LEDs are one of the most expensive components in an LED bulb, accounting for 65 percent or more of the cost.
Chipmaker Marvell says it can help.
The company has come out with a controller, the elegantly named 88EM8801, that it says will allow bulb makers to incorporate "loosely binned, lower cost" LEDs in their bulb in order to cut costs. Generic LEDs cut the manufacturing cost and in the end consumers don't get sticker shock at Home Depot.
The chip also combines different functions currently handled by an array of chips, further cutting costs.
Additionally, Marvell has even come out with a reference design for manufacturers to adopt if they want to start making LED bulbs. The reference design, based on LEDs from Cree and electronic doo-dads from Marvell, would effectively allow contract manufacturers to get into the lighting industry much easier. If the bulbs off of this reference design do in fact work well, it -- and other reference designs like it -- could spell trouble for traditional manufacturers.
Lighting and optical effects are a mystery to contract manufacturers like Flextronics. They understand electronics and assembly, however. By providing these companies expertise on lighting and optics, they could begin to come out with white-label bulbs that cost less (in part because of the ability to use lower-cost LEDs, a la Marvell's chips, and in part because of lower engineering costs) than ones from mainstream manufacturers.
Don't laugh. A number of companies got into the PC and server market because of free reference designs from Intel. Cree and Marvell are merely replicating the strategy.
--Inexpensive LED lamps for commercial offices from Cree (think reference design) and General Electric.
--Integrated networking from Google, Lighting Science and others that reduces the cost of hardware to implement automatic dimming.
--Stronger links between demand response and lighting.
--Liquid cooling for bulbs.
--Perhaps a merger.
Side note: Marvell was founded by Weili Dai, Pantas Sutarja and Sehat Sutarja, who started working together at UC Berkeley. Since then, they've become prime benefactors for the university's engineering school.