Lightfair 2013 – Observations about LEDs from Philadelphia

The LFI Innovation Award went to Philips BoldPlay  for Most Innovative Product of the Year

The Lightfair International trade show and conference was recently held in Philadelphia.  According to the organizers, LIGHTFAIR International (LFI) is the world’s largest annual commercial and architectural lighting trade show and conference.  Sponsored by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), the 2012 show had more than 24,000 registered attendees from 73 countries. It is clearly a big deal in the lighting industry.

Here’s a round-up of some analysis of LEDs at the show and a quick look at industry awards from LFI.

The engineers from Groom Energy made their annual trek to Lightfair and included an analysis of their trek in their blog.  This year, they noticed a difference in the quality of light from LEDs on display.  The light the LEDs on display put off was the more familiar, warmer light similar to the light put out by an incandescent. LEDs also got smarter with lighting controls evolved from being add-ons to being embedded. Jon Guerster, the author of the blog, speculates that California’s Title 24 that requires lighting controls may be a driver for all of the new smart lighting controls.  Finally, the Groom Energy team found that LED fixtures no longer looked distinct like LED fixtures, but sported the familiar look of incandescent, HID and fluorescent fixtures from the past. Now, you can’t tell that there are LEDs inside.

The LED analyst team from IMS Research traveled from London to Philadelphia and posted an analysis about the show on their LED blog.  IMS Analyst Jamie Fox noted that the show no longer featured that “Wow” moment.  He said this is due to the relative maturity of LED lighting.  The maturity and evolution of the LED market also led to two key observations from IMS.

According to Fox, there’s no clear winning sector in the American LEDs general lighting market.  Fox and his colleagues were told by LED manufacturers that residential, retail, outdoor, hospitality and others all have a “significant” part of the pie but none of them dominates. This was supported by IMS observations of the product mix on the show floor.  As for LED manufacturers, Fox noted that the “big three” — Nichia, Cree and Lumileds — are leaders in the American LED market and while global LED players like Samsung, Seoul Semiconductor, Osram and others play a role in the US, the “big three” are consistently mentioned as clear leaders in the market.

Finally, Fox noted that industry price decreases versus quality was an issue for many at the show.  According to Fox, “there is a significant worry though, both from my own observations of product, and from show floor conversations, that it is becoming too much of a lowest price fight at the moment, and not enough advancement on quality.”  Fox says low price may not ensure that a customer will be happy with the light quality from an LED bulb that doesn’t compare well to an incandescent bulb.

The LFI Innovation Awards program honored lighting vendors for innovation and design. Here are a few of the top winners:

  • PHILIPS (BoldPlay): Most Innovative Product of the Year—the program’s highest award, recognizing the most innovative new product
  • COOLEDGE LIGHTING (Light Sheet): Design Excellence Award—recognizing outstanding achievement in design
  • DOW CORNING CORPORATION (Dow Corning® Brand Moldable Silicones): Technical Innovation Award—recognizing the most forward-thinking advancement in lighting technology
  • PHILIPS (hue personal wireless lighting): Judges’ Citation Award—special recognition of an innovative product at the judges’ discretion

For Further Reading

Groom Energy, LightFair 2013: LED Lighting Is Warm, Smart and Looks Like What You Know, http://blog.groomenergy.com/2013/04/lightfair-2013-led-lighting-is-warm-smart-and-looks-like-what-you-know/

IMS RESEARCH, LED Blog, LEDs Continue to Evolve At LIGHTFAIR, http://www.ledmarketresearch.com/blog/leds_continue_to_evolve_at_lightfair

Alternative Substrates for LEDs – Not Ready for Prime Time

Over the past several months, there has been some industry chatter about alternative substrates for the production of LEDs.  In fact, the dialog has been more heat than light until now if you think about it in terms of a filament in an incandescent light bulb.

Large Diameter Sapphire Wafer (source: Rubicon Technology)

Sapphire substrates have been established for quite some time as the base material for LED chips.  Today, more than 80% of LEDs are based on sapphire substrates with the remainder based on SiC and a few other materials.  But the big question is whether an alternative substrate like silicon or GaN can offer the performance and cost advantages of sapphire.

Last week, market research firm Yole Developpement held a webcast, Alternative Substrates for LED Manufacturing, to examine the alternatives, the technical challenges and the conditions for success.  You can access the archive here.

According to Yole analyst Eric Virey, the principal benefit of using Si as an LED substrate would be the ability to leverage larger 8” wafers and use fully depreciated and highly automated CMOS fabs.  But “the jury is still out,” he said, “regarding a massive industry transition from sapphire to silicon.  At the end of the day, this is a cost game; manufacturing yields are a major cost contributor to LED, and they pose specific challenges to the use of silicon.”

These challenges range from a lattice mismatch and thermal expansion coefficient mismatch, to melt back and blue light absorption. Sapphire outperforms silicon on all of these factors, and each is having a negative impact on LED chip yields from silicon.  Virey commented silicon and/or GaN must meet the performance of sapphire to be successful. To date, that hasn’t happened.

In the meantime, the sapphire substrate manufacturers have made great strides to making large diameter substrates that help LED manufacturers drive down costs and increase yields to support the aggressive cost targets of SSL.  For example, Rubicon Technology has shipped more than 230,000 large diameter sapphire wafers with this number growing.

Where are efforts now? Virey mentioned during the webinar that almost all LED manufacturers are exploring alternative substrates, although most are doing so only as a defensive strategy. Toshiba and Bridgelux have been working with silicon as a substrate. In July, the companies announced Toshiba would begin silicon-based LED production in October 2012, but there has been no further word. Plessey Semiconductors and Lattice Power also announced they would enter production in 2012.

LED Magazine reports that silicon-based substrates are “no sure thing” in their latest SSL Technology Update video blog.  Associate editor Nicole Pelletier said, “A number of companies plan to ride the incumbent sapphire technology. At The LED Show back in August, LED market leader Nichia said it had investigated and dismissed the possibility of using silicon.”

At the conclusion of the webcast, Virey agreed.  “If the technology hurdles are cleared, LED on silicon will be adopted by some LED manufacturers, but not necessarily become the standard.”

For Further Reading

LED Magazine, SSL Technology Update: October 22, 2012, http://ledsmagazine.com/features/9/10/11

Yole Developpement Webinar, Alternative Substrates for LED Manufacturing, http://www.i-micronews.com/consult_webcast.asp?uid=97

Solid State Technology, Beyond sapphire: LED substrates from GaN to ZnO, SiC, and Si, http://www.electroiq.com/articles/sst/2012/05/beyond-sapphire-led-substrates-gan-zno-sic-si.html

Solid State Technology, The demise of sapphire wafers? http://www.electroiq.com/articles/sst/print/vol-55/issue-6/columns/leds/the-demise-of-sapphire-wafers.html