By Randal Wahl, managing director Regent Lighting Solutions.
To ensure we are not totally dependent on external resources, it is critical that we in the lighting industry retain our IP and our knowledge within the African continent so we do not need to rely on overseas companies to inform us of trends and innovative new ways of lighting various applications.
Industry IP is the complex knowledge gained in understanding the different components of a luminaire by designing and manufacturing lighting products. From housings and castings, gear trays and diffusers, to electronic components such as LED PC boards and power supplies; understanding what current drives these components and how these are affected by thermal conditions is imperative, as is knowledge of the connectors and fixing screws we use in our corrosive environments, or the UV resistant powder coatings our fittings need to withstand local elements. Furthermore, understanding the colour temperature of the LEDs and selecting the correct colour and lensing for the specific applications makes a remarkable difference to the end result. These are just some examples of the IP that exists in our industry.
What benefits can a local manufacturer offer?
Local manufacturers are solutions-driven and able to problem solve on projects. Whenever luminaires are installed there are issues on site and these need to be resolved. Without an understanding of available options, it is difficult to solve problems experienced on site. It is important to be able to adapt luminaires to specific site conditions and, if you are a manufacturer, you can shorten or adapt a fitting, for example, to reduce the drive current if there is too much light or increase it, if necessary. By understanding what and by how much the drive current can increase, it is possible to adapt a luminaire to suit the environment rather than replace it.
Skills development is much needed in Africa to enhance employment opportunities across the continent by developing a variety of skills, whether photometric, electronic, testing and assembly, or wiring skills for different harnesses. To reduce unemployment, these skills are vital.
Lighting plays a significant role in employment, and it is important that we do not compete with high volume, medium quantity production, but focus rather on medium output, high quality fixtures. Africa cannot compete with the mass production of Eastern Europe and Asia, but we can compete in terms of understanding the conditions in which we operate and in developing products to meet these requirements.
The multiplier effect of manufacturing is astounding; it is similar to a snowball rolling down a hill gathering snow as it tumbles. So many industries supply into manufacturing. No manufacturer manufactures all its components; many components are outsourced as companies should only manufacture components where they have a competitive advantage. Outsourced component suppliers should be able to service the manufacturer’s requirements at a better cost and quality because they specialise in their particular fields. Examples include packaging, fixings, chemicals, PPE, air tools, machinery and injection moulding. As an example, Regent Lighting directly employs 280 staff members in the lighting division, but the multiplier effect from its suppliers is likely 5 to 10 times more because the company has many suppliers who partner with it.
Long-term serviceability and the technical back-up
Long-term serviceability and technical back-up are crucial to many luminaire suppliers in the country. What I mean by serviceable is that if there is an issue in many years’ time, the service technician can easily replace a damaged component. Obviously, this is a positive for the circular economy as fixtures are not discarded.
This is a major problem with many fully imported fixtures as they cannot be serviced and must be replaced when problems arise. With long-term serviceability and technical back-up it is also possible to integrate additional technology into a luminaire if the environment changes, from a standard on/ off luminaire it is possible to integrate dimming or daylight harvesting where the luminaire will automatically adjust the light levels to a prescribed lighting level that will accommodate natural light and reduce energy.
Being solutions-driven is something all lighting manufacturers should strive to be; you need to differentiate yourself from the standard wholesaler or importer who can only offer a limited package. However, as I have said many times, lighting is also becoming much more applications-driven and different approaches are required here. Applications are typically education, industrial, auditoriums, commercial offices, supermarkets, retail, warehousing and street lighting.
To ensure the industry is sustainable, it is important to attract youth into lighting. Younger people are prepared to take risks and to embrace new technologies at a rapid pace. Having a balance of youth and experience within the industry and in manufacturing companies is crucial to ensure long-term success. The young are the innovators as they bring new technologies to the fore and force the older among us to question the status quo.
The unfortunate history of the South African lighting industry – which has seen multiple factory closures over the past two decades – is that many companies were not prepared to attract young employees or to invest in new technologies and, without these important enablers, it was a recipe for disaster. Around 70 to 80% of traditional lighting manufacturers have had to curtail operations, and this has impacted the quality of the products that are being supplied in certain environments.
Investing in local lighting manufacture, developing skills and providing quality solutions for our unique conditions could help to reverse this trend.