There was a high percentage of North Americans and Europeans visiting the show to see the latest developments in LED technology.
When it comes to LED and lighting technology these days, breakthroughs and improvements are occurring at such an incredible pace that many distributors and manufacturers who are importing and utilizing these products, respectively, don’t want to wait nearly half a year until Light+Building and Lightfair International to evaluate the latest versions. The annual Hong Kong International Lighting Fair is always held the last week of October, which is particularly good timing for manufacturers, product designers, and retailer/wholesale customers.
“Solid state lighting is the future, and the future is now,” explains Steve Parker, president of German lighting manufacturer SLV’s North American division, who attended the Hong Kong Fair. “Performance, efficacy, life, and finally price are now in alignment, making LED the source for most lighting applications. I would encourage everyone [in the residential lighting sector] to start offering some LED products – even if it is only a replacement light source for a traditional luminaire. Every lighting retailer should offer LED replacement lamps.”
With price dropping and improvements happening so quickly, visiting a lighting show in the fall is becoming as important as attending one in the spring to stay current.
“The emitter technology is evolving so quickly that it is virtually impossible to design, prototype, safety list, and produce and still be the state of the art,” Parker remarks. “By the time the product is in stock, there may have been several incremental performance improvements at the emitter end. There are sections of the market (LED light sources designed for use in new or existing sockets including E26, GU10, G9, and bipin MR16) that have already become commodity products. [The same goes for]LED panels to replace fluorescent troffers.”
Fast Changes Means Extra Vigilance
According to Parker, one of the biggest challenges facing distributors and manufacturers is that pricing and performance on these items are changing so quickly that by the roughly 90-120 day period between initial order, production, and transit to North America, the product may be on the verge of obsolete and likely priced too high by the time it is available to ship.
“The lighting industry is becoming closer to the consumer electronics industry in certain areas,” Parker states. “High performing and unique luminaires will not suffer the same short life and pricing pressure. However purchasing will play a far more important role in sourcing of luminaires, components, and associated power supplies,” he cautions, adding, “Solid state lighting has changed the lighting industry as we know it.”
Staying on top of the developments is key, but it requires a different mindset from what is familiar to most in the residential lighting business. “The lighting industry is accustomed to a relatively small number of light source manufacturers and a larger selection of power supply manufacturers,” Parker comments. “With solid state lighting, the match of power supply to emitter choices are more complex and the number of sources is far beyond what anyone could have imagined. In the past, if you were offered a super price on a five-year supply of something like a lampholder or possibly a power supply, you could buy them and weigh the value of the purchase. You knew that you would use the components eventually. Today, buying a five-year or even a five month supply of a component [could be] a bad choice.”
Who Was There
In the aisles of this trade show were many familiar faces – from North American lighting retailers and electrical distributors to manufacturers all over the world. Along with the swell in attendance were an increasing number of exhibitors. According to the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) which organizes the fair, the 15th HKTDC Hong Kong International Lighting Fair (Autumn Edition) offered a record 2,360 exhibitors from 38 countries and regions – including first-timers from Denmark, Israel, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.
Attendees were invited to a full slate of seminars on-site, which offered relevant topics such as “The Lighting Market Across the Globe,” “LED Lighting Regulations and Standards,” “E-tailing Strategy for Lighting Products,” “Latest Design Trends,” and one cheekily titled “10 Things They Don’t Tell You About LEDs.” In addition, a buyers’ forum called “Business Opportunity in Global Markets” featured participants from Chile, the Middle East, and Russia.
Some of the companies exhibiting were among the biggest in the world – such as Philips and Osram – however, there were scores of lesser-known companies that have already “landed” on U.S. shores or that are planning to enter the market for the first time at the 2014 edition of Lightfair International in June.
One of the companies that already distributes in the U.S. is Viribright. “We are opening a new distributorship in New Jersey,” says Jim Hardaway, vice president of Viribright, which has a North American headquarters in California. The U.S. division has five regional sales managers in place and 200 sales reps who are spreading awareness through lunch and learns and other educational events. Viribright offers a unique flame-tip design for candelabra bulbs that has done exceptionally well in America. “People have been coming to our candelabras in droves,” he notes. “Lightfair will be huge for us next year.” Another attention-getting product is a slide dimmer that is designed to be a universal dimmer and is competitively priced at around $9.95 to $12.95 retail. The company has distribution in Canada as well as large hardware stores in the U.S. such as Ace, True Value, and Distribution America.
Teleco Automation, an Italian company that specializes in the radio home automation, has exhibited at Lightfair before, but plans to have an expanded presence at the upcoming exhibition. Teleco has partnered with Italian company Inlumina, which provides lighting and automation of residential outdoor spaces such as sun rooms, pergolas, verandas, winter gardens and conservatories. The Teleco product offers wireless control of the screens for these structures. The company also demonstrated its MY-HAND control product that allows the user to control the home within a single system. “It is not an app,” a spokesman clarifies. “It connects to the wi-fi router on either a PC, notebook, tablet, or smart phone using remote access via internet or ethernet. MY-HAND has an easy-to-use graphic interface that can be customized with images of the home or the familiar control devices.
Getting attention at the Hong Kong Lighting Fair was Ledus’ Magic Bulb, which is a recessed light that, when power to the home is lost, can be unscrewed from the ceiling to become a flashlight. “We sell a lot of this product to Japan because a lot of the earthquakes cause power outages,” says Richard Man, sales & marketing manager. Magic Bulb is UL-listed and Ledus has several prominent U.S. lighting companies (Lithonia, Juno, Nora) as customers.
IPW Europe, which distributes in the U.S. under Space Lighting in Florida, offers polycarbonate cubes and “furniture” that offer color-changing controls. It also sells through Internet retailers such as Lights.com and lightbyu.com.
One of the exciting developments propelling the use of LED forward came from Megaman’s alliance with renowned British designer Tom Dixon, who took some of his existing designs and adapted them with LED. Megaman has a long history in the lighting industry and does extensive product testing, however, Fred Bass, the director of Neonlite the brand owner of MEGAMAN® (sold in the U.S. under Acuity), muses, “Some of these new LED companies haven’t even been around for 15,000 hours, let alone the 50,000 hours they are claiming their lamps will last.”
At Civilight Asia, a new U.S. division called Civilight U.S. will be debuting soon in North Carolina. One of the company’s new products were candelabras in shiny gold and silver finishes that have a reflector on the bottom designed to complement traditional chandeliers better than other LED bulbs on the market. The shape of the LED resembles a diamond and does not need to have a cover (i.e. diffuser). The product is awaiting UL approval.
Another company that will be attending Lightfair is AZ-e-Lite, which has U.S. distribution and has already earned UL approval for its products. One of its newest designs is an intelligent light switch that works off of existing copper wires. The firm has its own team of designers and engineers on staff.
In short, the Hong Kong International Lighting Fair is a significant event for evaluating the latest products available worldwide and discovering new companies that are expanding their reach to North American shores.