Luminus Devices: Finding Its Way Toward the Light With High-Efficiency LEDs

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the hot, failure-prone incandescent lights used for rock concerts, theatrical stages, and other entertainment venues. Luminus even provided LEDs to help Harvard University add dramatic lighting to the underside of the Weeks Footbridge linking Cambridge to Allston across the Charles River.

But there’s a new big kahuna—general lighting, meaning the devices that illuminate homes, offices, warehouses, and streets—and Luminus is only starting to devise a strategy for catching it. Producing a white LED was an important first step. “To go into general lighting, you need white LEDs, and by 2007 we had not solved all the technical problems,” says Erchak. “To get white, you need the best materials, and you also need IP clearance, because there is a lot of intellectual property around LEDs.” (Philips, with its LumiLeds technology, has been one of the leaders in this area.) “That was a really tough problem, but tough problems are the kind that Luminus likes. It forced us to be the most innovative.”

Through some creative cross-licensing deals with Nichia, a Japanese manufacturer that is the world’s largest maker of LED s, Luminus got access to the technology it needed to enter the white LED market, Erchak says. That was in February of this year.

Keith WardA couple of months after that, Luminus made one more big change. The perception in the general lighting industry, says Erchak, is that “One of the big problems with LED companies is that they don’t know lighting, and they don’t understand the real needs of the lighting market. So that’s when we brought in Keith [Ward] and Peter Weller.” Ward had done at stint at General Electric and had been a successful turnaround CEO at EYE Lighting, an Ohio-based subsidiary of a Japanese lighting company, and Weller brings experience from compact-fluorescent bulb maker TCP, as well as OSRAM Sylvania. (Former CEO Meirav became executive vice-chairman of Luminus’s board of directors.)

Wherever there’s a bulb with a filament or an arc, says Ward, a PhlatLight would be a cost-saving replacement. But obviously, you can’t just stick a PhlatLight chipset into the socket for a 100-watt bulb. “The dilemma there is that you have to find fixture guys who are willing to build inserts,” says Ward. He says he’s optimistic that pressure to increase building efficiency from the U.S. Department of Energy will drive investment in retrofitting technology. And Luminus is gaining recognition in the industry: at the LightFair International convention in May, its white LED product won a technical achievement award that’s almost always captured by giants like Philips, GE, and OSRAM Sylvania.

Erchak says Luminus has three ways into the general lighting market. The near term one is retrofitting. Next is new installations, a market that he says will take another 12 to 18 months to start producing revenue. The third and most exciting—but also the most hypothetical—market is for entirely new approaches to indoor lighting. “You could make the whole ceiling one big panel of light, and have it change just like the outdoors; you could dial in 3:00 p.m., or sunset, if you wanted,” Erchak envisions. “LEDs are the way to do that. But we can’t wait for a year. We need to sell for revenue in the present and work with lighting fixture customers and new installs over the two- to three-year time frame. So we’re doing all of those things.”

The silver lining of Luminus’s experience with the rear-projection TV market, says Erchak, is that “We had to grow up very quickly as a company and become a fully audited, qualified, world-class manufacturing organization supplying the largest electronics company in the world, Samsung. We came out of this very well prepared to walk into meetings with lighting companies and say ‘Hey, our products are reliable, and we have the track record to prove it.’ So we have a lot of credibility that we’ve built up over the past five years.” Now it’s time to transform that credibility into a brighter future for Luminus and its investors.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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