Sunday, December 18, 2016

LED Warranties... What you need to know!


Being relatively new technology, within the general lighting industry at least, LEDs seem to have a new qualifying parameter or feature monthly.  Developments in the quality and performance of lamps and luminaires have always garnished a bit of hype, but as this playing ground gets more and more level the sales focus has shifted to “intangibles” – and of late, warranty has been playing a bigger role that ever before.

 

With clients being better educated confusion is at an all-time high… paradox? Let me explain.  

 

Understanding and differentiating between LED offerings requires a comprehensive understanding of thermal management, design, CRI, CCT, flux vs post-optic intensity, optics, LCP, photometric patterns, blah, blah, blah, jargon, jargon, jargon. When faced with competing LED companies who can provide similar product specifications for any given application, the client, no matter how much homework they’ve done, often focus their decision making to what they can understand best, criteria common to comparing product in any industry – and warranty often looms at the vanguard.

Warranties in the lighting industry used to be quite simple. The warranty on your fixture (the frame holding the lamp) would be quite robust – 5-10 years for instance. On the ballast (transformer) it was often significantly less or unstated, and the lamp itself it was non-existent.

With the introduction of purpose built LED luminaires it became significantly harder to separate at least two of these components – the LED array (lamp) and frame/fixture had merged. Power supplies or LED drivers (formerly ballasts) were oft times inextricable from the luminaire as well. Combined with lifespans which were calculated rather than proven it was a difficult task to assign fair and reasonable warranties to LED products.

In the early days, most companies, including Empyrean, had a 1 year warranty, today, after 10 years of empirical data/observations, 3-5 years is standard.

Recently we’ve noticed an industry trend of offering 10 year warranties, and in some cases lifetime warranties on LED luminaires.Given that these extended warranties are not based on any leaps forward in the lifespan of components, or increased thermal management, it begs the questions: Where are they coming from, and why are they being offered? On face value it would appear to be a real “win” for consumers but if we scratch the surface we can see that over-inflated warranties are nothing more than a sales tool. 

Let’s consider the following, and while applicable to any industry, we’re approaching this from the perspective of an industrial client:

·        Warranties are not made equal. A warranty with restrictions on run-time, or limited to certain components, is obviously not as valuable as a comprehensive and unconditional warranty which covers ALL aspects of the luminaire, 24/ run time within the environment of the application period for the duration of the warranty.  Caveat Emptor – read the fine print!
·        Most warranties in the lighting industry are RTB (return to base). Should your luminaire fail, it is the client’s responsibility to bear the maintenance cost to remove and return the luminaire to the manufacturer who will then repair/replace the luminaire and send it back to the client for installation.
·        WHOA!!! Read the above again… it’s on the CLIENT to handle the maintenance (the single greatest lighting associated cost in most facilities). So let me ask you, if you have a lifetime warranty, but you’re replacing that luminaire 2-3 times more than a competing luminaire, are you actually saving any money despite the luminaire itself being “free” each time?  No.  Not at all, not even close.

We’ve seen this exact scenario recently at a mining site in Australia. The client was offered luminaires with a lifetime RTB warranty – they took half a dozen units to trial, half of which failed in the first year of operation.  It doesn’t require a PhD in economics to understand that this is not good value, nor is it a sustainable practice considering each luminaire change cost them in excess of $2K – 35M poles.

So the ideal solution is for companies to provide warranties which cover the maintenance costs of changing over faulty luminaires correct?  Perhaps in a perfect world, where companies like my own could guarantee all aspects of the installation itself – however, with 1000s of luminaries being installed worldwide this isn’t practical or even possible.

The best, easiest, and currently available solution is as follows:

  1. Clients need to understand that warranty is NOT a guarantee of performance or longevity, rather it is a commercial exercise by the luminaire manufacturer. This often results in a cycle of depreciating product quality: I want to offer a 10 year warranty. Building luminaires that will last for 10 years is impractical in this market. What price per luminaire can the market bear to cover the replacement costs I know are coming? Let’s downgrade component quality to meet the required margins to ensure replacement costs can be covered. Increased sales based on the exaggerated warranty should stabilise returns. Over-simplified to be sure – but not inaccurate I assure you!
  2. With all standard luminaire criteria being equal, clients should be basing their decisions on the following real criteria:
a.      Failure Rates – this is REAL performance data that every company should be able to provide both the failure rates of their luminaires – this includes drivers and LED array. For instance, the rate of failure for our drivers is 0.26% (or ~3 drivers out of every thousand), and the failure rate of our arrays (even a single pixel) is 0.08% (less than 1 out of a thousand) over our standard warranty period (5 years).
b.      Testimonials & Case Studies – all lighting manufacturers should be able to provide case studies of their luminaires performance in like conditions, and the contact details of those on-site directly responsible for their i and performance.
c.      Other “intangibles” – equally important is understanding how easy/difficult the lighting manufacturer is to work with. How much support do they offer. What are they’re values generally, and where are they going in the future. This information can be gleaned from the company, but in my opinion is far more powerful coming from other clients (see point b).

The point here is do not assume that a long warranty is synonymous with a quality product and in-line with the expectations that you should have of your LED solution. Rather, focus your research on the products’ performance in like conditions and applications and speak to other clients who have personal experience with this technology. This will surely abate future disappointment and headaches regardless of what your warranty predicts!

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