With 2016 as David Morgan’s 40th anniversary as a luminaire designer, he looks at the lighting technology and design trends that came to the fore this year.
2016 is the 40th anniversary of my career as a luminaire designer and looking back over this period it is interesting to consider what’s changed and what hasn’t in the lighting industry in those four decades.
Increasing lighting energy efficiency became a key issue in the mid-1970’s due to the rise in energy prices following the first oil price shock. A wave of new, more efficient light sources were introduced to replace incandescent lamps and most of these required new luminaire designs. So this proved to be a great time for us young luminaire designers and we have been busy ever since, developing lighting systems that incorporate all the exciting new light sources.
While higher energy efficiency is nothing new, one aspect of the lighting industry that did appear to change with the LED revolution was the underlying structure of the sector. Some companies bought up whole chunks of the market to become vertically integrated while others started from their LED chip-manufacturing base and moved downstream in an attempt to dominate the luminaire market. For various reasons, these moves did not follow through quite according to plan and the lighting industry seems to work best having a few high-tech specialist light source suppliers, a rather larger number of medium-tech control gear suppliers and an almost unlimited number of no-tech to medium tech luminaire suppliers. We seem to like it this way and, although some of the brand names and many of the companies have changed, the underlying structure is not so different to that when I started.
Most of our luminaire design work is now in response to requests from lighting designers for customised solutions for particular projects. Over the past year, the requests have been in four main areas: glare control and LED dot reduction; serviceability; wireless dimming; and dynamic colour temperature control.
Now that LEDs have become so efficient, the emphasis with luminaire design is changing from maximising light output to improving glare control and making sure that direct view of LEDs is restricted even if that reduces the system efficiency. We have added a wide variety of traditional types of glare control accessories to many of our lighting systems including snoots, cross blade louvres, honeycomb louvres and micro louvres, which is another reference to earlier luminaire designs we developed in the pre-LED era.
In addition to reducing or eliminating glare from LED sources, scheme designers are also asking for dot-free distributions from linear lines of high power LEDs. Fortunately, the recently developed micro-prismatic light control materials can be quite effective in eliminating LED dots. This is definitely one type of component that was not available off the shelf 40 years ago.
Lighting specifiers and end users are now considering what happens at the end of the five or ten year warranty period for LED equipment. How do we upgrade and replace the light engines and drivers? The mechanical and wiring structure of luminaires should last for at least 30 years which would imply a number of changes of LED light source and control gear. This seems to bring us back to the idea of easily replaceable lamps and gear rather than the fully integrated construction, which most LED luminaire manufacturers offer at the moment. Unfortunately there are still only a limited number of industry standard LED light engines and modules available and no-one can say what equipment or brands will be available in five or ten years’ time when replacement will be required.
There are only 136 book 3 LED modules on the Zhaga Certified Products Database and these from a rather small set of familiar manufacturers. Xicato and Soraa have developed wonderful LED light sources but they are specific to these companies and the lit effect is not based on industry standards which is of course their great attraction. Perhaps LED technology is immature and it is too early to create useful industry standards.
I think this area of sustainability will be an increasingly important area for luminaire design from now on. It seems fairly pointless saving energy with a new light source if the embedded energy in the production of the luminaire has to be recycled or thrown away prematurely.
Another change is wireless lighting control. This is now becoming mainstream and we are being asked to incorporate this technology on an increasing number of retrofit projects. Casambi has captured a considerable amount of attention, and an increasing number of drivers and light engines from various manufacturers are now available incorporating their clever technology. I am still waiting for a UK standard grid dimmer based on Casambi and hopefully someone reading this will come up with the goods.
Colour changing and colour temperature adjustable light engines are, like wireless control, also fairly recent innovations in the lighting market and would not be easily achievable without LEDs. We have received more enquiries this year for unusual combinations of colours for architectural projects instead of traditional RGB/W mixes. We have also been working on projects involving combinations of different white colour temperature LEDs with strong individual colours for hospitality and residential applications.
Successful luminaire design will always depend on technical innovation from component and material suppliers combined with a good understanding of lighting applications, so I am looking forward to seeing what new and not-so-new ideas will shape the lighting world in the next decade or two.
David Morgan runs David Morgan Associates, a London-based international design consultancy specialising in luminaire design and development and is also MD of Radiant Architectural Lighting.
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© David Morgan Associates 2016