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New wine in old skins.

Solid state lighting is a disruptive technology; the fact being clear not only from its more obvious aspects but also the subtler, indirect ones. The seemingly vast economic promise of LED lighting equipment has produced a large group of new, moneyed manufacturers and suppliers of equipment. (I write "equipment", rather than "luminaires", since one of the disruptions is the erasing of the line between lamp and luminaire). This, in turn, has produced an unprecedented need for what has historically been called Illuminating Engineers. For virtually all equipment manufacturers it has become impossible to hire illuminating engineers from universities--there are none. Hiring away from a competitor is often the only way to add necessary staff. This is not only my own experience, but also that of colleagues in other sectors of our industry. This shortage is also evident when one talks with professional recruiters in our industry; many positions are unfilled, demand is very great, and offered salaries are poking into the stratosphere.

One would think this good news, and something that a free-market would fix: A high demand prompts a greater supply. But not, apparently, in this case. The difficulty is the near absence of the necessary educational and research infrastructure to provide the supply.

An illuminating engineer has inclination and talent that have been awakened and formed by technical and engineering lighting knowledge, set in the context of buildings and their design. The latter is critically important. All this produces the skills that are the foundation of lighting equipment innovation. Imagination, confidence, and a strong habit of and ability for continued learning are other characteristics that, if not present when young, often develop soon and make for a valuable and essential employee. But labels can be misleading; I know several "lighting designers" who, though they are known professionally by that label, are also illuminating engineers of great skill and power. Indeed, one is a lighting equipment designer of the first water.

However risky, the use of labels can be helpful. A "lighting designer" is not necessarily an "illuminating engineer" and the difference in inclination, talent, and (certainly) education is real and very important. And so it is essential to know that the current educational infrastructure creates a more than adequate supply of lighting designers; but almost no illuminating engineers. This may have as much to do with students as with lighting programs in higher education.

What are the consequences of this shortage? Without the necessary staff, equipment manufacturers copy, rather than innovate. In lieu of illuminating engineers, companies use personnel with a modicum of technical background, pressed into what is essentially recipe-following and mimicry, armed with (and limited by) commercial software designed to simulate luminaire photometric performance. Powerful as modern computer software is, it does not and cannot substitute for what is at the heart of innovation: a new and good idea arising from a consideration of what has been done and what might be done, fired by the possibilities presented by technology, framed and formed by the need and nature of lighting, and made practical by skill and experience.

There are other, subtler consequences; some have to do with the timing of this shortage. For many building owners, renovators, operators, and leasers, the move to LED-based lighting equipment will happen once. Just once. Whatever the benefits of solid state lighting, the economy does not and will not permit large-scale fiddling around. The new construction taking place now, such as it is, will use the lighting equipment available now. And that will be that, for quite some time. Lighting renovation is differently motivated; but the changing out of an old lighting system for a new solid state one, presumably bringing the benefits of the new technology, also appears to be a once-on opportunity. If what's available and reliable is essentially a fluorescent luminaire outfitted with LEDs, however tricked-out with controls, then that's what gets ordered.

The small bright filament of the incandescent lamp triggered the development of the prismatic globe and brought about the great flowering of Holophane glass. It was neither possible nor desirable to put the first fluorescent lamps into the sockets, spun reflectors, or prismatic globes of incandescent lamps; new approaches had to be attempted. And were. But we are not backed into these kinds of idea-generating tight spots this time. We are following the fall line (as the skiers say), driven by what appears to be a mix of haste to get product to market, timidity, and lack of personnel.

And so the opportunity for placing truly new lighting, powered by a new development in source technology, may well be missed. In the end, what might happen is a kind of socket-filling. Bad enough, but what is more worrisome is that this would further commoditize lighting.

What was it we all had hoped for? Expected? Not recipes. Not mimicry.

The industry is not sufficiently staffed with the sufficiently qualified to make the most of this unique transitional moment. One of the difficulties is the lack of traction, economic and otherwise, between industry and higher education in lighting. I write "industry", not "specifiers." Indeed, until the recent recession, one could easily see the support provided by the lighting specifier community, if only at the end of the education process, by their crowded attendance at and expectations for the so-called job fairs held by the various university lighting programs. But these are (or were) engineering firms of various stripes and forms, from small MEPs to large architectural engineering enterprises, that want and need what all would agree to call "lighting designers." They do not hire illuminating engineers.

Industry is little represented in the hiring from university lighting programs and, it seems, little represented in the design, formation, and delivery of a curriculum that can produce illuminating engineers. In defense of universities, it must be said that industry is little interested--to its great cost. So it seems.

In defense of both universities and industry, a significant problem is the students themselves. Illuminating engineers must have not only the basic technical knowledge and architectural background shared with lighting designers, but also some applied mathematics, computer programming, photometric laboratory work, and a considerable amount of "theory." The latter is now often greeted with heavy-lidded, arm-folded resistance as irrelevant and lacking utility for design. The tedium (in justice, it can only be called that) and the taking-great-care required to master the skills necessary to find and use the mathematics that define a problem, to turn that into a problem solving tool with computer programming, and to build and test the results; all seem beyond the endurance of nearly all contemporary students. So it seemed to me just three years ago, so it appears now, based on reports of teaching colleagues.

This sounds suspiciously like what can still be read on the walls of Middle Kingdom Egyptian ruins: the old complaining about the young. I think it is not. Perhaps the problem with the tale is the manner of its telling. Perhaps the way in which "theory" (and all the rest) has been presented is simply not consonant with the learning styles and weltanschauung of the digitally, visually born-and-bred. Our university colleagues will need to discern this for us.

Whatever the case, lighting industry must become involved if the situation is to change. Perhaps it won't. Perhaps it can't. What then? We will have troffers, downlights, track, and indirects fitted with LEDs. In the past, with each new light source came important changes in luminaires, changes that had immense effects on lighting, environments, and the very architecture of buildings. That has certainly not yet happened with LEDs. Perhaps it won't. It may very well be that the "new lighting" will actually mean just ubiquitous controls. Well and good, useful and important even, but not the transformation that was in the wind, on the mind, hoped for.

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Author:Dilaura, David L.
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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