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Matchmaking or Marriage Counseling?

Feb. 28, 2019
Compatibility issues with lighting present a stark choice for contractors: Ensure a good match up front, or prepare to patch it up later

Commercial lighting solutions designers and contractors have their hands full trying to sort through multiple system configuration, technology and brand options. Consulting on the best approach to get customers to the next level must be focused on the mix that meets their needs out of the gate, exactly, efficiently and expeditiously.

What’s needed is a version of romantic matchmaking, only the emphasis is more on bringing technology together rather than people. But just as scattershot matchmaking for love can’t ensure a good outcome, bringing just any buyer and seller together for lighting solutions won’t guarantee happily ever after.

The stumbling block in each is often incompatibility: ultimately, the people, or the technology, weren’t right for each other. Potential clashes were unseen, overlooked or not anticipated, and the result is a marriage on the rocks.

More skilled matchmaking might not prevent that outcome in matches involving fickle humans, but it can make a difference when lighting solution vendors work to carefully match the needs and realities of their customers with products available from lighting suppliers. And it’s preferable to the alternative:  becoming a marriage counselor who must try to coax agreement out of products and systems that had incompatibility problems from the moment the knot was tied.

The challenge lies in anticipating those problems by making good matches on two levels, new and old: new LED lighting, the direction so many are going today, and the old lighting infrastructure in place; and new and new: different new LED system components that must play well together.

LED retrofits – introducing new LED lighting into legacy lighting environments – pose problematic compatibility issues. Multiple approaches are available for introducing replacement LED lamps into fixtures wired for fluorescent or incandescent lamps, some more involved and costly than others.

But a common choice, often chosen for its simplicity and economy in a typical ceiling troffer LED substitution, is tube-for-tube replacement that permits a new LED tube to directly replace a fluorescent one. The chosen replacement, however, must be compatible with the fixture’s ballast, which can be of varying type – electromagnetic (EM), high-frequency (HF) or mainspower – design and configuration. Select the wrong replacement tube, one that doesn’t work with the ballast, and a solution known as plug-and-play becomes plug-and-fail. Then it’s back to square one, selecting new tubes or more complex fixes such as ballast-bypass, ballast replacement or other hybrid workarounds.

Another compatibility issue arises when LED replacement lamps fail to work well within existing legacy lighting controls systems.

Dimming, a core control functionality, has been one of the biggest problem areas. Standard LED driver technology has never meshed readily or well with legacy TRIAC dimming technology, causing LED lamp light to often respond erratically when a dimmer switch is engaged – flickering, shutting off and on, fading, and “ghosting.” In addition, LED lamps also have posed reliability problems for legacy control systems because their engineered wattage doesn’t provide sufficient power.

Compatibility also can be a problem in ground-up LED projects. All system components, from lamps through to the control system, must work together. More advanced and complex control systems can be crippled by the selection of components that don’t communicate well. Work continues in the industry to develop product standards that will be able to quickly guide lighting designers to the right mix of products, but progress has been slow, meaning designers must still devote time and resources to fully investigating options.

Getting to the right mix of components for either an LED retrofit or ground-up installation has typically required painstaking review of options, including extensive testing and mock-ups. The steady expansion of available products from many different manufacturers, combined with their growing sophistication, has only complicated that job.

What designers and contractors really need, and what more of the leading LED lighting suppliers are starting to provide, are products engineered with the broadest application range possible. When it comes to plug-and-play replacement LED lamps, for example, those guaranteed by the manufacturer to instantly work with the widest range of installed ballasts and legacy control systems provide the reliable shortcut lighting system vendors crave.

That’s been a product-development priority for Signify, manufacturer of Philips-branded LED lamps. Versatility is a key feature of the Philips lamp line, headlined by InstantFit linear LED lamps, available in both the value-based CorePro and superior-performing MasterClass portfolios. Virtually whatever the environment, designers can quickly and confidently identify a Philips lamp that’s right for the task and eliminates or minimizes the need for re-wiring and other time-consuming workarounds. Compared to the average competing product, for instance, InstantFit lamps can work with ballasts of all types (EM, HF, and mainspower) and are compatible with 50% more ballasts. With the correct ballast/lamp combination choice, dimming is readily achievable with most lamps as well.

That can be a godsend for lighting design and installation contractors routinely tasked with building a sturdy bridge between legacy, current and next-generation lighting systems. In a lighting world where technology is galloping ahead, sometimes faster than contractors can keep up with, their critical task as matchmakers – ensuring compatibility – is more complicated than ever. But making that a priority, and perhaps partnering closely with suppliers committed to addressing compatibility, is a far better strategy than preparing to try to patch up a busted marriage.

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