It was 2003, and Norlux’s future was looking shaky. The LED applications company was a subsidiary of Uniroyal Technology Corp. (UTC), which was going into bankruptcy. The chairman of the UTC board approached Doug Hamilton and John DiNardi, the founders of Norlux, and offered to sell the company to them. There was one catch: they needed another investor, and they had two weeks to get one.
For a LED lighting company whose major clients would later become airplanes, Norlux’s lucky break came at an airport. With the two weeks’ crunch, Hamilton and DiNardi worked their networks to find an interested investor. They hit upon a lead: Tom Schreiber of Touch Sensor Technologies knew an investor who could fit the bill.
“One thing,” said Schreiber. “He’s at Chicago O’Hare airport about to board a flight.”
The stars aligned for Norlux that day, though. The flight was delayed, giving Mike Hayes, the angel investor, the time to drive back to Chicago to meet with Hamilton and DiNardi. The deal was signed there. Norlux now had the funds to reach for success on its own, without the baggage of the parent company.
And it has certainly reached success. Growing to over 60 employees, with 18 engineers with LED expertise, the company has been named among Inc. Magazine’s 5000 fastest growing private companies for the past two years. Norlux has retrofit 55 Delta Airlines Boeing 767 aircraft with linear and reading lights, and counts NASA, 3M, Disney, and many others among its clients.
Norlux has a capability for both design and manufacturing of LEDs, unique among LED companies. Tucked in the outskirts of Chicago in Carol Stream, IL, the company’s red brick, one-story headquarters contains full design, manufacturing, and testing facilities.
LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, have an average lifespan of about 50,000 hours, compared with 1,200 hours for incandescent light bulbs and 8,000 hours for compact fluorescents (CFLs). LEDs use around 6-8 watts of electricity for every 60 watts used by incandescent light bulbs, and emits very little heat.
The main barrier to adoption of LEDs is the cost. For the same light output, consumers would have to spend at least $20 for a LED, whereas an incandescent bulb can be bought for under $1. However, the LED bulb would vastly outlast the incandescent bulb, which is what makes them attractive for commercial venues where lights must be on constantly and for circumstances where it is crucial to have constant light, such as in medical applications.
Rising demand from these commercial applications, as well as advances in the semiconductor field, may help to bring down the costs of LED lighting for home consumers.