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LightFair 2018: Reflections on the Ever-Changing Lighting Industry

The annual LightFair trade show and conference is always an interesting measure of where the lighting industry is headed, as many exhibitors showcase new products still a few months away from their official launches into the marketplace. Over the past 20 years, LightFair has reflected the rapid penetration of LEDs into virtually all niches within the lighting market. The transition has been nothing short of remarkable.

Hopefully, most LightFair exhibitors and attendees finally got a chance to put their feet up after a grueling three days at Chicago’s McCormick Place. With more than 500 booths, the 20,000-plus attendees had plenty of new lighting technology to see. One Electrical Wholesaling editor logged more than five miles each day his watch’s step-tracker getting to booth appointments and conference seminars.

The annual LightFair trade show and conference is always an interesting measure of where the lighting industry is headed, as many exhibitors showcase new products still a few months away from their official launches into the marketplace. Over the past 20 years, LightFair has reflected the rapid penetration of LEDs into virtually all niches within the lighting market. The transition has been nothing short of remarkable.

LEDs have been used in exit signs and some signaling applications forever, but they first started appearing in other applications two decades ago. I remember LightFair 1999 in San Francisco, and how attendees flocked around the Color Kinetics booth to see a theatrical presentation of how LED lighting could change colors. Over the past 20 years, some technologies like light pipes, fiber-optic lighting and induction lighting have crested and flickered, but LEDs have grown like crazy. They have taken over the lighting market niche-by-niche, and today virtually every aspect of general illumination has converted to LEDs. Looking back at this year’s LightFair, three trends stick out the most:

• LEDs have allowed smaller lighting companies to compete on a level playing field with the biggest companies in the lighting business.

Back in “the old days,” the lighting market was dominated by the Big Three lamp manufacturers (GE, Philips and Sylvania); a few large lighting fixture packages; lighting control manufacturers, a handful of ballast companies; and countless niche players that focused certain fixtures or specialty light bulbs. Today you can count a surprising number of former niche players who have built out their businesses from a specialty in certain type of lighting fixtures, lamps or related to components to full lighting solutions. Examples include Forest Lighting, MaxLite, RAB Lighting and Fulham.

• App-based lighting control is catching on wicked-fast.

If you can use a smartphone, you can teach yourself to control and often program today’s lighting systems. The Philips Hue lighting system hit the market in 2012 with a super-easy app to control LED lamps that replaced Type-A light bulbs. Six short years, app-based lighting control has become common, and end users can use it to program basic lighting scenes incredibly fast.

• Lighting fixtures now do more than emit light.

Fixtures are now loaded with sensors that monitor sound, humidity, movement, gunshots, carbon-monoxide, and now even provide internet access through the light the produce through a new technology called LiFi. It will be fascinating to see if LiFi catches on as fast as its supporters expect. Lumefficent won a 2018 Judges’ Citation Award in LightFair’s annual Product Innovation Awards for its Resilient system, which allows you to connect wirelessly to the internet through transmitters in its light fixtures that use the light spectrum for what it says is “unprecedented data and bandwidth.”

Next year LightFair returns to Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Convention Center on May 19-23, 2019.

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