technology to build and stock a line that could be offered in a retail store. For the designed hospitality and contract market, in the hands of the right lighting designer and manufacturer, OLED can make a major impact and “Wow factor” that we cannot currently do with LEDs.

There are many great applications and uses of OLEDs in the marketplace. The most notable, in my opinion and in no particular order, are the Kardorff Ingenieure Lichtplanung chandelier in Berlin (the largest OLED installation in the world) and the OLED Tree Bar constructed by AB Rogers for the May Design Series 2014 in London — both demonstrate great creativity, imagination, and innovation with the new light source in a fixture and in application.  Certainly there’s always a place for cutting-edge technology. There will always be first adopters and there will always be people in the residential and commercial arena who want to separate themselves and their installations from everyone else. It will be sources such as OLED that are going to help support that, which of course will then help support OLED as an acceptable illumination source in the very near future.

EM: Which technology or product impressed you most at Lightfair?
DL: What I liked this year is that we are finally starting to see innovation in the uses of technology rather than just seeing new illumination technologies in a raw or developmental form. As a fixture designer and manufacturer, I find it exciting because it shows that the marketplace is ready to talk about – and accept – the way in which we can apply these new technologies in the real world. Whether LED or OLED, it’s just great to see companies showing fixture applications and the implementation of technologies in salable products rather than just the raw technology itself.

OLED manufacturers had [actual] fixtures in their booths rather than just the source itself. The same was true of LEDs; there were so many introductions of decorative product on the floor. It is time to introduce the finished products to the residential marketplace; this will help foster the acceptance of fixtures rather than just of the LED replacement lamps themselves.

At Lightfair, I was also impressed with the means of controlling LEDs as a source and systems together. The app-based lamps are fun and functional — plus, with most everyone in the world already comfortable with using smart phones, retailers will be able to focus the sales effort on the benefits of the lamp or system.

EM: A lot of attention at Lightfair centered on controls. What should higher-end lighting showrooms, lighting designers, and specifiers of hospitality projects be aware of?
DL: Well, let’s first cut “control” into two segments. As I mentioned earlier, there are lamp-based controls (both smart and “dumb”) and system-based controls. I am going to only comment on lamp-based controls.

For the lamp-based world, we have smart systems, such as apps and logical systems communicating to the lamp specifically. I think it was at Philips that I first saw a system that I agreed was ready for mass markets – not that I am saying they were first or best – it is just what I saw first and thought was intuitive enough for all levels. I think the focus is on investigating smart phone apps and how they fit your specific channel.

Now, by “dumb” systems I am referring to systems that don’t have logic — like dimmers. I would like to disclaim that I don’t think these devices in themselves are dumb – there is a ton of smart, sophisticated function embedded in them – it is just a term we use in our office as a separator. As far as these devices are concerned, I think they are getting a bad rap. For the most part, the makers have vetted all of the devices and most have Web sites and mobile resources to cross-reference their compatibility as do many LED lamp manufacturers. It is up to the retail showrooms and salespeople to make sure they are educated from the manufacturers so they can make it simple for the buyer. We have been asked by many clients (both retailers and end-users) to test and review the compatibility of lamps and dimmers — and what we have found is that when products are properly matched, they work as expected and everyone is happy.

Regarding the “universal” dimmers on the market, does anyone else remember universal remote controls for our entertainment devices that required hours of code searching? Then once you got it right, you often only had a percentage of real control over your devices — there was always some features you had keep the original remote for. With lighting, there is only one function. So when it doesn’t work, the end user is always confronted with it and often that leads to a bad customer experience, which is never good for anyone.

EM: What are some of the up-and-coming technologies you are watching?
DL: When we speak about future technologies, we are typically looking at items like OLED, new substrate materials, active thermals, GPS, RFID, on-board controls, and demand response systems (to name few) and how they will interact and interface with the global lighting markets. I think our greatest opportunity for advancement is our own innovation. So we keep educating ourselves, getting as many quality newsletters as we can digest and expanding our resources to stay updated on what is happening today for tomorrow’s products. 

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