April 2015
Interview

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Doug FordEMAIL INTERVIEWDoug Ford and Ken Sinclair

Doug Ford, President/CEO, Touch-Plate Lighting Controls

Doug has been the President / CEO of Touch-Plate Lighting Controls since 1987.  He has extensive experience in new product development, and also has worked with many lighting and controls companies in OEM arrangements.  Doug has traveled extensively, and is actively involved in the global supply chain logistics for Touch-Plate.



The Coming Impact of LED Lighting on Controls

We have reached the point where we can put the lighting controls in the LED fixture, or directly above it or beside it.


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SinclairI saw you at the AHR Show in Chicago, you were one of the few promoting lighting controls at this show.  What do you see as the next big thing in Lighting Control?

Ford:  We were really glad we exhibited at the AHR Show.  We exhibited at the Strategies in Light / LED Show in Vegas a month later.  Most of the coming change is all centered around the incredible wave of LED light fixtures.  With the lumens per watt going up and the fixture cost going down, we have reached the point where we can put the lighting controls in the LED fixture, or directly above it or beside it.  The future looks bleak for smart breakers, remote relay panels and remote dimmers.

SinclairHow long do you think it will take for this new type of lighting control to become viable?

Ford:  It is happening fast.  The venture capital community has thrown over $230 million to date on four new disruptor companies.  One of them is Ecosense and it's a George Mueller company and Ihor Lys is a board member.  These are the guys who started Color Kinetics which was eventually purchased by Philips.  The other companies are Digital Lumens, Enlighted and Terralux.  I don't know the backgrounds of the founders of these but it doesn't appear they have much history in the lighting industry.  But with all this money being thrown at them it became clear that the race was on for the rest of us that are already connected to the industry to aggressively move forward with smart LED fixtures, smart sensors, and wireless solutions.

SinclairAre you telling me Touch-Plate Lighting Controls is doing the same thing, smart fixtures, sensors and wireless products?

Ford:  Yes we are.  The good news is we can do it fairly quickly and for a fraction of the amount of money these other startups received.  We have a tremendous amount of ability in new product creation.  So we will increase the number of sensors we offer, add wireless solutions, and maintain our ability to speak BACnet, Modbus and DMX. 

SinclairSo in the very near future there will be many companies offering smart LED fixtures, just more items in the IoT?

Ford:  I believe so.  I'm certain Philips, GE, Cree, Lithonia, Cooper and Hubbell are all going to have something to compete in this arena.  But there will be more, lots more.  This is the most exciting thing I've witnessed in my 28 years of doing lighting control.  I vividly remember the early 1990's when Echelon started putting on seminars and declaring there would be an Echelon chip everywhere, in the breaker, in the fixture, in the relay, in the dimmer, etc.  They promised the chips would get down to under $2.  Needless to say, Echelon never really became the next big thing, they achieved a little success, but nothing at all like they promised and projected.  The LED thing is going to be out of control.  There are numerous Crowd Funded offerings hoping to succeed.  There are multiple products to choose from that say they do both ZigBee and Z Wave and also do Wi-Fi.  The home market will be very confusing and difficult for companies to be profitable.  But our strength and direction will be the commercial / industrial market.  BACnet is very mature and accepted globally.  The same with DMX, it's been around forever.  So if we have wireless solutions that immediately link to either a BACnet or DMX system we increase our value and our chance at success.

SinclairIs there a dark side to the LED wave that's coming?

Ford:  Definitely.  I'm afraid there will be some truth but also lots of lies.  Some will be touting LED's as the cure for whatever ails you.  Some will oversell the capability.  I think we are going to grow weary hearing about Circadian Rhythms.  The promises that we are all going to become healthier, sleep better, heal faster, be more cheerful, be more productive, improve our test scores and be the happiest people on the planet all because of new LED technology is going to get tiring.  I'm certain there will be some great benefits to using LED's, but it will take time to really prove all the claims.  But it is a very clear and natural fact that using LED's is going to save lots of money on energy costs.  I know there are coming breakthroughs in using LED's as grow lights for plants.  There will be lots of good, but we will likely have to live with some bad side effects when something is growing this rapidly.

SinclairIs the primary driver behind the LED wave energy savings or is it to become 'Green'?

Reliable Controls Ford:  It is linked.  Certainly it started out for many as the 'Green' solution.  Just like solar and wind, the move toward LED was going to make the world a better place, reduce the carbon footprint and dramatically reduce the amount of energy we needed to produce.  But now there are some very powerful motivating factors that are giving this a boost.  The most recent Title 24 regulations added a Demand Response aspect to reduce light levels immediately and at every fixture.  It also required that the lighting had to be able to communicate with the building's Energy Management System.  This is a great boost to the lighting control companies.  The IoT is a huge motivator for some.  Cisco is moving forward with their Energywise solution, and they hope to make Lighting as a Service a reality.  With all the investment dollars coming in and the big players adding their new offerings this has created a frenzy of product development.  The 'Big Data' aspect of this is driving some, there is lots of Venture Capital money going to the software side of this.  But certainly for our company the number one driver is the cost savings.  We've recently made arrangements with two finance companies that allow us to offer new LED fixtures, our controls, the labor to change and any recycling fees for the old lamps to the End User at a Zero Down cost, and pay from the savings.  This is huge.  We are providing 70% to 90% savings to our customers.  It is nice to be 'Green', it's nice to be all of the other positive things.  But it is a no-brainer to move forward when you can do so with nothing down and be cost positive while you pay the finance companies with your monthly savings.

SinclairThank you for sharing your insights on this exciting new direction with LED's.

Ford:  Thank you Ken, so glad you have this publication to keep us all informed.  Best Wishes.



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