(Issue: August 2019)

Printing Light

By Craig DiLouie, CLCP, LC

If 3D printing technology reaches this level of cost-effectiveness, lighting management companies would have to adapt to a changing industry, able to service both a growing 3D printing market and traditional supply chains.

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is a manufacturing process in which a computer is used to layer materials to build an object based on a digital CAD file or 3D model.

Automotive, medical, aerospace, and other industries are currently exploring this developing technology. In the lighting industry, in the short term, 3D printing is being used to create prototypes and custom components from scratch. Current players with this technology in the lighting field include the Telecaster division of Signify, Gantri, Tempo Lighting, and LG.

In the long term, it has the potential to disrupt the industry by democratizing manufacturing, while possibly having an enormous impact on maintenance. According to the Lighting Research Center, 3D printing is likely to become popular in about five years among manufacturers as a method of producing custom lighting. Manufacturers will be able to create products to satisfy unique designs.

After that, things could get even more interesting.

Long term, basically, what we’re talking about is the possibility of making lighting products on demand and anywhere there’s a 3D printer, digital design file and some raw material. Designers could conceptualize, test, and quickly manufacture complete luminaires, without fabrication of separate components, in any volume. This offers the potential to manufacture locally or even onsite, rapidly prototype new products specifically designed for their applications, produce precise volumes, and reduce luminaire cost.

In such a future, maintenance would be simplified. Installation of 3D-printed lighting would likely be fairly straightforward, similar to custom luminaires. However, no longer would lighting management companies have to source the same or equivalent products or serviceable components from suppliers who may not have them on hand or have gone out of business. In fact, traditional stocked SKUs wouldn’t matter. Instead, replacement products would be quickly manufactured from a digital design file. The lighting management company might manufacture the product itself or order it from a distributor or other entity, depending on who “owned” the file, or the end-user might make it.

If 3D printing technology reaches this level of cost-effectiveness, lighting management companies would have to adapt to a changing industry, able to service both a growing 3D printing market and traditional supply chains. Some may develop lighting products for customers, which would require new skills, and license these designs. Lighting management companies could offer consultation during trial installations to offer product design modifications before a large volume is produced.

At this time, all of this is highly speculative. For now, we’re still in the hype period of 3D printing’s technological emergence, where potential far exceeds reality. 3D printing of operational lighting products is still somewhat rare, and a lot needs to be done before it gains adoption.

What’s compelling about 3D printing, however, is the number of industries interested in and experimenting with it, which may lead to faster adoption with resulting experience, standards, and cost reduction. As this happens, 3D printing is expected to become steadily more attractive for lighting.

Until then, it’s a tech to watch. For now, you can learn more at www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/solidstate and www.3dprinting.lighting.


Craig DiLouie, CLCP, LC, principal of ZING Communications, Inc., is a consultant, analyst and reporter specializing in the lighting and electrical industries, and a regular contributor to LM&M. You may contact Craig at cdilouie@zinginc.com.