Ams Osram sells off horticultural pioneer Fluence to former rival Signify

Dec. 20, 2021
The Austrian company continues to sharpen its focus on chip-level activities at the expense of lighting systems — even in the promising greenhouse and vertical farming sector.

For some time now, ams Osram has said it will emphasize chip-level activities rather than the broader illumination businesses that it picked up via ams’ 2020 acquisition of Osram. Today, it backed up those words like never before, announcing it is selling its horticultural lighting unit, Fluence, to Osram’s erstwhile lighting rival, Signify for $272 million.

Horticultural lighting is regarded by many lighting industry experts as an area with great growth potential. Growers are increasingly tapping LED systems tuned to optimal spectral wavelengths for different crops, sometimes combining them with sophisticated controls, in both greenhouses and vertical farms. The improvements in yields and quality are often impressive, benefiting not only the farming business but also the world’s food supply.

Indeed, Fluence — or Fluence by Osram, as it is officially known — itself has been racking up wins. Founded in 2013 and acquired by Osram in 2018, the company had $141 million in sales in the twelve months from Oct. 2020 through Sept. 2021. If there were a lighting group that ams Osram might have spared in its ongoing sell-off of lighting operations, Fluence would have seemed like a good candidate.

But ams hinted to LEDs Magazine last month that even Fluence could go. At the time, the company had recently divested its Digital Lumens IoT lighting group, then the latest in a series of lighting sell-offs. We asked if any of the remaining units, such as Fluence, were safe. As mentioned previously, there are elements of the…portfolio which are not core to the ams Osram business,” a spokesperson told us early in the month, adding that, if relevant, updates will be made accordingly.”

Such an “update” came today, with Signify agreeing to buy Austin, TX-based Fluence for $272 million in cash on a debt-free basis. The companies expect the transaction to close in the first half of 2022, subject to regulatory approvals and other conditions.

A few years ago, when Signify and Osram were staunch rivals in the general lighting business, it might have been unthinkable that one would sell a lighting unit to the other.

But times have changed. With the July 2020 acquisition of Osram by Austrian sensor maker ams, ams Osram has been pulling out of various lighting businesses. In addition to Digital Lumens, its sell-offs over the last year have included the sale of its North American driver and light engine business to Acuity Brands in June, and the February sale of a Plovdiv, Bulgaria lighting components factory, among others.

Meanwhile, Signify has continued to build up different lighting operations, not the least of which has been horticultural lighting, most recently exemplified by an installation at a Dutch gerbera farm.

Fluence and Signify are a strong match in complementary lighting expertise for the horticulture market,” said ams Osram’s Wilhelm Nehring, who is executive vice president of the company’s Digital Business Unit — the group that has been home to the sold-off businesses.

In a flattering statement that one might have never seen in the not-too-distant past when Osram and Signify — previously called Philips Lighting — generally duked it out for business, ams Osram’s Nehring added, “Signify is an industry leader with over a century of history bringing innovative lighting technology, products, and services to market.”

Fluence was founded in 2013, and Osram acquired it in 2018. It has about 200 employees.

David Cohen, the company’s CEO, seemed pleased to be swapping the umbrella of one historical lighting company for another.

“Since Fluences founding, it has been our sole mission to improve the interaction between light and life to yield a healthier and more sustainable world,” Cohen said. “Adding our lighting solutions to Signifys strong portfolio empowers our combined businesses to deliver the worlds most advanced horticulture technology to cultivators on a global scale. The combination of our companies will immediately expand our collective footprints and inject valuable expertise into both companiesproduct innovations. We look forward to uniting with the Signify team.”

Signify echoed that outlook.

Were excited to announce that were acquiring Fluence, strengthening our agricultural lighting business, one of our main growth platforms,” said Harsh Chitale, division leader for Digital Solutions at Signify. “It also further underlines the strategic importance of the North American market to our business. Were looking forward to welcoming the team from Fluence. Its lighting innovations and solid go-to-market strategy have helped build a recognized brand with a strong position in North America and a fast-growing business in Europe.”

Fluence has been a leading provider of LED light systems to the cannabis industry, where one of its customers recently elaborated on the rough-and-tumble of the trade. It has been a mover and shaker in research and in surveys regarding the use of LEDs in cannabis cultivation.

While ams Osram is selling off Fluence, it said will still provide the LEDs that Fluence will use as part of Signify, which is also already an ams Osram LED customer.

Ams Osram will continue to build on its position as a leader in red, blue, and white LEDs for the horticulture market,” said Frans Scheper, executive vice president of ams Osram’s Opto Semiconductor group. We look forward to continue providing Signify, and Fluence as part of Signify, leading technology for their business.”

Ams Osram in general offers vertically integrated LED technologies including epitaxy, chip design, and packaging. Its deep blue, far red, and hyper red chips are in use in greenhouses and vertical farms in China, Germany, Italy, and the US.

The company intends to expand two chip factories — one in Kulim, Malaysia and the other at its home base in Premstaetten, Austria — possibly at the expense of other plants, as it continues to regroup operations following its acquisition of Osram, a company that was roughly four times its size.

The many twists and turns of the long acquisition involved plenty of financial challenges. In the big picture, the $272 million coming from Signify should help in whatever recovery is still taking place.

MARK HALPER  is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.