LED technology is rapidly evolving and the lighting industry must keep pace (MAGAZINE)

June 5, 2012
JAMES HIGHGATE says that LED technology offers great potential for many lighting segments but advises the lighting industry that it must adapt to the velocity of the semiconductor technology cycle.

This article was published in the June 2012 issue of LEDs Magazine.

View the Table of Contents and download the PDF file of the complete June 2012 issue, or view the E-zine version in your browser.


LEDs, being the common denominator for this conversation, provide a good technology base for many segments of the lighting industry to build upon. Unlike enabling technologies outside the semiconductor space however, LEDs demand that industry participants constantly strive to keep up with the evolution of the technology. Indeed, solid-state lighting (SSL) technology is moving at a fast pace, reminiscent of the computer processor in the 90s. LED technology changes faster than Moore’s or Haitz’s Law as a rule. The “Highgate Declaration” would read “LED/SSL lighting technology gets better every day” and that was the genesis for the creation of The LED Show.

Despite the velocity of change in the LED space, the technology, that I consider the greatest technology since indoor plumbing, inevitably faces logistics challenges. LEDs are caught between confusing market demands. LED makers are driven by the commodity market to mass produce emitters at a price of pennies per kilolumen with the hope that the source still appears as white light. At the other end of the spectrum, the professional lighting market requires the purest of 2700K white light with no aberrations, while dimming to less than 1% with absolutely no flicker.

LED manufacturers are diligently working on driving the last nanolumen out of a chip to help lower cost upstream. Fixture manufacturers wanting to stay current and in the game, produce what they believe to be leading-edge products. The consumer, hoping for panacea in a box, expects a certain level of improvement over their existing lighting system. The utilities, also smitten by the alluring appeal of energy efficiency and long-life products, are making strides to limit their liability by slowly and cautiously deploying trials. The government, well, frankly could do more.

While at times it seems as though we are all waiting for Gadot, change is in fact, rapidly happening around the world. On a global scale, LED intelligence has risen to a fever pitch, which in turn is beneficial for all of us. Declining prices and mass acceptance pushes the tipping point for faster adoption. In a past parallel, film cameras worked in a certain way for hundreds of years and then digital made them obsolete in less than a decade. Apply the same ideology to LEDs and you get a faster conversion rate. If an incandescent lamp is analog then the LED is its digital equivalent. You could make reference to numerous technologies in the 21st century: music records to mp3, telephone to cell, TV antenna to satellite, etc; and realize that SSL is no different.

LEDs also go beyond the “green and clean” façade of many technologies. LEDs installed within their proper and intended function are real energy savers on many levels. SSL is a revolutionary experience for those who have been in the lighting field for any length of time. SSL is a game changer if you will, forcing all to learn the terms and technology for the first time. While this gives us an opportunity to start anew, we are prone to make lighting conform to 19th century infrastructure. The future doesn’t have to conform to the past. The future is bright, we should design accordingly. Plato said “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man,” and this message holds true even in the lighting business.

Just when we think we have grasped this innovative technology, we need to keep our eye on organic LED (OLED) technology, a similar, yet different lighting apparatus. The anticipation of OLED has been looming on the horizon for a few years. This is a complimentary technology producing light using a new planar structure. Embrace it too and get inspired. Whether you are in the energy sector, a component- or lighting-fixture manufacturer, lighting designer, or light switch flipper, times are a changing for all of us. Keep pace with the revolution in lighting, or get left behind.