Coolon LED Lighting has invested heavily in research and development to provide the most impactful industrial lighting products to the Australian market. Billy Friend sits down with founders Alex and Svetlana Zatsepin about the ethos of the company and its continued expansion mission.
When Svetlana first met her husband Alex at university, his love for electronics immediately struck her.
“It was contagious for him and it became contagious for me,” she said. “He really understood electronics on a deep level and he wanted to share the enjoyment of knowledge with me. He took real pleasure in finding things out.”
Alex was first involved in electronics in 1972 in Ukraine, working with ham radios and morse code radio communication. From then, he developed a passion for technology and electronics which carried over to his life in Australia.
The pair quickly worked out a winning formula for their own business, with Alex’s design intelligence and Svetlana’s propensity for maintaining quality in manufacturing. Coolon LED Lighting was created in 2001 from FLC Microdesign, a contract manufacturing business. When Svetlana founded FLC Microdesign in 1993, she quickly established herself as a reliable high-quality manufacturer due to an extreme attention to detail and an in-depth knowledge of underlying processes and electronic components. Her previous experience working in research and development for a semiconductor firm in Ukraine and a qualification of System Engineering in Electronics contributed to this initial success. The business was centred around the programming of leased semi-automated assembly equipment and perfecting the quality of printed circuit boards (PCBs) by experimenting with different brands of soldering alloys and fluxes. Obsessed with manufacturing quality, Svetlana consulted with clients on how better to design PCBs in line with Design for Manufacturing (DFM) guidelines.
Throughout the early years, Svetlana was personally involved in assembly, while also looking after accounting, purchasing, testing, quality control and the setup of defined processes within the company. She redesigned the production floor layout to increase the throughput of manufacturing processes and created assembly manuals to allow the staff without formal qualifications to avoid errors in the assemblies of the most complex PCBs. Her attitude to quality was, and remains, the cornerstone of the business – a systematic approach to manufacturing and operations continues to serve as an engine of the company’s evolution.
“In the early days it was really difficult to start a successful business without having savings behind us,” she said. “We didn’t have the luxury of choosing which projects we would take on, so most assemblies requested by clients were very labour intensive. However, we had sufficient patience and perseverance together with confidence in our knowledge. Our customers felt confident with us, which kept us busy, but their rising cost pressures were put onto our shoulders. When we finally decided to design and make our own products, I felt we were making a strategic decision that would truly set us on a path to success.”
Three years later, Alex left a secure job at Bosch to join the business full-time, providing design services in addition to contract manufacturing. This was a turning point in Coolon’s history.
A breakthrough invention by Japanese scientist Shuji Nakamura sparked the inspiration for Coolon’s LED lighting. Nakamura, with two other engineers, invented highly efficient blue LED in Japan in 1993.
“With blue LEDs you can create white light by mixing red and green or by adding phosphor,” Alex explained. “For traditional light bulb manufacturers, switching to LEDs was a major step, while for us LED was just an electronic component with new amazing properties making it suitable for lighting.”
Coolon is a pioneer of Industrial LED lighting in Australia. The company was one of the first to provide a custom solution for the architectural market using its expertise working with semiconductor devices, and experience in the use of microprocessors and embedded software.
The facility in Hallam has several robotic assembly lines linked with modern automated component storage and test facilities, using the highest quality equipment. All products are produced within a system of full traceability and undergo multi-stage computerised testing to eliminate the probability of early failures. All assemblies are performed in-house and shipped across Australia as well as exported overseas.
“Manufacturing in-house and keeping everything under control, rather that outsourcing, is extremely important for high quality,” Alex said. “We can identify any problems before the final assembly. Failures are extremely rare, and the most important thing is that nothing is dispatched until it is 100 per cent checked, tested and ready for the client.”
LED Lighting for mining
Svetlana recalls, “In 2008 Coolon received an enquiry from BHP Mt Whaleback asking for a solution that would reduce the environmental impact and maintenance costs of lighting fixtures. BHP mentioned that the site contains between 10,000 and 15,000 light fittings and costs associated with maintenance, repair and replacement were ‘extensive’.
“Alex, together with our BDM Andrew Orkin, left for Newman, armed with probably the highest power LED luminaire prototype in the world at that time. They wanted to learn BHP’s problem first-hand and demonstrate to site management what a well-made LED luminaire was capable of. It was Coolon’s first visit to a mine site in search of new knowledge and market opportunities for our own products.”
Alex added, he knew the business could develop something to make mining operations safer and more environmentally friendly by reducing maintenance costs and improving lighting conditions for personnel.
“Our presentation and subsequent demonstrations of the first high power LED floodlight prototype at Whaleback BHP were very well received,” he said. “The trip back was full of ideas brainstorming and excitement from the realisation of how much difference our solutions could create for mine operators.”
Subsequent launch of tooling and preparation for serial production coincided with the 2008 GFC. Strong demand for iron ore allowed mines to continue producing this soon-to-be in high demand commodity. It was the right time to introduce Coolon’s new, highly reliable luminaires, which saved maintenance time for mine operators, freeing up resources to look after equipment involved in the main tasks of digging and processing the iron ore.
Thereafter, Coolon identified that many other luminaires on mine sites were often failing, as they were made using traditional, existing technologies. The release of Coolon’s conveyor light, DLK and DLK2, changed not only the frequency of servicing luminaires, but the nature of the electricians’ workload, as they were previously engaged in routinely changing bulbs and luminaires along endless conveyor lines. Instead of putting a light designed for commercial purposes into an industrial mining environment, Coolon’s approach was to design the luminaire specifically for the harsh conditions of mining operations, by visiting the mine site in person, engaging directly with the users, and learning about operating electrical, mechanical and thermal conditions.
“This approach to product development continues to this day, and, together with our attitude to quality, is a key factor to Coolon’s success,” Svetlana added. “Coolon has always put the interests of the client first.
Coolon Brilliant Connected Lights
From its humble beginnings, Coolon has its sights set on continual expansion. The Brilliant Connected Lights range is at the soft launch stage, after significant investment in research and development over three years. The project earned the company three prizes at this year’s Endeavour Awards, including Manufacturer of the Year.
Digitisation is the ultimate goal of the rapidly evolving and sometimes seemingly limitless world of Internet of Things (IoT). With this in mind, Coolon LED Lighting puts smart networking nodes inside the industry’s best, most robust lights, enabling digitisation in any mining, industrial, manufacturing, chemical, defence, food and beverage, commercial or other industry facilities.
Alex explained the digitalisation of industrial processing plants remains challenging due to the complex and often hazardous environment.
“Running cables and setting up Wi-Fi coverage is costly and disruptive to operations,” he said. “Radio signal propagation is often unpredictable due to the presence of massive steel and concrete infrastructures, as well as prevalence of electromagnetic noise from various types of equipment. Coolon’s lights now come fitted with smart wireless mesh networking nodes inside. Laying cables is not an option. The new technology acts almost like a network of satellites which can achieve a variety of things that traditionally were not done before. Luminaires are naturally positioned to provide the best wireless mesh network coverage, by being mounted in elevated positions, constantly powered, located throughout the site, routinely inspected and essential to any facility.”
Coolon smart lights nodes enable “plug-and-play” capability, offering immediate and effortless digitisation for mining and industrial sites, regardless of the size or complexity of the infrastructure. Once installed, the lights can automatically create a wireless mesh network that covers the whole site, solving connectivity challenges: one node only needs to service a limited area around itself and pass the data onto its neighbour for retransmission.
This mesh network serves as a platform to enable multiple industrial applications and IoT services. For instance, it offers the ideal backbone for asset tracking; gaining real-time site-wide visibility enables site management to instantly locate any tagged item anywhere on site, including indoors and underground, with relative precision, maximising asset utilisation efficiency and productivity.
“A range of inexpensive, battery-powered sensors enable real-time condition monitoring of many critical machines around the site,” Alex added. “This helps maintenance engineers find early warning signs of potential malfunctions, allowing them to schedule preventative maintenance, and eliminate unexpected, costly downtime. The equipment is constantly monitored and reported on, immediately alerting the operators of any deviations and anomalies, allowing maintenance to be scheduled before a malfunction occurs and preventing any accidents.”
Alex explained Coolon Brilliant Connected Lights do not only represent disruptive innovation but provide a backbone for thousands of emerging IoT-dependent services and technologies.
“We spend a lot of time and most of our money on research and development,” he said. “And we will continue to update our product range with new technology. It’s about the technology revolutionising what people do from day-to-day.”
This innovative technology holds many advantages, including improving the safety of the mining and industrial sectors. For instance:
Coolon lights make it possible to instantly account for everyone on site, locating missing workers and sending help directly to those in need in case of an accident. The mesh network enables real-time visibility into areas without the need for GPS, mobile or CB radio coverage, ensuring the safety of all site personnel, even in the most secluded areas of the facility.
Visual Emergency Status Propagation
Emergency status alerts such as lightning proximity or evacuation can be propagated through the lighting network in real-time across the site with built-in colour changing visual warning indicators. In case of an emergency, the warning indicator will switch to a pre-defined flashing colour pattern, alerting the personnel of a specific emergency status and making sure no one is caught unaware.
Every light can also act as an emergency light
Every single light is equipped with a battery, providing the power backup for both lighting and networking functions, ensuring a safe and smooth evacuation process in case of a power outage. Superior illumination uniformity and a reduction in shadowing also enhance hazard perception and visibility, maximising the safety and smoothness of the evacuation process.
A family environment
The skills shortage facing Australian manufacturing is real. Many small-to-medium sized businesses are struggling to find the right workers, which is forcing the hand of decision makers to turn to more automation.
Coolon seems to have countered the challenge by creating an environment where people want to stay, while also attracting high performing staff. Svetlana has an eye for quality that holds the team to the highest standard, but counterbalances this by facilitating the creation of a ‘family’ atmosphere on the factory floor.
“Henry Ford once said, ‘Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.’ These words directly apply to Coolon crew and constitute the base for a quality culture,” she noted. “We have a dedicated screen showing projects as they are being completed with products made by our crew. We’ve found this has a great impact on employees in seeing the results of all their hard work in the form of the final product.
“We have many people who’ve worked here for more than a decade, some more than two. We know everyone well, we’ve been through a lot together, we wrote company history together, and we all share a passion for Australian manufacturing. We share a goal to keep innovating and to be the best we can be. I value all our people, I’m proud of them, and I really mean it when I say our people are our best asset.”
Coolon’s products were in high demand during the pandemic, with staff understanding the importance of maintaining a continuous supply of products to Australia’s core industries
“There was a lot of fear in the market, uncertainty, and businesses were facing closures and laying off staff,” Svetlana said. “Coolon was prepared to sustain the income of the entire crew for up to a year in the worse-case scenario. In the end the situation changed, and we innovated and are facing excellent prospects. This was all due to the hard work and dedication of our team.”