by Austin Siegemund-Broka Staff Writer
Lights fill the LEDtronics conference room – rows of unique ceiling lights, boxy warehouse lights, hanging chandeliers, stylish streetlights lined up
against one wall.
Light–emitting diodes, called LEDs, power every one of them.
The sight dazzles, but it also represents how Torrance–based LEDtronics works with LEDs.
“We keep building custom products. That’s what we are doing; we do that constantly,” said Pervaiz Lodhie, LEDtronics president and CEO, glancing around the room with the look of a proud father.
Every LEDtronics light houses environmentally friendly LED chips, bits of solid chemicals that glow when electrons move across them.
But LEDtronics specializes in “packaging” the LEDs, Lodhie says – they build LED chips into lighting fixtures of hundreds of different shapes, sizes, and colors, designed to fit the diverse applications of LEDs today.
Customers, including IBM, Toyota, Boeing and the city of Torrance, come to LEDtronics for light fixtures as well as custom–designed lighting systems.
The company estimates they’ve designed over 10,000 LED fixtures, and Lodhie says LEDtronics develops one new product or redesign every day.
“We are constantly being challenged by the industry to give them the precise color, the precise this or that,” he said.
LEDs today consume 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and last about 100 times longer, though they often cost much
LEDs also give off no energy as heat, their colors are easily adjustable and they are durable, able to withstand physical shocks and vibrations.
The market for the resilient light source took off in the late 1990s, more than tripling in size from 1995 to 2003, according to market research firm Strategies Unlimited.
Strategies reports that the industry grew from $3.8 billion in 2003 to $5.6 billion in 2009, driven by a boom in LED backlighting for cell phones and TVs; the market then doubled in 2009, reaching $10.8 billion in 2010.
Rarely does the market’s demand for a new technology rise that quickly, says Vrinda Bhandarkar, a senior analyst at Strategies Unlimited.
“There’s a lot of excitement and ‘cool’ associated with LEDs,” she said.
But the LED market’s recent boom doesn’t tell the whole story, Lodhie says.
“What people are finding as a `new LED market’ has been there for decades. It was behind the scenes, and nobody really knew,” he said.
Lodhie and his wife started LEDtronics in their Torrance garage in 1983.
Lodhie remembered early LEDs, developed in the 1970s, that only came in a couple colors and gave off little more than a dim glow.
But despite those limitations, he knew, the LEDs’ durability made them perfect for applications where they would weather vibration and couldn’t
easily be changed.
LEDtronics initially produced LEDs as small indicator lights for a handful of niches – manufacturing machinery, elevators, military aircraft.
LEDtronics supplies the same kinds of lights to those markets today.
“These were the natural places that drove the industry continuously,” Lodhie said.
But LEDs increased in brightness roughly tenfold every decade, and 1995 brought the first white LED.
LEDtronics packaged each new LED chip into bulbs for an increasing array of customers and applications, Lodhie says.
Today, they still produce lights and indicators for industries such as healthcare, aerospace, defense and electronics.
But Lodhie says some customers now use LEDtronics’ lights in outdoor lighting, for parking lots and car dealerships, and in interior lighting design for museums and other architectural projects.
The company has also developed streetlights in Torrance and Pasadena, and bridge lighting for such structures as the Golden Gate Bridge – part of a movement by cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston, toward using LEDs in municipal lighting.
And they’ve even designed LEDs for entertainment lighting projects, such as decorations on sets for the Tony–winning musical “Wicked.”
“The revolution has been taking place, but people didn’t see it,” Lodhie said. “It’s a really exciting time for me, (with) what I have done in creating this market.”
But Lodhie also does not see LEDtronics’ success – or the current LED industry boom – as the end of the revolution.
“It has just begun. It’s a drop in the bucket; a lot more has to happen,” he said.
LEDs will provide light in more and more lighting applications, Lodhie believes.
Market analysts, including Bhandarkar at Strategies Unlimited and Jamie Fox, LED research manager at competing firm IMS, say the same.
“LEDs are the future of light. Most lighting applications will go to LED lighting,” Fox said. “Most people agree on that; it’s just question of when.”
Lodhie says LEDtronics, and the LED industry, do still face several obstacles to widespread LED use.
Many governments, including in the United States, have passed laws to phase out some types of incandescent bulbs to reduce energy use. That is good news for the LED industry.
Some LEDs’ high purchase prices can scare consumers, Lodhie says, though LEDs usually cut energy expenses enough to make them a strong long–term investment.
For consumers considering in–home LED lighting, for instance – a growing market, but one in which LEDtronics participates only minimally – LED light bulbs can cost daunting prices of $20 to $30.
But increasing LED usage and better technology will drive production costs and prices down, Lodhie says.
“It’s just a continuation of making it more affordable for more and more people, and that is happening,” he said.
He plans to enter the residential LED market more fully when that happens, and when the company’s brand has a stronger public presence.
But more crucially, he says, many lighting consumers just aren’t aware of the possibilities and benefits of LED light.
As consumers increasingly accept the energy–sipping bulbs, Lodhie believes, LED use will simply keep increasing.
“There’s no limit to applications,” he said. “There’s no end to it.”