“Even as the government makes all the effort to promote LED lighting, the highest priority should be given to quality”

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Suhas A. Kulkarni, founder, Zero Systems

Navitas is the LED lighting brand of Zero Systems, an electronics/embedded product design and manufacturing company. The company has over 30 years’ experience in the field of data processing and, more recently, in the design of LED signage systems. In 2012, it ventured into designing efficient LED lights. By 2013, with these lights successfully built, the company decided to develop more efficient LED products to replace the power hungry metal halide lamps widely used in industrial sheds. Suhas A. Kulkarni, the founder of the company, has won accolades like the ‘Best Woman Entrepreneur’ award from the government of Maharashtra in 2018 and the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award for 2015 from the Vidarbha Industries Association. In conversation with Potshangbam July of Electronics Bazaar, she talks about the company and its products, government policies and incentives, the current challenges faced in the LED lighting industry and its future potential.

EB: Having been honoured with the ‘Woman Entrepreneur Award’ in 2018 for your endeavours, what motivated you to foray into the LED lighting industry?
We have played our part in the earlier electronics revolution of India, which occurred back in the 80s. We made the commonly used token number indicators, moving advertising LED message displays and automated traffic lights, to name a few products. Moving further, we also played a significant role in the digitisation of records and data for the government, as well as the education and finance sectors, before our foray into LED lighting.
I believe that our vast knowledge of how the LED, IoT and energy ecosystem work, along with our nearly four-decade long industry experience, makes us uniquely qualified to offer future-proof, reliable solutions in the LED lighting domain. And the fact that we, by virtue of our professional work, can have an impact in the lighting and energy sector has been the prime motivator and daily driver for me over these years.

EB: Tell us about your LED product portfolio and its unique attributes? How much does it contribute to your overall turnover?
We are mainly into industrial LED lighting. We cover the complete life cycle, starting from assessment and lighting design, to the supply of the product. In many cases, as per the client’s requirement, we provide customised product designs also. We believe in providing complete lighting solutions to our clients.

Our flagship industrial offering is our high bay industrial LED light called ‘Bhaskar’, which by virtue of its thermal or heat dissipation characteristics, its driver and its electrical and mechanical robustness, makes it the ideal choice for replacing any conventional light. The range is from 50W to 300W.

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Balloon lights are specialised LEDs primarily used in the motion picture industry, night-time railroad construction, incident and disaster management, and public security applications such as police checkpoints/flagger stations, and outdoor portable lighting. These lights are typically very high intensity lights mounted at a height and diffused by a translucent fabric balloon. A balloon light has various features—it can be powered by an inverter or generator at remote locations; it is easy on the eye and safe to work around; and the balloon is weather-resistant, waterproof and fire-retardant. It is available in 500W and 900W LED variants.

Our streetlights can be customised as per the road or area requirements. Also, IoT options are available for these lights, in order to control them. The range is from 24W to 240W.
In our confined space lighting, the luminaires are efficiently designed based on the 24V AC supply. They are easily movable and very handy. These lights can be used while carrying out maintenance work in confined spaces such as in tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, pits, manholes, tunnels, equipment housings, duct work, pipelines, etc. The range is from 10W to 120W.

Our studio/video lights for the media industry are some of the brightest LED lights available in the market. They have an outstanding colour rendering— from cool white to warm white. Other features include being dimmable, durable, built to last long, mechanically robust, etc. This range is available from 100W to 1000W.

All our products are specifically designed for efficient heat dissipation because we believe that maintaining the junction temperature of LEDs below the rated value results in an unmatched life span for the product and superior light quality.

Navitas lights withstand a wide range of voltage fluctuations, power surges and inrush currents. Industrial products really need to be designed to be electrically and mechanically robust so that they withstand the harshest conditions and are protected against adverse electrical conditions. With Navitas products, our services and maintenance initiatives, we ensure that industries and enterprises can better focus on doing their work because there is one less thing for them to bother about. Ninety-nine per cent of our total turnover is from industrial lights.

EB: What are the latest trends and technologies in smart LED lighting? What has driven up the demand for these products?
In smart LED lighting, communication technology is playing an important role. Smart lighting is becoming more and more human-centric. Collecting information through various sensors, processing it, making decisions based on it, and then adjusting the lights accordingly is how we make lights intelligent.

We are focusing on industrial lighting automation as well as new developments in emergency lighting, and are introducing new products in lighting for disaster management, etc.

EB: What are your investment plans with regard to R&D to stay ahead in the race?
We have a separate R&D department that is working on continuously updating and enhancing our products as per the latest cutting-edge technology. Our R&D department is very important, as we believe in developing new products with the latest technology. Also, through industry-institution collaboration, it is possible to develop products based on the latest trends by making strategic investments. This leads to a win-win situation for both industry and the institutions involved. We are already working with two engineering colleges in Nagpur on these lines.

EB: What are your plans to strengthen your market presence in the coming years?
The biggest advantage that Navitas has is its fast growing list of satisfied industrial customers who are our biggest ambassadors. In addition to our standard industrial products, we are developing new IoT based products in industrial lighting so that we can leverage the high growth markets. We are also entering newer and uncharted markets with niche products like emergency and disaster management lights, studio/video lights, and lights for confined spaces.

EB: What are the major challenges in the LED lighting industry today?
The rapidly declining prices of lights, which is at the expense of quality, is a challenge. Also flicker and glare in the LED lights is a problem in many cases. We are doing special research on both these problems and have developed glare-free lights, such as our balloon lights.

EB: Are the current government policies and incentives helping to open up new markets for the LED lighting market?
Some of the current government policies like Street Light National Programme (SLNP) are really helping the LED lighting industry immensely. The SLNP is targeting the overhaul of 35 million streetlights nationwide. This is right now the biggest market for the LED lighting industry. The Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has launched the government procurement business model for LED lamps. However, even as the government makes all the effort to promote LED lighting, the highest priority should be given to quality.

EB: Could you share your views on the future of the smart LED lighting industry in India?
The LED lighting industry is continuously evolving. Smart lighting has just entered the market but is not yet established. A smart technology like IoT is going to take up prime space, using which multiple devices will be communicating with each other and taking decisions based on data analytics. There is a lot of scope for this industry. Other than IoT, the smart communication method using light itself will be the next big thing. It is similar to Wi-fi but is called ‘Li-Fi’—visible light communication.

The demand for smart LED lighting is expected to grow because of government initiatives like smart cities, infrastructure development, etc. Not just metros but the Tier II and Tier III cities will also be converted into smart cities. This will lead to stronger growth in the smart lighting industry. The awareness about the technologies and what’s happening in the digital world is increasing each day. I think there will be tremendous growth in the smart lighting market.

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