Ambitious Ledvance confounds expectations

WHEN LED-fixated Osram hived off its traditional halogen, fluorescent and HID lamp business in 2016, renaming it Ledvance, the expected scenario was that the latter would go off quietly and manage that ‘sunset segment' into a graceful decline.

But somehow Ledvance’s management didn’t read the script. Scroll forward two years and the ‘lamp company’ came close to upstaging its erstwhile parent at Frankfurt’s recent Light + Building exhibition.

Its monumental stand – in blinding Osram orange – was laced with eye-catching technological ‘firsts’ – including the industry’s first 200 lm/W LED tube, the first LED filament bulb compatible with Apple HomeKit and an elegant human-centric lighting controller with built-in GPS.

From top: Ledvance's stand at the Light + Building exhibition in Frankfurt last month; an office luminaire; its human centric control system; and the booming filament lamp segment.

But what really confounded expectations were the hundreds of stylishly minimal luminaires that wouldn’t look out of place in high-end offices in the City of London or luxury stores on Paris’ Champs Élysées. This from a company that had no luminaires when it launched.

CEO Jacob Tarn – a former Samsung executive – is on a mission to turn Ledvance into a truly global lighting company, a fully-fledged rival to Philips. And he’s in a hurry.

‘Two years ago we were recognised as a traditional light source company,’ says Tarn. ‘Today we’re a full scale, innovative lighting company and, above and beyond that, we’re doing smart lighting and human centric lighting.

‘You’ve already seen some of our future ambition. We’ll continue to strengthen our portfolio to make it more full scale. In addition to that, we have a clear technology and product road map’.

At its simplest, the strategy is to combine high-quality, design-led products – informed by its Osram engineering heritage – with ultra competitive prices, the product of its relationship with its parent MLS, China’s largest lighting manufacturer.

‘We’re a company with a long history even though we’re only two years old,’ says Tarn. ‘That long history has a very high level of craftsmanship. So we have German DNA as well as DNA from Asia’.

The strategy has five ‘pillars’. One is the ‘high end’ minimalistic design concept for the company’s luminaires called Scale. ‘It’s the German engineering in our DNA,’ explains Tarn.

The second pillar is energy efficiency. He want Ledvance to be an energy efficiency leader in the market and he cites its 200 lm/W LED tube as an example.

The third pillar is high quality and more specifically, long product life. For instance, the vast majority of the range has a standard five-year warranty. For certain products, such as high bays and battens, there will be a 10-year warranty.

The fourth pillar is light quality. ‘This is a key element of human centric lighting,’ says Tarn. Here he cites LED spots and classic A-shape lamps with a CRI of 97.

‘In the past there was a price to pay for high CRI in terms of a drop in efficiency, but today that’s not the case’.

Again he pledges to be ‘at the forefront of the competition’ for delivering high colour rendering at standard price points.

The last pillar is a combination of functionality and connectivity. Ledvance showcased the industry’s first smart filament lamp and some Bluetooth-enabled high bays with Casambi kit.

Isn’t this approach trying to be all things to all people? ‘Exactly’, smiles Tarn.

The key to keeping its prices down will be a combination of leveraging its relationship with MLS and reducing the amount of products that Ledvance manufactures itself. All because, like every other lighting manufacturer, Tarn is concerned about price pressures from China.

With their government subsidies, it’s incredibly difficult to compete with Chinese LED lighting companies. ‘Instead of fighting them, we’re building a partnership with [them].

He calls his strategy ‘reverse foundry’, where he will rely more heavily on ODM partners for manufacturing. He terms them his ‘virtual factory’.

He describes MLS as its ‘investor and strategic component supplier’.

‘We’ve two different natures. [MLS is] predominantly an LED packaging house, while we are a global lighting company’.

He says Ledvance takes full advantage of the relationship. ‘It delivers our differentiator: a major cost advantage’. However, he emphasises that the company buys from all suppliers and treat them all equally.

Like Philips,  Ledvance has a ‘last man standing’ policy with traditional lamps, which is essentially to keep making them as long as there is a decent margin.

Tarn doesn’t think that halogen will ever fully disappear from the market, but reckons it’ll be less than 10 per cent by 2025. As the market declines, the company will have to close or consolidate the manufacturing plants making traditional technologies, what Tarn calls optimising ‘factory utilisation’.

However he vows to keep some manufacturing capabilities in Europe and the US for premium products and local-to-local supply.

Ledvance has benefitted hugely from the biggest trend in lamps in the last few years: the explosion in hipster filament lamps. ‘You go to the US, almost every Starbucks has classic or filament lamps,’ says Tarn.

The segment is still booming. For the last two years, filament lamps have exhibited ‘hockey stick’ growth, he says. It’s been doubling every year for the last two years. Tarn claims Ledvance is the leader in the market, the reason it has become the first company to unveil a smart filament lamp.

Luminaires, however, are where the growth is. From a standing start, Ledvance has already become one of the top 10 players in luminaires in Europe. and Tarn expects the proportion of luminaires in the company’s portfolio to lamp to increase significantly by the time the next Light + Building event comes around.

‘We’d like to be in the top five in three years,’ says Tarn, and you suspect that, on current form, that’s eminently achievable. Better get used to that orange.

 

  • This year's Lighting Fixture Design Conference  takes place on Wednesday 20 June and Thursday 21 June 2018. Organised by Lux and LEDs Magazine, the event takes place at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. For more information and to reserve you place, click HERE.