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Phoster Lighting

Eran Plonski (left) and Douglas Mendelman stay cool under the glow of Phoster units: So little heat is generated by the LED lights, the assistants' hands barely get warm.

Eran Plonski was an independent lighting designer in the fall of 2003 when he developed a retrofit solution for CN's emergency flashlights, providing the railway with a staggering eight-day return on their investment once the new and improved technology was adopted.

Two weeks ago today, Plonski was rubbing shoulders with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a ceremony in Brooklyn for the lighting of Coney Island's landmark Parachute Jump midway ride.

little heat is generated from the LED

Plonski, founder and president of 2-year-old Phoster Lighting Inc., collaborated with light artist Leni Schwendinger of New York's Light Projects Ltd. to come up with a unique way to illuminate the historic Parachute Jump as part of a multi-million-dollar makeover of the world-famous amusement park.

When the switch was hit at 9 p.m. on July 7, thousands saw Phoster's custom LED-powered lighting system of 450 high-brightness bulbs send out red beams as far as four kilometres from atop the 91.5-metre-tall structure.

LED stands for light-emitting diode, which is a semiconductor device that emits an energy-saving source of light that is more direct as well as higher in output and lower in wattage with true colours.

The $250,000 (U.S.) project through the New York Economic Development Corp. isn't Phoster's only Big Apple contract.

High-profile clients also include Vornado Realty Trust, one of the largest owners and managers of real estate in the United States, with a portfolio of approximately 58 million square feet, and Glenwood Management, with luxury residential rentals in Manhattan.

Initial deals with both enterprises have been worth more than $250,000 U.S. each.

"When they first came to New York and presented to us, we were skeptical," Steve Sonitis, vice-president of operations at Vornado, said in a phone interview.

Plonski and longtime friend Douglas Mendelman, who serves as Phoster's director of business development and runs the New York office, met with Sonitis and his mechanical engineer for two hours.

They presented a prototype LED lighting system for elevators that persuaded Sonitis to buy them for the 40 elevator cabs at One Penn Plaza, the 57-storey office tower owned by Vornado.

"We were going through lights like crazy because they were too hot," he said, noting "we had one guy changing elevator lights every week."

Although "the up-front cost was a lot of money," Sonitis acknowledged, "the payback is fast."

"Just the heat factor alone, you save," he added, referring to lower air-conditioning costs because LED lighting is cooler.

Other savings come from longer-lasting and near maintenance-free bulbs. Plonski said LED bulbs burn for 50,000 hours before any downgrade and an additional 50,000 hours before burning out compared with 1,000-2,000 hours for conventional incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent.

After $40,000 in sales in their first year, Foster is anticipating about $1.4 million in 2006 revenues.

It was never the intent for Phoster to actually produce the lights, however.

"We were going to be consultants, not manufacturers," Mendelman said during a trip back to the Montreal facility this week.

"We can't solve all lighting problems, but nobody was servicing (LED lighting for illumination applications)," he added.

Estimating the LED market to be in the billions, Plonski said the goal now is to turn Phoster's custom solutions expertise toward standard products for several end users - with an emphasis on the high-margin market.

The Tidan Group of Companies in Montreal, which has not only provided Phoster with office space but also bankrolled the young firm $50,000 for the Coney Island project, is in discussions with Plonski to use the technology for its own revenue-producing properties.

"We'll be looking at their fixtures for the elevators and corridors of our hotels," Tidan corporate counsel Ian Copnick said, referring to Le Meridien, Chateau Versailles, Maritime Plaza and Travelodge Montreal Centre.

"We hope to have a long tenant and supplier relationship with them."

For more information, visit www.phosterlighting.com