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Blogging about “Kit”

April 08 2011 — by Iain Ruxton
Publications
I have started writing a series of occasional blogs for UK magazine "Lighting" on the general subject of lighting equipment. The first is a heartfelt rant about properly made kit... "Sweating the Small Stuff".


Everyone wants to talk about light sources at the moment, especially LEDs, CFLs and anything else that can be construed as ‘ultra-efficient’ or ‘sustainable’.

I’m going to buck the trend here. I want to talk about the unglamorous bits of lights. I want to talk about the screws, bolts, washers, gaskets, hinges, rivets, glands, grommets, terminals, connectors, clips, clamps, springs and all the other doofers, widgets and thingummies that lights are actually made of.

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Sweating the Small Stuff
Iain Ruxton, April 2011

Everyone wants to talk about light sources at the moment, especially LEDs, CFLs and anything else that can be construed as ‘ultra-efficient’ or ‘sustainable’.

I’m going to buck the trend here. I want to talk about the unglamorous bits of lights. I want to talk about the screws, bolts, washers, gaskets, hinges, rivets, glands, grommets, terminals, connectors, clips, clamps, springs and all the other doofers, widgets and thingummies that lights are actually made of.

You see, this stuff matters. It’s not glamorous, but it matters. And the appreciation of this is what separates good lighting kit from bad.

Let’s take a great example of important minutiae – captive screws and seals. When a sales person brings in a sample of a light, we’re going to open it up. And, if when we open it up, the screws, a gasket or an O-ring fall out, then we’ll be thinking twice about specifying it. If vital bits fall out when we open it carefully on a meeting table, then what chance has it got in the real world?

While on the topic of fixings, what about snap-fit plastic bits? These are surely a one-time snap-in-and-forget method of assembly. This is fine, as long as there’s no need to snap them out again for maintenance. At which point a high percentage of them will not snap out, but will snap off.

In this age of sustainability, surely we should be making and using equipment that can be repaired? Don’t even get me started on using rivets to fix ballasts down; surely it should be possible to replace a ballast without drilling out rivets?

Inappropriate deployment of self-tapping screws is only a slightly less heinous sin. And, as for aluminium and brass components that weld themselves together thanks to galvanic corrosion? Come on!

The same applies to the way a light is installed – to the way it fixes into a building. It has to be possible to remove it and replace it without causing irreversible damage. Sharp-edged springs that rip plasterboard apart if anyone ever needs to remove the light are not really appropriate to put in a client’s ceiling.

It isn’t only the integrity of the luminaire that has to survive maintenance; it’s also the integrity of the focus. If replacing the lamp necessitates losing the focus, then there is no way that the lighting scheme is going to look any good after the first re-lamping. So, we need anything that can be adjusted to be lockable; we need re-lamping to be straightforward and to involve removing the minimum number of components; and we need anything that is removable to be keyed in some way, so that it can only go back the right way round (huge respect to Meyer for their ‘Light-Lock’ accessory for Superlights – more of this sort of thing, please!)

And adjustments don’t just need to lock, they need to have an adequate range of adjustment too. A rotation on a track spot that only goes round 300 degrees is useless. We can probably live with 358 degrees, but there is kit out there that just cannot be made to point the way you might need it to point. And there is a well-known exterior spotlight product which can turn all the way round – until you actually install it and cable it, at which point the cable gland is in the way and blocks the adjustment – genius.

So, luminaire manufacturers, you can enthuse about your LEDs as much as you like, and you can get Pininfarina or Philippe Starck to style it, but spend a little time sweating the small stuff, okay? There are very few products that cannot be improved in any way but if you manage to refine something that far, then you’ve got a classic that you will keep selling for years and years.

(First published at http://www.lighting.co.uk/blogs/sweating-the-small-stuff/8611658.article)