The Reason Why there’s more chance the manufacturer will fail than the LED driver

A successful man

A successful man

At a time when LED technology was just starting to get adopted in lighting applications then we started Lux magazine back in 2010. I remember the initial installations I used to pass on the way home from Manchester airport: the T3 multi-story car park, a Shell petrol service station, some street lights in Lancashire. On the whole, these installations have stood the test of time and are still functioning today. Admittedly, the lights in the Shell station have started to change colour, but no-one except a lighting geek like me would notice.

a closed billboard

Nowadays manufacturers are producing units with a life expectancy that can exceed 100,000 hours if carefully managed, even though the driver behind the LEDs is often quoted as the weak link in the system. After six years however, I’ve started to spot a disturbing trend which specifiers and end users should be aware of: manufacturer failure.

At Lux we get hit by manufacturer failure every year. The number of firms who go bust on us every year, leaving advertising bills unpaid, is running at about two percent of our customer base. It includes big companies, small companies, start-ups, the whole gamut.

When a manufacturer goes to the wall, the generous five- or 10-year warranty on which you based your lighting investment calculations goes with it.

This two percent rate is much higher than the rates quoted for LED or driver failure by most manufacturers. Best-in-class reliability is about 500 parts per million, a defect rate of 0.05 per cent. In effect, there’s more chance of the manufacturer failing than the driver.

Obviously when a manufacturer goes to the wall, the generous five-or-ten-year warranty on which you based your lighting investment calculations goes with it.

Okay, so you take a chance with every system; business failure is nothing new; companies rise from the ashes; former employees regroup; you’ll be able to source some similar fixtures from somewhere else.

But what happens in the new world of connected lighting and big data? Imagine, you purchase a whizz-bang new IoT system with a fancy cloud-based reporting structure and a cool iPhone App. What if the company providing the protocol and kit no longer exists? Will you still be able to control the lights?

Failure isn’t the only risk in the connected world. There are multiple acquisitions of lighting companies; in the connected world this means your data could end up in the hands of someone you don’t know, or perhaps the acquiring company decides to discontinue the platform.

What happens to your data if the supplier of your connected lighting system goes to the wall?

Of course, you trust the supplier, you’ve done a financial audit and the product you’ve installed is working well. What about the risk of someone else being able to control your lights? Security of IoT systems is often in the news, and rarely in a good way.

You need to ask yourself: do you trust your local lighting manufacturer, the one that has developed its own protocol and security, or do you jump into bed with a Google, Amazon or Apple? After all, these big boys have been at it for years and have world-class security. Of course, at the same time they’ll rape and pillage your data to further their own business interests in ways you could never imagine. It’s all contained in that 15-page privacy policy you never read.

We recently looked at a smart lamp system, a cool system with a mobile phone app and a nice box for the cupboard. The only catch is that the route the data takes from app to lamp is via a server in China.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this IoT stuff; my house is packed with it. But I’m careful who I choose to supply it and how I enable it.

The state of the lighting industry will be discussed at this year’s Lux Live.  The exhibition will take place in London on Wednesday 23  November and Thursday 24 November 2016.

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