A month of travelling has brought me to the conclusion that Lancashire – and the environs of Manchester – are the places you are most likely to see LEDs in action.
I cross the border from my home in Yorkshire, past the glowing red LED light of a set of temporary traffic lights – which refuse to change even though the last car passed in the opposite direction two years ago.
On through terraced streets lit by LED streetlights. Stopping to fill up ,with yet another tank of nature’s finest carbon, under a petrol station canopy bathed in white LED light, and onward toward Manchester for an early flight to Munich. But the roads of Lancashire are a mere taste compared with the LED fest that is Manchester Airport.
No area of the airport has been left untouched by the rampant use of retrofits, and re-installations of just about every LED technology: a car park with LED fluorescent tubes, another with new LED fittings. Link bridges with LED MR16s by the thousand and spatterings of LED downlights, floodlights and cove lights. If it’s been made with LED, you’ll find it somewhere at Manchester Airport.
I suspect this retro-fest is paid for with the proceeds of the duty-free area in Terminal 2, the layout of which is now so confusing you can never escape it’s treacherous chicane without a low-rate credit card, 200 Berkley Kingsize, a twin pack of Malibu and smelling of Old Spice.
Munich Airport, on the other hand, is the LED Antichrist. Once you’ve presented your papers and are through the checkpoint, welcome to the home of the T5 tube, housed in architect-designed fittings to match the well-planned layout, built with uber-efficiency in mind, lit to unparalleled levels of uniformity, the last place on earth destined to be fitted with an LED retrofit. Any profits earned from the duty-free shops will be going to one place only – Greece.
What we see in airports, streets and shopping centres is a mirror of our industry. We have LED-only companies pushing the boundaries, driving adoption and growing sales; and we have the traditional manufacturers trying to wring the last drop out of extensive non-LED product ranges – using factory infrastructure designed to bash metal around fluorescent tubes as efficiently as possible.
It’s a tough call when do you finally admit it’s time to embrace the change. I’ve stressed this before: if you don’t catch the rising wave of technology, you risk being out of the market altogether. You may scoff at this as you compare the price and performance of today’s LEDs to your current range, but in electronics change happens quickly.
Dig a little further into Philips’ profit warning earlier this month, and you’ll see that it has disposed of 70 per cent of its TV business because it cannot compete with lower cost producers.
What does this have to do with lighting? Philips built a successful TV business based on cathode ray tubes, the big box in the corner of the room.
We quickly ditched that technology when LCD screens became cheap. The change to LCD was fast, and let new companies enter the market by innovating and hammering prices down. This scenario is about to be repeated in lighting.
Philips’ woes don’t end with TVs and toasters. The lighting business is down and will hit group profits; yet at the same time the LED business grew by 27 per cent. Business is bad but LEDs continue to thrive, and they have to.
However, even the LED world can be tough. Cree’s share price is in the toilet.
Although the company has pushed efficiency beyond 200lm/W, it keeps missing revenue targets, primarily because of slower-than-expected adoption and continuous price erosion. LED device manufacture is a tough business, every year you need to produce more and more devices for less and less money.
Lower prices are essential to drive adoption, and good for lighting manufacturers that are making LED fittings. If you make or sell traditional lighting fittings and you business is based on selling lots and lots of the same product, you must answer this question on a weekly basis: ‘When will LEDs be everywhere?’ The barometer of this, it appears, is your local airport. The real answer is somewhere in between Manchester and Munich.
My advice – take the ferry, you may bump into the Samsung sales rep.