Archive for the ‘General SSL Commentary’ Category

08285I have a fondness for the halogen lamp. From the little 20W bi-pin 12V burners to the 500W double ended monsters, the combination of light quality, simplicity, toughness, light density and versatility filled a special place in the hearts of lighting designers for decades. While there were also  larger iterations of the technology reaching 20,000W, even the most halogen crazed found them to be a bit over the top, setting them aside for special applications. In my own experience, the 20W through 75W 12V burners, 15W through 65W MR16, 35 through 50W PAR36 and 75W through 250W mini-can line voltage lamps hit the spot for a wide range of focused and unfocused lighting product designs. For my personal portable lamp works, the low voltage burners, MR16 and the PAR36 lamps were my favorites. I could create live-structures (where the fixture acted as conductor) using remote 12V power supplies, allowing sculptures to be simple to the extreme.

This simple bridge design was created using building and armature wire, a PAR36 halogen lamp, and a ball bearing counter weight.

This simple bridge design was created using building and armature wire, a PAR36 halogen lamp, and a ball bearing counter weight.

When LEDs arrived on the scene in the late 1990’s, I caught a glimmer of what was to come. By the year 2002, it was obvious that solid-state would be delivering something new, and that the properties of the source technology shared a great deal with the halogen lamp from a lighting perspective, with a huge advantage – far less heat, much tougher and resistant to impact, and very long lived. The only issue was, color quality was initially poor, consistency from LED to LED was awful, and light output per individual LED device was pathetic. This required designs utilize a number of LEDs mounted to circuit boards, wired to drivers that were clumsy at best. The complexity of LEDs in the earlier stages were compounded by the lack of available components, which meant one-off application of the technology was out of reach for anyone not up for custom electronics design. (more…)

To set things off on the proper foot – I do not like complexity when it is not necessary. I’ve noted many times that if energy were free and maintenance was not a consideration, the perfect light source is the tungsten halogen lamp. This technology delivers a very attractive white light, is very easy to control, provides optical focus, and is as simple as it can get. The low voltage versions of this technology are equally attractive, accepting that transformers were a horrible thing to tag onto an otherwise neat little light source. I have made hundreds of lights using halogen lamps, mainly 12V versions, starting back in 1985. It was my go-to light source. I still have boxes of transformers and sockets, acquired over years of making lights for myself and others.

Applying LEDs in efficient lighting designs is no more complex than use of any other source, just more productive.

Applying LEDs in efficient lighting designs is no more complex than use of any other source, just more productive, and attractive than CFL or other conventional “efficiency” improving sources.

That said, there is no escaping that energy is an issue, and maintenance is a pain. The cost of operating halogen technologies is simply impossible to bear. This is why we have HID sources with all their ugly liabilities, and the fluorescent lamp.  While I get HID technology as a giant super-power halogen device, it has always been a clumsy, heavy, messy engineering gadget that sets aside the art of lighting for raw lumen energy. Fluorescent lamps have are a source you are forced to live with, in an uninspired, just-get-lumens-in -the-box sort of way. There is very little to love about their scale, lack of focus-ability, ballast hardware, delicate tubes, and ghastly glow. I’ve specified millions of these lamps into existence, wishing every time there was a better way. I never made a single art light using fluorescent lamps, not because itsn’t possible, but because I never liked them enough to give them that part of my time.

The emergence of solid-state lighting, specifically LEDs, hit me in two ways. One, I get the small controllable source I had with 12V halogen. Second, I get the efficiency and raw lumen potential of fluorescent that made it indispensable. Because of this, the last time I made a light using halogen technology was in 2004, and that product was converted to an LED sources in 2006. For my own use, every halogen light I made from 1993 to 2004 still in use around the house, has been converted to LED. Every new fixture made since 2005 has incorporated an LED light source, without exception. I do not use retrofit lamps. I either tear down and rebuild products to utilize LEDs properly, or design them around LEDs in the first place. (more…)

The Replacement Dichotomies

Side One: It is acceptable, if not desirable, for LED luminaires to be replaced at the end of their service life. This is a common position among a wide range of LED product manufacturers. They make the case that extracting performance and costs from LED products requires a level of integration that cannot be accomplished using modules. This further forwards to concept that modules restrict design freedom, that integrated products are free to create light source forms to suit the intended end-product design, without restriction of standardized sockets or modules. Therefore, it is proposed, that the highest performing SSL products will be integrated units, replaced at the end of their life with the next generation of even higher performing product. The model often used to illustrate this approach is that of televisions, where the entire units are replaced, rather than serviced, with newer generation products.

Side Two: The single most active market in solid state deployment is that of the direct lamp and fixture replacement space. This includes screw based lamps made to imitate the light output and distribution of obsolete technologies, and extends now to bi-pin linear forms to replace fluorescent sources. Oddly enough, the one lamp form that is not addressed, is the one most universally despised in commercial and residential markets alike – the plug-in CFL lamp – but let us not be distracted by this obvious and blatant oversight.  This replacement lamp direction appears to make the statement that the existing infrastructure of sockets is not replaceable, that demanding building owners and end use customers to replace existing fixtures is a burden beyond acceptable limits. This also forwards the concept that the existing socket forms within compromised products, is acceptable, regardless of its severe negative impact on SSL product performance, design freedom and appearance. (more…)


In an effort to create the highest possible performance in a portable lighting product, assembling the right combination of components is essential. Obviously the process begins with an efficient LED suited to the lighting effect desired. The LED must then be matched with an efficient driver. Finally, the driver must be fed power from an efficient power supply that converts incoming AC line voltage to clean DC power. Efficiency is generally found in matching the load of the LED to a driver designed for that load with no necessary over-capacity. Then, mating the driver to an efficient power supply matched in size to the driver’s operating load is necessary to produce the highest combined efficiency. (more…)

Photo from Philips Press Release

When the electric lamp was introduced at the turn of the century, the first push for product was to create retrofit kits for gas lamps. They ran one wire down the pipe and used the pipe steel as the neutral/ground. The first fittings screwed into the gas lantern where the mantle and burner mounted. This was seen as an important first step. So was the business of creating new electric table and wall lamps that looked like candle holders, oil lamps, and gas lamps from lanterns to shaded products once shielding a glass enclosure for the flame based light source.

In 110 years since, the commercial market has abandoned all of this to use the new technologies, from incandescent to fluorescent and HID, in new product forms enabled by the technology. This is why the commercial market today is reasonably efficient, given the state of the source technologies in use. It is also why most commercial lighting will be all new product designs using SSL in new ways. While it seems retrofit PAR lamps are a good fit, in fact, most lighting upgrades are installing new products, dedicated LED product, from cove lights to display, and recessed down and troffer lighting. Most commercial products today could not exist within the limits of gas lighting, while even more cannot work without fluorescent or HID. Soon, there will be a growing range of SSL product not possible otherwise – as it should be.

On the other hand, pandering to the residential market has produced a condition where the design vocabulary remains founded on retrofitting of gas, oil, and wax light source technologies. Table lamps and sconces today in this segment would look as home in 1889 as they do today. Retrofitting these exposed lamp products with CFL has been a disastrous mix of  bad performance and horrible lighting quality. Retrofit versions of one of the only new designs to strike residential – the ceiling bent glass light – is truly awful when lamped with CFL. <br><br>I am amused and a little bewilderment that we are going to use LEDs to retrofit the electric lamps that are just retrofits of gas and oil lanterns. This causes consumers to make the direct comparison in the exact same fixture, between two technologies of completely different lineage, often resulting in dissatisfaction. Part of the failure of CFLs as retrofits, is they cannot stand up to a direct comparison with the beloved incandescent lamp, in the same product, side-by-side. New products that offer  no direct comparison, allows the new technology to deliver new value, on its own terms. The incandescent lamp is a wonderful light source, if you ignore life, fragility and energy use – which is exactly what the residential market has done for 50 years. LEDs will never produce an exactly equal one-for-one replacement, they will always be compromised as a retrofit, as the retrofit architecture compromises the technology to fit an obsolete form factor. However, there is infinite opportunity in deploying SSL products that beat incandescent lamps for light quality and aesthetics, that make the old burner lamps look like big black phenolic rotary phones.

Consumers replace old products all the time, of value well beyond that of table lamps and a few sconces. From phones and entertainment gear to cars, furniture, and homes (average stay is just 7 years, so there is no truly inseparable connection between the content of any home building), pressing for a replacement of the old lighting junk, only delays adoption. Manufacturers should be focusing on deploying products that entice customers to move from their old obsolete product to new and better energy efficient products. This has been played out in the telecommunications market, entertainment market, electronic game market, computer market, automotive market, etc… It can be put in place here, if that is made the focus. In street lighting, the leading solution selected is all new LED street lights, not retrofit lamps – for good reason – it is the best approach. Same applies to garage lighting, down-lighting, cove linear lighting, display case lighting, and a growing range of new SSL products being installed to replace obsolete incandescent, fluorescent and HID products. Change is not an issue – when it delivers good value. When retrofits are seen as the preferred solution – this indicates a failure of the market to deliver lighting products of greater value than the compromised retrofit solution.

It my own view that the money being offered by the government as a reward for creating a direct replacement lamp should be spent in stead on awarding manufacturers who innovate new and improved high efficiency lighting to replace incandescent products of all types, including delivering new products that satisfy residential aesthetic interests without continuing a third generation legacy of obsolete light sources.

I respect those pursuing quality retrofit lamp offerings, and accept that my views are not yet widely shared. However, that does not mean I agree with the approach, or promote it as a valid or desirable approach, as there is no such thing as universal truth. We should all feel free to pursue this transformational period in any way we feel is the best fit. In the end, what wins will be what sells, which will likely be a broad array of product from retrofits, to all new products that change lighting in some way.

The sooner we take on the task of moving from horses dragging wood wheel carts around dirt roads, and look ahead to putting SSL to work in new ways to deliver exciting new value, the sooner the interest in retrofit lamps will fade – just as the interest in rabbit ears on console televisions, 8 track tapes, pong games, and stand alone PDAs has. This takes a concerted and focused effort, not a short sighted vision using seemingly easy paths.

Think about this: As we discuss this issue, recognizing that the incandescent lamp is obsolete, the availability of retrofit lamps is enabling decorative residential product manufacturers to continue to make, market, and sell all new products with Edison sockets. With no pressure to change, and plenty of excuses not to, when exactly do we make the real transformation from one technology to another? While fitting retrofit lamps into valuable legacy products does make some sense – allowing new products to continue and advance this as a new product approach is ridiculous.

For these reasons, I do not directly support, nor do I support my tax money being spent on subsidizing, the advancement of retrofit lamp deployment as a priority. If it is going to exist, it should do so on its own as a short term patch, with every other effort focused on moving forward, encouraging manufacturers to move away from obsolete platforms, and rewarding innovators for leadings us into the future.

The challenge is not getting consumers at all levels to swap light bulbs in familiar products – the challenge is in creating new value that is irresistible to them, that causes the market to abandon its familiar obsolete products to capture this value for themselves. This will not come from clumsy fix ups and compromised solutions.


I am personally exhausted with the constant barrage of PR hype clowns that have invaded the entire SSL market space, it’s like a bad virus that feeds on active brain cells like some zombie brain eating monster that insists on howling at the top of its lungs whenever it thinks its done something interesting. The lighting market has always had a little bit of a stomach pit inducing illness, with claims made that are silly and obviously not founded on the reality normal humans are forced to exist within. However, what has been happening over the last 5 years coming from the SSL universe is an all new illness, it’s far more aggressive, and more painful.

Part of this is due to a change in paradigm regarding marketing. In the past, lighting companies employed in-house marketing people, who used local marketing agencies to place ads, or do some graphic work on catalogs. I know, as this is the function I performed for three leading product manufacturers for almost 20 years. We communicated to our target audience through reps, catalog sheets, web sites, trade shows, and an occasional letter campaign. Few actually used big PR agencies with broad marketing campaigns aimed into the wind. Know why? Simple, they are really expensive, so were never even considered as affordable, let alone useful. Most have zero knowledge of the market, think that that lack of knowledge is not an issue, and cost more for a few press releases than most total marketing budgets for an entire year. It takes the funding of venture capital to back a company with the funds needed to spend what they do on PR, while at the same time producing the need to broadcast their message to the world at large to support investors who are outside this market. The result, we now have a pile of non-lighting PR agencies with bullhorns, blaring whatever their customer companies (also non-lighting people) tell them is news to our once relatively quiet lighting world. The resulting din is akin to a neighbor who can’t seem to listen to music without cranking the dial up on an expensive amp to “11”. To make matters worse, the music selection is like bump-bump rap, the same noise, over and over and over, drumming and pounding messages of efficacy world records and earth shattering performance that will save the planet from certain destruction by incandescence, and fluorescence.

To make all of this even more painful, is that this virus is unpredictable. One day I get pounded with three releases that when exposed to the light of day squirm off the screen and hide under a table.  You’ve seen them, the claims of a 12W LED product with a CBCP of 4,000, and 800 lumens beating a 70W Ceramic Metal Halide producing 22,000 CBCP and 2,100 lumens – or the claims that the LEDs used will last a lifetime, or that if everyone used the product, our teeth would become whiter, and our skin smoother. Anything goes here, from claims of efficacies of 180 lumens per watt (at some stupid CCT), to performance comparisons that are simply fiction no matter how you look at it. Then, the next day, you get an interesting release about a color control system that, well, oddly enough… actually provides something useful and interesting. Unfortunately the ratio of garbage to inspiration is heavily weighted toward the landfill side of the formula.

The cultural shift that surrounds solid-state is not founded on anything the electronics gurus believe. Contrary to the impression that we are slow-witted laggards, we lighting people will absorb and put SSL, to use,  just as we have every other useful technology that has come before it. When the SSL providers actually produce lighting product (not just the LEDs, not just an electronic gadget, but a real live luminaire product) we will find uses for it, IF it works, produces a benefit beyond just using LEDs, and if the price makes sense in balance to the benefits realized. By this, I mean benefits in lighting terms, as we define it, not in terms of PR baloney, engineer pipe dreams, or marketing department trickery – I mean in real terms, using real data, real photometric tests, etc… The electronics gurus give us too little credit here, and don’t see where the real culture clash is founded – a huge difference in the perception of money.

The difference between an SSL start up and a lighting industry start up is spectacular. The vast majority of lighting industry startups began from the personal checkbooks and savings accounts of individuals, who worked their way into a market one step at a time, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, and rarely with much fanfare from expensive marketing entities from New York or Chicago executive towers. We are talking about real world, grass roots, dirty hands startups. Solid-state startups, at least by the time we see them, have a lot more money at hand… a lot. Most have more cash from venture capitalists than most lighting company startups realize in total sales after 20 years of effort. Having a starting fund of $20M is not unusual in an SSL startup, while I personally know of dozens of lighting manufacturers who started with less than a few thousand, scraped out of personal savings.

The result of all of this, like the invasion of South America by the Spaniards, is the spread of SSL Hype Clown Virus. A lyric from a recent Pink! album (Funhouse) illustrates this well… “This museum’s full of ash, once a tickle, now a rash… this used to be a fun house, now its filled with evil clowns….” Unfortunately, behind all this overly aggressive and ridiculous press is a population of really creative technicians, who are making strides and inventing new things we will all come to put to work. It’s kind of like having a best friend married to a loud and obnoxious partner – in the end you avoid them both to maintain sanity. There is a part of this happening in the adoption cycle of SSL. There are more than a few potential customers who are so sickened by SSL HCV they can’t see the great technology behind it.

There needs to be some effort to vaccinate this market from the most aggressive forms of the PR sickness. This can only come from the solid-state providers themselves, reigning in what has become a real evil-clown parade, leaving behind horse apples and associated stench. We lighting people are not going to respond to this positively. We have heard so much trash talk, been promised the impossible, and seen so many ridiculous claims, that we’re becoming deaf to the noise, reducing the effectiveness of any releases going forward anyway. Might as well try a new angle – clarity, realistic statements, backed by independent test results and data we can all put to use. Fire the high power marketing agencies, spend the money on more product, and communicate to us all like the professionals we are.

With Lighting Science Group acquiring Lamina, Philips absorbing Color Kinetics then Genlyte, and Cree absorbing LLF, on top of Acuity acquiring Io, and other similar combination over the last year, it would see that solid0state market is already trying to gel up. Are we really already at the point where its time to focus on market share over innovation? Is this technology already at the point where we know where this is all going, and its time to build the big conglomerates to satisfy the mainstream demand with already known product? I don’t think so (more…)