Since its inception, the Light + Building show in Frankfurt, Germany, has served as the launching pad for future lighting technology and innovation in the global arena, offering an enticing peek of what’s to come for both commercial and residential lighting.
Despite lingering economic woes, the April 11-16 show was no different. More than 180,000 visitors — up 8 percent from the past couple of years — flocked to the Frankfurt Fair and Exhibition Centre to experience for themselves the future of lighting. Under the overarching theme of energy efficiency, 2,200 exhibitors from all over the world presented their latest products and trends for lighting, electrical engineering, and home and building automation sectors.
“This shows how important a leading trade fair is in times of economic difficulty," says Michael Peters, a member of the management board at show organizer Messe Frankfurt. "It provides an additional boost for the first tender signs of recovery. As an innovation platform, it sets new standards for technology, design and sustainability worldwide and generates opportunities for making new international business contacts. And, in an unmatched exhibition, shows what is possible today in the fields of lighting, building-services technology and energy saving.”
Known as a major global platform for the lighting market, more than 1,500 companies presented a complete range of lighting technologies, including technical fixtures and lamping for all applications, decorative fixtures in a variety of styles and a huge selection of lighting components and accessories.
International trade visitors accounted for more than 43 percent of the total attendees, mostly from The Netherlands, Italy, Austria and Great Britain. The fair also saw a significant hike in attendees from North and South America, and Asia.
Steven Parker, President of SLV Lighting in North America, the U.S. division of a European company, has experienced the show — both as an attendee and an exhibitor — in recent years. The main draw for Parker, a member of the American Lighting Assn.’s engineering committee, is the looking glass the show offers to what technology is available in the European market, which is ahead of the United States.
The progress with LED light sources to address some lingering concerns, such as higher CRI and light levels, was the main takeaway from his visit, Parker says. “We definitely see [solid-state lighting] as the future. We see it as a pretty exciting time to be in the industry. Before, there were just compact fluorescent and halogen and incandescent [sources], nothing really new and exciting. Now we can really think outside the bulb with solid-state lighting, and take advantage of uniqueness of technology and shapes and come up with some very different light fixtures.”
Beyond overall strides in solid-state lighting technologies, Parker says he specifically was interested to see Europe’s progress with respect to standardizing sockets or connectors to allow them to be interchangeable. Attendees were able to see innovations beyond those offered by European manufacturers, with products on display from all over the world. “It was interesting to see a total balance of what’s available from Europe and Asia and all over,” says Parker. Luxon’s introduction of its plasma lighting light source – packing a powerful punch in a small package the size of a large grain of rice — was one product introduction that stood out in his mind.
Tracy Bilbrough, President and Chief Executive Officer of Generation Brands, also attended the fair. Bilbrough echoed Parker’s sentiments regarding the stars of the show: energy efficiency and the progress of solid-state lighting. The continued evolution of LEDs as a light source was the main trend he saw. “Almost everyone who was anyone in European lighting had a suite of products using LED as a light source,” says Bilbrough.
Overall, Bilbrough says he didn’t see anything that was “revolutionary — only evolutionary,” he says. Most of the products were heavily geared toward recessed downlighting and task lighting, with some applications of LED in decorative lighting. There was also a significant focus on controls, spanning the gamut from commercial building and installations to simple appliances for the home. Philips Lighting introduced a full offering of products they are gearing up to launch in Europe in this category, Bilbrough adds.
Some attendees of the Light + Building fair in April came home with more stories than they anticipated – unrelated to the latest lighting advances — after being stranded in Europe following the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in southern Iceland.
The volcano began erupting after the fair opened its doors on April 11 so show attendance was not impacted. Although most visitors left on Thursday, April 15, those that stayed until the last day — Friday, April 16 — found themselves in quite the predicament, as airports across Europe canceled flights for several days as a result of the plumes of volcanic ash clouding the skies.
Bilbrough was one such stranded attendee. He and a colleague were supposed to fly out of Germany on Friday, but were instead thrust into an adventure, traveling 3,000 miles – roughly the distance from New York to Denver – via train, rental car and taxi from Frankfurt, Germany, to Zurich, Switzerland, to Barcelona, Spain to Madrid, before finally boarding a 1 a.m. Continental flight to Newark on Monday, April 19. “I looked pretty ragged,” he says.
Bilbrough recalls those frantic four days — in which they lived off Pringles, barely slept and spent thousands of euros on transportation and hotel stays — as surreal, exhausting and depressing, full of uncertainty about when and how they would get home. The last leg of the trip – the six-hour cab ride from Barcelona to Madrid shared with a stranger to the tune of 600 euros – was particularly memorable. “Off we go," Bilbrough describes. "The taxi had no shock observers. The guy is driving crazy fast, we have white knuckles in backseat, going through mountains in the rain, driving way too fast."
Despite everything, Bilbrough considers himself lucky. “There were a lot of people worse off than us,” he says. “We had the resources to do this. If you didn’t have the resources, you just couldn’t get out.”
Messe Frankfurt attempted to help international travelers and visitors who couldn’t make their way home on Friday by establishing a helpline for exhibitors and helping them obtain travel permits and secure hotel accommodations, according to show officials.