Welcome to Russia, Baby

This interview performed and was published by Lumen&ExpertUnion – Russian professional magazine about light and lighting (www.lumen2b.ru)

The interviewee, Alexey Malakhov. Graduated in 2007 from National Research University Moscow Power Engineering Institute (MPEI). Cathedra specialist of lighting “Light source & Electronic starter”. Malakhov has worked in the lighting industry since 2005. He participated in the implementation of lighting projects including airport, stadium, factories, city infrastructures and transport.

The interviewer is Valery Manushkin,Chief Editor of "Lumen&Expert Union"

A comic charcter hangs onto a light bulb, while a clown plays an accordian in the background. (Photo Courtesy of Lumen&Expert Union)

Manushkin: Malakhov, the conspicuous start of LED direction occurred in 2008. What has changed during the last seven years?

Malakhov: Well, let's start with the fact that in 2008 this direction was created by people, who are very well-versed in LED technology. But now any “average Joe,” who has heard the word “LED” can buy the cheapest product in the bazaar (or make an order from China) and sell fixtures. Everyone does this business now on the principles of “cheaper, faster, higher, bluest.” As a consequence, they discredit the market. The same thing happened at one time with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL). I mean, at the beginning of the 2000 a lot of cheap Chinese CFL brands arose that said: “Our products are better and cheaper.” As a result we still have to assure customers that quality CFLs exist.

Now the LED luminaires situation is like that. Good foreign LED fixtures (European and American) superseded almost all others. Some local large lighting fixture manufacturers are trying to make it in the Russian market. They have approximately the same range of prices because the market is very tough. But there is a huge amount of pseudo-Russian, and frankly Chinese companies trying to tear apart the market with low-priced and defective goods.

Manushkin:Yes, I agree. I remember everything began from discredited products. In 2009 all analytical publications on the subject of LED lighting were only about this aspect. Has nothing changed in the last seven years?

Malakhov: There is no political will. There are no norms, no standards, not even laboratories that would trace all of this. Who provides standard specifications in Russia? Only Optogan and Svetlana Optoelektronika have done it correctly. Why? Because LEDs have not been included in any normative document yet. Any examination will tell you: “so there is Mercury Vapor Lamps (MVL), Metal Halide Discharge Lamps (MHL), CFL  too is listed, but LEDs are absent”. So the task to reinstate old norms was set.

As a result some places worsened, while some others fared better. Many thanks to the collective of the Russian Lighting Research Institute named after S.I. Vavilov (VNISI) for improvements in the industry. As for the joint venture 52.13330.2011 that substitutes Construction Norms and Regulations 23-05-95, it certainly made everything more competent. It introduced UGR, instead of blinding factor, normal color temperature requirements were also written. Honestly, the only people who are capable or drafting these documents right now are VNISI, VNIIOFI, MEI, Mordovia … That’s it. And then the document has a huge list of producers that can revise it because everyone believes their opinion is correct.

Russian equivalent of ANSII or state standards is GOST. GOST P MEK 60598-1-2011 “Lamps. Part 1. The general requirements and test methods” were written as follow: Old GOST undertook the task of writing standards, and tried to establish some definitions describing LED equipment. Where were the definitions taken from? Straight off European documents. It is difficult to translate technical literature from English to Russian. It is similar to: “Don't shoot the pianist, he plays as he can.” If you don’t like it, do it better!

On the other hand, some changes are happening now to be grateful of, for example in “old European” countries, such as UK, France and Germany are deeply engaged in LED. Specifically in Netherlands, many state lighting standards were posted by lighting giant Philips. In Belgium half of the standards for road lighting were written by Schroeder and others.

But an absence of state standard specifications is only half the trouble. I see how everything becomes OK after industry norms are written. Thank God, lighting technicians are the ones that work on projects, if not electricians would install everything based on experience. Lighting fixtures? Anything will work! Let’s buy from the first comer, instead for the project. It’s cheaper. And what do we see in the end? Something absolutely different was done. You do not have to go too far. Only the front three poles are lit on the ring road around the Moscow (MKAD), and there are remarkable places where the streetlight stands more than 80 degrees on the 4 meters pole. It doesn't shine on the road at all.

Manushkin:  I don’t agree, MKAD is lit properly compared to Russia.

Malakhov: Yes, you can find that everything is fine in Moscow, and there is no life outside Moscow. But if you want to compare - let's go to Belgium. As soon as we come back, you will understand that Moscow is not illuminated at all.

Manushkin: A year ago I went to Saransk by car (it’s about 700 km away from Moscow). Frankly, the lighting is not the main problem…

Malakhov: Yes, that’s true. It is good if asphalt was put on the roads.

Lighting engineering was strong in the old Soviet Union. Unfortunately, it has remained in Belarus and in Ukraine. So, for example Belintegra's company in Minsk is commensurable with Light Technologies in Russia and with Vatra's company in Kiev. In general, there are a lot of interesting enterprises in Ukraine, for example in the  “explosion protection” sector. In Russia the technology level in this market sector is still around 1960s. I mean all modern technologies at the time the Soviet Union collapsed in the 90s have remained in the original state, including the related experts. In a single day, Russia’s technological advancements were sharply rolled back, and we still have not caught up.

In principle, it can be understood that the government relied on “LED”. What sense did it make to return to old technologies if everything had to be rebuilt from scratch? Only innovation as usual. No, I understand everything. Yes, Optogan. Yes, young ambitious scientists. But if we invited them back to Russia, and let them do it badly? That is bad, but it is normal. It is impossible to make good quality products with a running start, but nothing good will turn out if no action is taken.

Manushkin: Ironically, everyone is tired about this. Can you name anyone that is confident in Russia that it is possible to do something without small or large kickbacks?

Malakhov: There is a remarkable joke. The German builder comes to Russia to control the process. When he asks why the plan does not work, Russian colleagues complain that there is stealing here, as opposed to Germany. He waved his head negatively, and says that the same situation happens in Germany. The only difference is that in Germany they steal from what remains, and in Russia we build from what remains.

In general, corruption is everywhere. The problem is fighting against corruption is national entertainment in Russia. This is not the only problem. I know that there is a large number of non-corrupt, fair state suppliers and tenders. Actually, the number of fair state suppliers and tenders has been increasing annually.

The LED market has really grown and matured, but product quality significantly worsened. On the one hand industry pioneers, learned how to make products better and cheaper. Yet, there is nothing we can do when we take into consideration the rate Chinese manufacturers’ are reducing costs, and importing their products  in metric tons under gray schemes. For example, the LED luminaire of “Lighting Technologies” costs 4,000 rubles (US $79.29). Fluorescent lamps at 1,000 rubles. After that I get an offer from LED luminaire for 1,500 rubles with parameters one and a half times higher, than at luminescent from “Lighting Technologies”. Frankly speaking, it is hard to believe that “Lighting Technologies” wants to dishonestly earn 3, 000 rubles in excess. It can't be so! Probably, something is wrong with this LED luminaire.

The reason for all of the problems and troubles in this market is that there are the organizations that monitor quality of lamps, projects and the real functioning lighting installations.

In the past I inspected objects with a sanitary commission. The commissioner, a young boy (who even understood anything in LED), checked everything with the light meter and wrote down the obtained data. But he had a device that is not certified to measure “LED” because of a lot of errors related with it.

Right now across Europe, much of the work has gone into understanding LEDs measurements. There are lot of questions from spectral structure to pulsations. Sometimes a pulsometer shows overestimated values. If norms, such as EPRA are established, it could be possible no measurements would take place at all. Upon checking real oscillograms, there can be terrible pulsations at zero instrument readings, and vice versa. On rare occasions, strong splashes will distort the obtained data.

During the Soviet Union period we were taught lighting. Even I had a subject matter in the university such as “physiological optics”, which covered eye structure, skin structure, how it reacts, where, why, or how. All this stuff. Now nobody cares about it. Nobody cares about quality of light because no one checks the quality. The most important marketing advantage in Russia is three times lowered price.

Manushkin: What is the difference of market segmentation now and then?

Malakhov: The market was already created in 2008, and there were some large enterprises in it. There were a lot of small companies, which were generally engaged in distribution of foreign production within these niche markets. The market was divided into some parts. The first part was the Moscow state tenders for all large objects. The second was St. Petersburg, they were always different from others. And the third was all other parts of Russia. By the way, the commercial sector was very small, not more than 20%.

Now commerce has started to overtake government procurements to dominate the market. On the one hand, it is excellent. But swindlers came here, and their only purpose is to sell and disappear. All this arose in 2008. But “old lighting manufacturers” viewed new players in the market as fools. In seven years the fools grew up, learned to lie in a better way. The range of customers considerably increased. Now it has become easier to sell lighting fixtures to office centers, shops, in the industry.

What else helped the pack of swindlers? They came to the client and said: we can reduce the power by five times, and it will become twice as bright. They were right that it works this way. But it could be done another way by using dusty luminaires with a sat-down Mercury Vapor Lamps lamp.

So if you change the lighting fixture for MHL with a new lamp, you will get higher brightness. But they hang up a new LED and say: “Look, there are 100 lux! And the power is five times less”. The customer is happy. But what will happen in six months or a year? Correct, the same 50 lux. Because no lamp should be left unattended, even LEDs should be washed.

I witnessed when MVL-1000 was changed to a 150-watt LED, and illumination increased by seven times. But they should understand: it is necessary to get 400 lux on to the floor and not 200 lux, but nobody considered safety factor.

Regulations aren't implemented anywhere in Russia, everyone does as they wish. They change a bad one for something that is the best and it is positive. But the fact that a huge segment of the market is won by scammers, is very bad for market development. After all people will start speaking about LED lighting, as a technology that is not trustworthy. Nobody maintains it after installation. There are no state programs to regulate. Seven years passed since the beginning of their mass introduction. Does anybody check any object? Trivially maintain illumination once a year?

Manushkin: What is the main problem?

Malakhov: It is a problem that people with a salary of 200,000 rubles are not appointed performers. In any state corporation — Rosneft, for example, or Norilsk Nickel, how is it organized inside? There are organizations which serve them. For example, a new oil field opens. So this company is engaged in geological exploration, this designs institute is engaged with us in lighting during the last 20 years, another one  the equipment, the third one construction. Those workers whom ourselves institutes are engaged in production. If someone was guilty there, punish them ruthlessly implementing dismissals, reprimands and deprivations of awards. And it works!

There are fulfilled schemes of regulation. After all, we don't hear every day that something went wrong at Gazprom, we don't hear about trains breaking down every day at the Russian Railway, or train schedules failing at subways. We are used to these routines, and we know if something happens, it will be an outstanding event. However, for some reason collapsed luminaires in the order of things is like icicles falling on the head.

Manushkin: How can we solve this problem? Is it possible?

Malakhov: Why not? Of course it is possible. To create special services, who will regulate it? Use the sanitary commission as an example, if rats appear in a shop, one phone call is more than enough to close the shop until the problem is eliminated. Or fire services watch the minimum requirements, and this also works for electro-installations. Only lighting technicians aren't present. Electricians make a project based on experience. Do you know how? I ask designers-electricians: “How do you make a lighting project?” They answered me: “Basically, six on six in hubs of the main bearing and that’s all”. I didn’t even know what to answer.

How to solve this situation? It’s easy. Use the idea of an electricity utility company such as, Energonadzor, as a basis to create a worldview (Svetonadzor).

Manushkin: Do you believe that LED regulations are real? That it can be made in the next two to three years?

Malakhov: What are you talking about? Of course not. We live in Russia. If it is not life-threatening, nobody cares. It is impossible to explain to people that someone can tear off a hand on factory, where there is sodium instead of white light. Why do different levels of illumination register on various objects? Because there are different minimums extended to objects of distinction. I mean the level of illumination has to be such that the worker precisely would see everything, and reduce fatigue. After all lighting is a direct cause of increase or decrease in industrial accidents, on the road and others.

Manushkin: Lastly, it is possible to make this market cultural?

Malakhov: In our country everything is possible. But there should be a political will. The government formed a task force to understand LED, but was very reluctant to establish a task force to return offshore money to Russia. Yet, we are doing it now. No one has said anything on this issue and it won’t happen in the near future. Probably only if a luminaire fell on the head of an important visitor within the sight of cameras from ten TV channels.

Sadly, but true. All of us will die. Also we will not live up to a bright future, unfortunately. We have many problems in our country. After all it is only 20 years old. The first years of its life was in total ruin. There was no production in the manufacturing industry. Only production in mining and packing. That’s it. LEDs? You can tell me everything that you like about the Russian LED plants. Honestly, LEDs in finished form is only the tip of the iceberg. We do not have the experts, raw materials and the equipment. All of these are missing in present Russia. What about nanotechnologies? Here is a key on 27, here’s a bolt on 27. And that is not about microns.

(Edits: Judy Lin, Chief Editor, LEDinside)

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