Philips Brands Benefit from Investments in Technology
Friday, November 18, 2011
by Justin Lang, Editor, PLSN

The Strand name is one of the most venerable in stage lighting — it’s been around since 1914, when Strand Electric was originally founded by two West End electricians in London, Arthur Earnshaw and Phillip Sheridan. The two set out to provide the prestigious theatre district with the most modern stage lighting and control available.

In 1968, Strand Electric was sold to Rank, the film corporation, creating Rank Strand. Then, one year later, Rank purchased Century Lighting of New York, and the name was changed to a brand that many of us grew up knowing, Strand Century.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, people in the entertainment industry associated the Strand brand well-built, reliable products, and the company’s products for lighting, dimming and control were found in almost every theatre and TV studio across the country.

Awards and Patents

Another measure of the company’s prominence is its awards and patents. Strand was issued over 75 patents in its first decade, and has since gone on to garner Emmy awards and other honors. And 1990, Stand Lighting became the first company to achieve ISO9000 Quality certification.

If building a successful company is always an impressive feat, changes of ownership can put new management into the fray with hungry competitors seeking to wrest away market share. And beginning in the late 1990s, after Strand had been acquired by a group of venture capitalists, industry observers saw Strand in decline.

In 2006, Strand was acquired again. But the new owner was Genlyte Group, a U.S. manufacturer that had also recently acquired Vari-Lite’s manufacturing and sales division. The two companies each benefited by sharing new technologies such as IGBT dimming, which is used for both Strand dimming and Vari*Lite luminaires.

As the Strand name regained luster, in late 2007, the year’s biggest acquisition story broke: Royal Philips Electronics’ plan to purchase the Genlyte Group, its brands and all the intellectual property, including Strand Lighting and Vari-Lite.

Some met the news with skepticism. Philips has been a well respected company for more than 100 years, a maker of consumer and professional level electronics as well as countless other products across the business world — but the company was hardly an entertainment lighting industry specialist. Nonetheless, Philips went through with the Genlyte acquisition, pushing further into the entertainment lighting business.

Just a few months before the news about Genlyte broke, Philips announced plans to purchase the up-and-coming architectural and entertainment LED manufacturer, Color Kinetics, for $791 million, which included control of that company’s patents. Then, in 2009, Philips expanded their entertainment and architectural lighting portfolio with the acquisition of Selecon Lighting from New Zealand, including the holdings of Selecon New Zealand Limited, Selecon UK Limited, Selecon North America LLC and Aureol Lighting Limited.

Although Philips now owns Strand Lighting, Vari-Lite, and Selecon, the company hasn’t been bent on changing brand identities. Instead, these three brands remain independently identifiable within a new division of Philips, the Philips Entertainment Global Business Unit (GBU).

Now under a common umbrella, these business units have new access to resources and technologies with increased economies of scale. Philips has also supported new product development and lower materials costs through the company’s purchasing abilities, and with technologies that the different brands can share.

LEDs and More

As evidence of this, Strand Lighting and Selecon have begun to reshape their fixture product lines with LED technology embraced and fostered by Philips. It began with the VARI*LITE VLX LED moving head wash, which won wide recognition and a number of awards, in part due to the performance of the fixture’s LED chip and light engine. The same LED engine and system is now in Selecon PL1 wash, PL3 wash and LED Cyc fixtures, along with the LED profile, set for release in 2012.

LEDs are just one way that Strand Lighting and Selecon are looking to the future, however. They also incorporated tungsten-based lighting fixtures such as the new Leko Lite and Selecon SPX. For the Leko Lite, the company retooled the Strand SL with features based on customer feedback, also incorporating new Philips lamp technology such as the company’s FastFit lamp socket. The Selecon SPX also features a blend of the new and familiar, retaining features including Selecon’s auto mains cut-off and planetary gear system for lamp alignment.

The innovation doesn’t stop there. Strand Lighting is developing new dimming and control products as well. With millions of CD80 dimmer modules sold throughout the world, Strand continues to support and develop new modules for the tried-and-true dimming system currently running in a number of theatres. Now called the C21 dimming system, it is reminiscent of the CD80 in size and shape, but features new and updated control protocols including Strand ShowNet.

For distributed dimming options, Strand continues to refine its R21 powered raceway and S21 dimmer strips for the theatre. Recognizing the greater use of theatrical LEDs, Strand has a new raceway product that incorporates an LED power supplies, distributed DMX and relays for LED products — the S21 LED raceway.

Among its portable options, Strand has also developed a single dimmer that attaches to a conventional called the Light Pack Dimmer, also using the IGBT dimming technology. It’s a compact dimmer that attaches directly to the yoke of a fixture for quiet and efficient dimming. Strand’s LightPack LED, provides power and control for Philips Selecon PL Wash and Philips Color Kinetics Color Blast gear.

Vari-Lite’s new products, meanwhile, include the VLX3 LED Wash. Vari-Lite’s new VL440 Spot, VL770 Spot and VL880 Spot luminaires, meanwhile, feature MiniFastFit lamp technology, in 400W, 700W and 800W variants. The new luminaires include gobo wheels, CMY mixing, zooming and other features typically found in VARI*LITE luminaires.

While there are no guarantees that the nearly 100-year-old Strand Lighting brand will be around for another 100 years, you can be sure that, for the present, at least, it’s benefiting from the technological backing and resources of Royal Philips Electronics — as are its considerably younger corporate siblings, Philips Vari-Lite and Philips Selecon.

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Copyright PLSN Magazine, November 2011

To read the article as it appears on the PLSN website, click here.

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