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Industry | October 26, 2017

The Great LED Light Fixture Fallacy

Light fixtures, specifically 2×4 troffers, which carry a majority of the lighting load used for general lighting applications in commercial buildings, are good indicators of “architectural fashion” over time. A fixture manufacturer creates a new design that appeals to architects. This “new style” troffer gets deployed in a high-profile building and before you know it, that fixture design is being used across the country as its success drives other fixture manufacturers to copy it. It is so common, you can easily tell the age of a building simply by looking at the installed light fixtures. Lensed troffers? Think 70’s/80’s. Parabolic troffers? Think 90’s. Indirect Baskets? Think the first decade of this century. While fashion and design taste drove the fixture aesthetic over the years, one thing remained constant – they all used the same light bulb—the humble but ubiquitous T8 fluorescent tube.

Today, LED is all the rage and fixture manufacturers are off designing new fixtures which incorporate LED chips and LED drivers that require power. Architects, lighting designers, and building owners / operators are all enthusiastic about deploying full LED fixtures. The fixtures are touted as the best, most efficient, most stylish and if you want your building to look “hip”, you must go with the latest fashion of LED fixture.

Unfortunately, there is a problem looming that will inevitably be a major headache for the building owner. You see, these LED fixtures will eventually fail as they reach end of life. Once they fail, it is highly likely that the fixture will no longer be available for purchase from the manufacturer. The LEDs have evolved. The drivers needed to power the LEDs have evolved. The fixture fashion has changed so fixture designs have changed. For the building owner, instead of simply having to replace a bulb or a ballast, they need to buy an entirely new fixture. This will force the building owner to break up the interior aesthetic or decide to replace all fixtures. Either choice is costly and time consuming.

Now consider what is happening in LED lighting. Specifically, the industry’s interest in leveraging lighting as part of an Internet of Things (IoT) platform or ecosystem. This trend is increasing the amount of technology being used in the lighting infrastructure. In most technology products, the manufacturer develops a modular approach which allows users to upgrade the product as the technology evolves. We can expect massive amounts of technology to be deployed in lighting infrastructure; sensors, micro-processors, wireless communications, Bluetooth beacons, and memory storage. With all of this happening so quickly, the need for modularity becomes even more paramount.

So, while the humble light bulb has been kicked to the curb as a technology of the past, the truth is that it provides the perfect modular platform to deliver valuable technology to the world of commercial buildings and ensure that the owners/operators have a clear and easy path to continue capture new value for their assets as technology marches along.

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