Should we jettison novelty for refinement in LED and SSL technology?

Aug. 8, 2019
The question of the day is what exactly defines innovation as we move into the realms of quality of light and experience.

In discussions about the Sapphire Awards judging this year, one of our panelists, who shall remain anonymous, posited the following question: “When do we enter the time of important refinement versus earthshaking, disruptive innovation?” That musing resonated and it turned into the verb of choice for the headline on our 2019 Sapphire winners feature.

To answer our friendly industry insider: Perhaps that time is now. If you’ve been reading LEDs Magazine for a long time, you may recall we frequently ran a “Focus On” feature article that would expand the details on an enabling technology or a type of solid-state lighting (SSL) installation/offering, and enhanced those “briefs” by analyzing the market or application impact, or the results of the SSL projects reported.

There are two reasons, in my view, as to why we have not concentrated efforts on this format as often as we once did. First, these articles are pretty time-intensive. Second, the differentiation between many of the latest LED and SSL products and installations is much subtler than it used to be.

I should elucidate on the latter point. I do not mean to imply that an LED engineered for municipal outdoor lighting applications is the same as an LED intended to serve in a controlled indoor environment like a museum. That would be silly. What I mean is that differentiation between products or installations with similar characteristics, intent, and outcomes has leveled out in many instances. We have been championing light quality for a while now — which is a product of material science, manufacturing methods, package design, and more. And it appears that the flexibility of LEDs for many applications has become less of a focus in SSL product design as the experience the product delivers for both the installer and the end user (or occupant of the space) grows more important.

Circling back to the Sapphire Awards, improvement is a constant objective. But what that improvement entails can be so many things going into this 2020 program. Perhaps it is simplified installation capability for SSL end products while enabling future-proof flexibility in controls. Or it could show in the form of an industrial luminaire that incorporates tunable spectrum and safe light levels to provide healthier lighting for shift workers. Or any number of enhancements that are not necessarily breaking the wheel or even reinventing it — but they could make the wheel better for the overall cost/performance ratio that manufacturers require to stay competitive and deliver quality of experience.

Some things for us to think about and for you in the audience to consider when crafting your entries. Bring a compelling story to your entry that frames the design decisions and you really cannot go wrong. Visit the Sapphire Awards website to start your entries and take advantage of the early-bird discount before Aug. 30.