Japanese LED Industry Arrives to New Turning Point in 2014

Japanese manufacturers are beginning to shift market strategies from a product sales promotion approach to value adding technologies, according to a Chinese-language Tech-On report. Manufacturers are restrategizing business approach as the LED industry matures, and profits shrink as LED prices fall.

The report observed visitor attendance plunged 18,000 compared to the last show in 2012 to 51,033 at the biennial LED Next Stage trade show that took place in Tokyo Big Sight in early March 2014. Visitors waning excitement about LED technology is a clear sign that the industry is maturing. Tech-On’s observations echoes a similar trend observed by LEDinside at Lighting Japan and Taiwan International Lighting Show (TILS) this year, where visitor participation at both shows also dropped.

LED luminaires have about a 40 percent market share in the Japanese lighting market, according to statistics compiled by Japan Lighting Manufacturer Association (JLMA). Japanese LED manufacturers including Panasonic and Toshiba have raised LED production. Panasonic’s residential lighting products will all be LED by 2015, and in 2013 more than 80 percent of the company’s residential lighting products are LED. In comparison, 70 percent of Toshiba’s products are LED.

Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp move into B2B Sector

Many major Japanese manufacturers including Panasonic, Toshiba and Sharp have chosen to focus on B2B sector to avoid cutthroat price competitions. In 2013, the companies listed above underwent major restructures to successfully transform previous B2C business models to B2B. Under the new business models, manufacturers are directing resources on R&D of commercial lighting products. Tapping into the manufacturing group’s internal demands and large distribution networks, Japanese LED companies are differentiating themselves from others by providing comprehensive lighting solutions and systems.

Panasonic for instance is using its electronic engineering advantages from Matsushita Electric Works arm to develop smart LED lighting solutions for building, shops, infrastructures and cities to develop highly profitable B2B solutions. The company profits have improved as a result. Toshiba on the other hand is centering R&D on Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) and Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) at its “smart neighborhood” research facility in Kanagawa Prefecture. In comparison, Sharp has slimmed down consumer LED lighting business to redirect business strategy onto commercial lighting, new retail shops, and building renovation.

These strategic changes might be a main reason behind declining visitor rates. LED products displayed also showed minor improvements at the trade show in March. LED luminaire designs shifted from being “brighter” and more “aesthetic” to meeting commercial lighting client tastes. In contrast, there were more innovative OLED products for residential lighting, and for high luminous efficacy applications.

Value adding LED technologies

Similar to LED manufacturers focus on smart lighting technology at Light+Building 2014 to add product value, the same trend was sighted at LED Next Stage a month earlier. Panasonic highlighted in-house developed spectrometer control technology. The company has applied this new technology into new residential lighting product Mi look.

Color tunable LED bulbs that can be controlled by tablets for commercial applications were displayed by the company. Anchoring product development on lighting’s psychological and physical impact, Panasonic is making related products. At the lighting show, the company displayed a new smart LED lighting system that can heighten employee’s concentration span by adjusting LED light. The company has applied for eight related patents for the technology, and added value to environment lighting.

Panasonic is also focusing on Visible Light Communication (VLC) that uses LED as a vector for visible light communication. Similar to Philips Lighting, Panasonic is looking into commercial applications where VCL can be used to transmit data within an infrastructure, or underground GPS where signals are blocked. Building upon the communication data infrastructure, the system can gather and analyze consumers’ preferences and target market advertisements.

Panasonic’s Li-Fi system LUMICODE demonstrated applications in the factory, warehouse, and industrial truck. Other possible commercial applications also include hospital, museums, and exhibition centers.

Emerging new OLED solutions

Another noticeable trend has been emerging OLED solutions in Japan. Toshiba’s technology display became a main attraction, due to the company’s announced launch of OLED products on April 2014. The company also allocated most of its display area at the Tokyo lighting show to OLED luminaire display.

OLED thin panels can be integrated into wall lighting, making the luminaire invisible from sight. Toshiba’s technology especially emphasizes this aspect of OLED to create concepts of “a lighting completely merged into the space” and “lighting close to everyday living.”

The company will be launching four OLED luminaires including two partially embedded OLED lights, ceiling and wall lighting. The OLEDs have a lifetime of 40,000 hours (with luminous flux maintenance rate at 70 percent). The four products have an average energy consumption of 2W and color temperature of 3,250 K. The company plans to sell 4,800 units of the new OLEDs that will be priced at 30,000 Japanese Yen (US$292.92).

Mitsubishi Electric displayed OLED that could be installed on E26 LED sockets, the OLED panel sizes are 16 cm2 and 8 mm thick. Although, most agree that OLEDs are not replaceable products, the fact that it can be installed on current luminaire sockets, gives it a chance to grab market shares in lighting retrofit demand market. However, no release dates have been set for the luminaire because of pricing issues.

Panasonic also displayed its new generation of high-tech products including highly efficient 100 lm/W OLED panels that are 0.5 mm thick, 0.4mm flexible OLED panels and others.

Outdoor LED lighting market

OLED projects stole the show for indoor lighting, but in the outdoor lighting sector Tokyo’s successful application of the 2020 Olympics is likely to expand the outdoor LED lighting market. Bringing the outdoor lighting market once again under the lime light. The Olympics will serve as a catalyst for LED adoption and outdoor LED lighting as more manufacturers will want to expand outdoor product portfolio to reap in benefits from the Olympic growth wave.

For instance, Iwasaki Electric displayed LED luminaires, LEDioc LED Light Bulb that can use current LED luminaires. This type of luminaire can be directly used in safety lamps and streetlight installations. The new lights can cut installation costs by 50 percent.

This year will no doubt become a new product development turning point for Japanese manufacturers. Segmentation of lighting systems will further increase, while residential OLED luminaires will rise. The outdoor lighting sector that has lagged behind residential lighting market in Japan will also be entering a new phase of popularity.

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