It is widely accepted throughout the lighting industry that OLED luminaires—while efficient, versatile, stylish and a source of good quality light—are useful only in niche applications, where their unique benefits outweigh their heavy upfront costs. IHS Technology estimates that there were just under 5,500 OLED luminaires shipped last year, with roughly two-thirds classified as "decorative and architectural lighting." This category encompasses a variety of devices, used as event lighting or sculptural pieces in high-end commercial properties, which take full advantage of OLED's aesthetic qualities and versatility.
While many companies are exploring ways to add OLED luminaires to their product portfolios, there remains a great deal of uncertainty around the development of the technology. Even so, luminaire makers are currently experimenting with a variety of OLED luminaire products, which can be roughly grouped into the following three categories:
Task lights are small lights used for a specific task, such as a desk or floor lamp. OLED task lights would typically require two or three OLED panels, and would provide only a small amount of light, but these products are still currently used more for decorative purposes, rather than for mainstream illumination.
Linear ceiling lights and troffers are a form of strip light, which would be attached or recessed into the ceiling of an office or meeting room, in order to provide general room illumination. These luminaires are typically comprised of between eight and 10 OLED panels, which provide the equivalent illumination of a standard troffer.
Decorative and architectural lights include all OLED luminaires designed as sculptures or statement pieces, rather than as luminaires used purely for practical purposes. These lights include up to 1,000 panels per luminaire, depending on the size—and they are often custom made by luminaire manufacturers.
As the price of OLED panels has declined, the functionality of luminaires has changed. Whereas in the past, the vast majority of luminaires could be classified as decorative or architectural devices, OLED luminaire prices have at last fallen to the point where it is reasonable for an average consumer to purchase them. Most OLED luminaires will most likely be destined for high-end residential properties, at least over the next five years. Of the 100,000 OLED luminaires that are forecast to be shipped by 2020, the decorative market will make up just over 48 percent of shipments, but task light shipments will have risen to almost 20 percent of the market.
The future of OLED technology will inevitably be dependent on how much farther the price of these panels can fall. If prices remain relatively high, then OLED luminaires will remain a niche decorative item; but if leading OLED lighting companies can further reduce prices, then OLED will evolve from its current decorative uses, into more mainstream premium consumer products.
While OLED could be poised for growth, it's important to note that Philips, the largest manufacturer of OLED panels in 2014, recently announced that the company will be leaving the OLED market. Will the loss of one of the industry's biggest players slow the development of the technology? Only time will tell.
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