LEDs: An industry in need of illumination? Three suggestions for industry changes

by Jim Greig, Global Sales and Marketing Manager Electronic Materials, LORD Corporation

Since Thomas Edison’s development of the first functional incandescent lightbulb in the late 1800s, the Edison screw bulb is how we have illuminated our homes and businesses.

Now, more than 125 years later, the lighting industry is undergoing another profound change – the directive to cease manufacturing incandescent bulbs. As of January 1, 2014, manufacturers could no longer legally make 40-, 60- or 100-watt incandescent lightbulbs for sale in the U.S.

Jim Greig, Global Sales and Marketing Manager Electronic Materials, LORD Corporation-photo

Jim Greig

So there you have it – you can only purchase an incandescent bulb until the supply runs out. Even if you have stockpiled a huge supply of incandescent bulbs, you’ll eventually have to replace them – with another type of light source, such as an LED bulb.

But is the LED industry doing all it can to keep prices amenable for the average consumer? Are they educating the public on how to buy LED lamps and helping them to understand the benefits? Are they standardizing LED lighting terminology? Are design changes to the LED bulb necessary or even viable?

I lie awake at night (with the lights out) thinking about these questions. I don’t really have the answers, but I think the questions need to be asked.

From a supplier’s perspective, the price pressure from LED manufacturers is getting really crazy. There is a lot of pressure from manufacturers to bring the costs down for materials used to manufacture the LED bulbs and fixtures. Manufacturers are looking to lower production costs so they can lower the price and spur mass adoption by the public.

And I get that – but I’m also concerned that if we drive down prices too far, are we risking quality just to make a cheap LED bulb? Are manufacturers cutting corners in production and not testing to specifications?

At what point do we say that there is no more money that can be squeezed out of the material suppliers – the price is the price. What is the tipping point? Price is being driven out of everything – at what point does it become untenable for a supplier to supply materials?

I believe there are three areas where the LED industry needs to update its thinking: design, terminology and education.

Design: Perhaps there are there other ways to bring down the price of LED bulbs. Are we “stuck” with the design we have been using. Does the LED bulb have to be on the Edison screw-in connector base? In Europe, they use a different type of base – and maybe that design is more cost-effective. Is it purely a material cost that will drive down the cost of LED bulbs, or do we need a fundamental shift in design? Realistically, it seems that it would not be practical to begin changing the Edison screw-bulb design. Maybe some innovative lighting designer might be able to invent an adaption of the socket or lamp fixture – make some fundamental changes in the design of a bulb.

Terminology: There is a lot of confusion among consumers about which LED bulb to purchase. Has the LED industry sufficiently articulated the payback period of the bulb so that consumers understand the benefits? There are no standards among the LED manufacturers for terminology describing LED bulbs. The packaging descriptions can be very confusing to consumers. Should you buy a 10-watt LED bulb or the 60-watt equivalent? And what does an 8-watt or 12-watt bulb mean in relation to how much light output is expected? What does lumens-per-watt mean? I don’t think that the consumer really understands how to purchase an LED bulb.

Education: Is the LED industry educating the consumer on which LED bulb is right one to buy? Has the LED industry sufficiently articulated the payback period of the bulb so that consumers understand the benefits? I’m not seeing a lot of advertisements, literature or public service announcements making the case for how much energy or money is saved with the purchase of an LED bulb.
How do we drive mass adoption? LED manufacturers are trying to find the “hook” that will attract the consumer, but how can they do that if they are not working together as an industry?

Are we inadvertently developing a “contraband” industry of illegal LED bulb sales? When LED bulbs do go on sale, many of the retailers have to limit the amount that can be purchased to prevent mass purchases that are then resold online or in a “back alley.”

So instead of considering changes to LED bulb design, or working on industry standards, or developing educational programs for consumers – is it fair for manufacturers to keep asking the supplier to charge less for its products? Suppliers are also hit every year by rising raw material costs and labor and production labor costs – but we are still being asked to keep our prices down.

It’s all about costs. Everyone wants to make a profit at the end of the year – but if no one does – no one wins and everyone loses.

Electric Vehicles: Is the U.S. Culture Ready for Infrastructure Changes?

by Jim Greig, Global Sales and Marketing Manager Electronic Materials, LORD Corporation

I recently had a conversation with my 13-year-old daughter about fossil fuels. The discussion was prompted by what she is learning in school – how the world is being depleted of natural resources and which alternative energy options are viable for the future. Even at a very young age, children are beginning to understand that dependence on fossil fuels for their generation and for their children’s generation is not practical. It’s not just the “cool” thing anymore to be into alternative energy; it is imperative.

Jim Greig, Global Sales and Marketing Manager Electronic Materials, LORD Corporation-photo

Jim Greig

Awareness of the exhaustion of fossil fuels, along with legislated emission standards throughout the world, is driving the alternative viewpoint towards alternative energy and electric vehicles. The auto industry is starting to take note of the world’s “greenification” as it develops hybrid vehicles and looks to fuel cells as a potential offset.

In addition to the emerging interest in electric vehicles for personal use, other enterprises are also considering alternatives to gas-fueled transport. Companies such as UPS and Fed-Ex are contemplating electrifying their trucks, which would be especially efficient for the type of “start-stop” driving that is done as packages are delivered. Electrification of school buses and public transportation is a big target for electrification, especially for reducing air pollution in city and suburban environments.

As electric vehicle technology advances and the cost of ownership becomes more feasible for the average driver, do we have the infrastructure available for recharging the vehicles as drivers go about their daily business? Right now, we don’t.

Just as we have gas stations on almost every corner in major cities and suburban areas, and “rest” stops along the highways, the U.S. will need to have a network of charging stations situated along roadsides and throughout cities and towns. While OEMs are working on bringing down the cost of electric vehicles, the infrastructure for charging the electric vehicles needs to be established.

Awareness of the exhaustion of fossil fuels, along with legislated emission standards throughout the world, is driving the alternative viewpoint towards alternative energy and electric vehicles.

Awareness of the exhaustion of fossil fuels, along with legislated emission standards throughout the world, is driving the alternative viewpoint towards alternative energy and electric vehicles.

One of the major drawbacks to the acceptance of electric vehicles is “range anxiety.” Yes, you can charge your electric vehicle in your home and it will be operational for 100-to-200 miles before needing a recharge. So while you can calculate your driving distance ahead of time before you will need a recharge, how much easier would it be to know that a recharging station is conveniently available? That is the key to mass adoption of electric vehicles – charging stations accessible everywhere in the U.S.

With a charging station infrastructure in place, electric vehicles become a viable option for both short and long journeys – local trips to school or work or the grocery store, and longer drives to for vacation or a business trip.

So the question is: Do you wait for more consumers to buy electric vehicles as the prices become more palatable and then begin to establish charging stations through the U.S.? or Do you make the investment in the charging stations now so they will be ready for the electric vehicle users?

Children in school are already mindful of the fact that the world’s resources are coming to an end, and they will be the driving force towards alternative energy use. Is the U.S. culture ready for the infrastructure changes that will be necessary for electric vehicle transportation?

For more information on how LORD technology can help electric vehicle companies save money and become more efficient, please contact us.