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Does lack of LED product serviceability and interchangeability create market adoption barriers?

Does lack of LED product serviceability and interchangeability create market adoption barriers?

Research by the United States Department of Energy (Solid State Lighting: Early Lessons Learned) shows that concerns are being voiced among some sectors of the lighting market regarding LED lamp service and replacement. Even though the LEDs themselves have extremely long lifespans, there are times when other components of the package fail, requiring service or change-out of the lamp.

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With traditional incandescent lighting, this is generally a relatively easy and inexpensive process that involves removing the spent bulb and installing a new one. With LED lighting, even a retrofit lamp replacement is a costly venture due to the high price of LEDs (though depending on the manufacturer’s warranty, there might not be any added expense). LEDs can get even more complicated and expensive, however, if the complete luminaire unit has to be removed or replaced. This is just one of the barriers that feeds concerns about the serviceability and interchangeability of LED lighting.

Many lighting projects have a strict set of performance and cost expectations and these limitations can decrease the number of LED lamp choices designers can use.  Add in apprehensions about whether the product will perform according to the specifications stated by the manufacturer on the box (see LED light quality not determined by the specs on the box), and designers may decide to delay the specification of LED products into the project entirely. These types of apprehensions—which are completely justifiable based on the number of low quality LEDs being manufactured today—handcuffs designers and frequently leads them to install non-LED products, ultimately costing the customer opportunities for energy savings.

Clients and lighting designers may also feel the need to wait for better performance, lower costs, or new features instead of adopting products that may become obsolete and, more than likely, less expensive over the next few years.  These consumers may avoid LED products until the market is more stable. Any delay in switching to LED lighting, however, ultimately delays energy savings (and the resultant savings on the monthly electricity bill). These lost savings could be quite significant, especially with the rising cost of electricity.

Interchangeable components, modular interfaces

Improved serviceability reduces initial risk, while interchangeability offers protection against obsolescence, so how can serviceability and interchangeability be improved? The Department Of Energy (DOE) recommends that LED lighting manufacturers should put more effort into developing products with serviceable or interchangeable components—even between manufacturers.

Modular systems at present have three main drawbacks:

  1. Cost. Moving to a modular system adds to the list of required components in the lamp or luminaire, including plugs, sockets, and additional wiring and housing materials, all of which adds to the expense of manufacturing.
  2. Design/performance constraints. Modular systems limit what can be done with the lamp or luminaire and create performance constraints. Any design parameters that are required to allow for the fixture’s modularity also reduce design freedom. And as we all know, reducing design freedom also potentially reduces performance by limiting the ways the design can be changed to accommodate for other requirements, either now or in the future.
  3. Safety. Modular systems can be dangerous if precautions are not taken during the design and manufacturing stages—and if the necessary steps are not taken to educate the user. The ability to exchange a failed component for a new one, or an old component for a newer one, opens up the opportunity to install a component that is not necessarily intended for use in a given luminaire. This can potentially lead to reduced performance and even safety hazards in some cases. Without proper education, users may incorrectly assume that any component that fits into a given receptacle is designed for the system containing the receptacle and safe to use.

The present drawbacks to interoperability and serviceability only emphasize why the LED lighting industry should concentrate efforts on developing and adopting standardized modular interfaces as well as on improving the performance and reliability of retrofit lamps.

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Stephen Naor

Stephen Naor

President at Leapfrog Lighting
Stephen Naor is the President of Leapfrog Lighting. In 2003, Stephen set out to improve the affordability of energy-efficient lighting and his innovations earned him two patents and an award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Stephen is married, has two kids and a dog, and is an avid photographer.

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