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More musings on lighting equipment…

July 07 2011 — by Iain Ruxton
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Another short blog piece for Lighting Magazine...

Here be giants

This time, a wakeup call about the massive electronics companies who hope to change the face of lighting manufacturing...
There are some big names in the lighting industry. We’re used to watching companies like Phillips, Osram, GE, the Zumtobel group and Cooper Industries in action. We see them acquiring interesting smaller companies to extend the range of their competencies and to gain advantageous IP ownership. We see them often leading the way in research and innovation. We think of them as big players in the lighting world.

However, despite the fact that lighting consumes that oft-quoted 19 per cent of the planet’s electricity, the lighting world is a pretty small place. The biggest fish in our small pond aren’t that big when compared with the larger sharks that swim the corporate oceans.

But if you take a look at the horizon, you’ll find that the lighting world might be about to change somewhat.

The Far East giants are coming. Samsung, Panasonic, LG, Toshiba, Hitachi… These companies are huge and wealthy. If you look at Wikipedia’s list of the world’s biggest firms, you see Walmart at number one. Then it’s mostly the oil and gas industry near the top. But Toyota is at six, Samsung 22, Hitachi 38, Panasonic 48, Toshiba 93. Toyota’s revenue is US$241bn, Samsung US$136bn, Hitachi US$112bn, Panasonic US$105bn, Toshiba US$68bn. All of these are already active in the lighting sector and looking to be much much bigger.

These guys make EVERYTHING. Samsung have even been the main construction contractor for the last three World’s-Tallest Buildings. And you thought they just made your TV?

Well, now they want to make your lights as well. These companies have noticed us pottering about in the lighting world burning up our 19 per cent. More specifically, they’ve noticed us starting to use a lot of LEDs to burn it. And they know all about LEDs. They make TVs, laptops, games machines, media players, phones…. all sorts of kit that uses LEDs in vast quantities. “We can make TVs… they’ve got LEDs in them… so we can make LED lighting!” And they certainly can.

They’ve started mostly with the retrofit LED replacements… GLS, PAR, MR. I haven’t yet had the chance to compare a Toshiba or Panasonic lamp with the equivalent Osram, Philips, GE or LEDON, but I imagine they’re pretty credible.

The first luminaires that I saw from these mega manufacturers were a very modest start – some simple downlighting and streetlighting products. Well-built, well-engineered. But they’re only the first forays into our world. What’s next?

Well, maybe these guys don’t really know lighting yet, but (a) they know a LOT about manufacturing high-quality products quickly, efficiently and profitably; (b) they have marketing budgets which dwarf other lighting manufacturers’ entire turnover; (c) they are very good at selling – they’re used to fighting it out in the fickle world of the consumer high street as well as in professional markets; and (d) they can afford to invest in any knowledge they don’t already have in-house.

These giants are coming. And with the right strategic thinking behind them, they will be almost unstoppable. These companies are very good at doing what they do. They might make a slow start into lighting but they’ll get the hang of it. If they decide that lighting is worth pursuing, then the whole lighting equipment market might be changed forever.

If you need a wakeup call, get this:

The Louvre pyramids and accompanying spaces are being re-lit. Fair enough. They’re being done with LED. Fair enough.

Who’s doing it? Erco? They did a great job last time. Philips? They’re about the biggest player in lighting and they know how to do a prestige project…

Nope. Toshiba.

The company who made your laptop and your microwave are putting 4,500 LED luminaires into arguably the world’s most famous fine art museum. And most of our little lighting world probably didn’t even know that they were making lights…