By Randal Wahl, Regent Lighting

Light is the energy that sustains life; it is why we get up in the morning. Light is about contrasts and colour contrasts are food for the soul.

LED development in AfricaTraditionally, the lighting industry in South Africa was inward thinking and inward looking. Relatively few companies invested in design, or partnered with specialist suppliers to ensure they were able to develop products that were relevant to the future. 

This has changed substantially. The commercial lighting industry has become an electronics business and there are many new entrants to the market, which is good for the industry as a whole.

Newcomers have less historical costs and are often not subject to the restrictions that applied to the traditional industry. Although this is disruptive, it forces change and innovation; we either adapt or cease to exist.

The development of luminaires stimulates trading throughout the entire supply chain, which is the backbone of any developing country or continent. Stimulating trade in Africa is important as we upskill individuals and in turn create much needed employment across the supply chain. Ensuring that the correct components are sourced means we engage with and learn from world class companies and this results in the transfer of product and knowledge.

Luminaire design in Africa

‘It is easy to be different, but difficult to be better’. Many companies do not have a clearly defined approach to luminaire design. In order to be better, the correct staff and a planned methodology are essential.

Application: With LED, application is everything. It determines how we will design the luminaire – is it for industrial, retail, commercial, landscape or entertainment? Is it for outdoor applications such as stadia, street lighting or security? Do we want a car park post top that can mount between 3,5 and 5 m, or a bollard? The application will affect the choice of LED, light distribution, power supply, surge protection, lighting control and the lumen output required.

Relevance: Will the fitting serve a purpose in the market and create a need?

Market segment: What market segment do we want to target? Are we aiming at the corporate commercial sector or for more general domestic use? Different quality components allow us to enter different markets.

Bespoke lighting: For Regent Lighting, bespoke lighting is critically important. Designing specialised light fittings challenges our business and our designers and what we learn, we apply to other areas of lighting. We spend time choosing light sources, surge protection, power supplies, optical lenses, light management features and flexibility and mounting options, the latter being particularly relevant in Africa where flexibility is essential so the fitting can be used for different options. Lighting fi ttings should, in many applications, be as small as possible. This reduces costs without compromising quality and has many other benefits, including aesthetics and wind loading. Longevity is key. It is possible to run LEDs for any number of hours, depending how you drive them – an important consideration when you are offering warranties and guarantees. Finally, since much of our business is electronic and there are so many suppliers, it is important to select the correct supplier with the relevant technical support.

Designing a light fitting

These days, before we design a luminaire, we choose the LED and design the LED PC board since it determines where the LEDs will go in the fitting. We also select the lenses and know how the light will be distributed in-house goniometer tests.

Before we have made the luminaire, we know to a 98% certainty whether or not its performance will meet our requirements because we know the lumen output and the distribution at a specific mounting height. In other words, we have a virtual simulation before we have the luminaire. This could never have been done in the past.

We design to the highest lumen output or wattage possible and the power supply and surge protection determine the size of the luminaire because the housing has to house these. Once all this has been determined, the product design starts.

The design is undertaken in a 3D design package, which will provide a full rendering of what the fitting will look like, including how it will work and how it will finally be mounted. This is sent to the LED supplier who runs the thermal simulation according to the drive currents specified. Any changes required to the casting can be done before the die is made. The tests still have to be run, but there are unlikely to be many changes at this stage. 3D printing has also changed the design process significantly. It is possible to print components that will ultimately be cast in aluminium and a fitting can be printed for approval early in the process.

Once the design is approved, the design software is sent for tooling, which can be done in-house or outsourced. When tooling is completed, the fitting is cast and internal testing starts: thermal testing on all the LEDs; junction temperatures in the fitting; and IP testing if required (exterior fittings require a lot more tests). From start to finish the entire process, depending on the fitting, can take anything from six to 12 months.

Key to manufacturing is the need to embrace technology, innovation and design. Without these, Africa will not have relevant luminaire manufacturers. We need to invest in technology including testing equipment, laboratories, goniometers, solid works software, and design software. Along with technology we need people: designers, people with technical skills; people who are passionate about lighting design.

Lighting is no longer seen as a purely functional element and design plays a huge role when clients want façade lighting, terrace lighting or glow of light. Although architects and electrical engineers may design a concept fitting, they rely on lighting companies to execute their ideas and the lighting companies, in turn, need to interact closely with shopfitters, electrical contractors and lighting suppliers.

Luminaire manufacture is all about evolution and we need to evolve all the time. If we do not evolve and embrace technology, we will cease to exist.