The last few years have been an uphill struggle for OEMs and designers in the LED and solid-state lighting (SSL) markets. Persuading consumers to accept the new technology, even though it’s better for their wallets and the environment alike, hasn’t been easy. The technology’s higher prices in the rocky economic climate certainly haven’t helped. But now, no pun intended, things appear to be getting brighter.
Where It’s At
More LED products are available to consumers and lighting pros than ever before, and they all are fairly affordable. So which ones will see the most success?
A general consensus in the market is that LED products are primed to gain significant traction in lighting applications within the next four to five years. This appears to hold true across the board for commercial, residential, office, industrial, government, and hospital lighting applications, though residential and office space arenas may not be as strong as the others.
This growth spurt has as much to do with improvements in LED technology as with any other factor. LED manufacturers are continually improving their product, with no end in sight just yet.
“The next generation of directional lighting fixtures using 0.25/0.5-W surface-mount LEDs offers a combination of efficacy flexibility and high lumen performance packaged in a low-profile platform, i.e., 3.2 by 3.5 by 1.1 mm,” says Steve Klesker, product marketing manager for Avago Technologies’ Optoelectronics Products Division. “These products adhere to ANSI color bins, ranging from 2700K to 8000K CCT (correlated color temperature), which makes standardization easy for many industries.”
A home lighting product gaining in popularity with consumers is the LED-based downlight widely used in household parabolic aluminized reflective (PAR) lights. The popularity of these products in the market is evident due to the fact they are being sold throughout big-box home supply stores including Home Depot and Lowe’s, as well as the plethora of independent lighting retailers out there.
Another instance of SSL adoption, as per James Steedly, MaxLite’s director of product R&D and engineering, is this: LEDs are the number one replacement for metal halide fixtures up to 400 W for all indoor and outdoor applications. According to Steedly, LED fixtures reduce service costs by more than 75% compared to metal halide fixtures, enabling an ROI (return on investment) of under two years.
Although they have been available for some time now, retrofit bulbs and outdoor area lighting are two other areas achieving significant acceptance in the market. Brian Terao, director of SSL at Osram Opto Semiconductor, points out that individual consumers are purchasing more and more bulbs from box stores. Also there is a larger implementation of LED fixtures in parking areas, and longer stretches of roads are being illuminated with LED solutions. The penetration rate continues to be slow, though momentum will only continue to grow.
Understated yet highly significant is the custom lighting market, which accounts for a huge portion of the SSL market. Products here include solutions for a variety of specialized medical, industrial, and display applications with the highest demand from customers that are trying to convert from traditional lighting to SSL.
An important consideration here is development of LED components that are both ultra-small and very bright. It stands to reason that smaller packaging and greater light output reduces OEM costs and makes it possible to accommodate even more lighting applications. Essentially, brighter, smaller, and cheaper systems foster more unique challenges in system design.
Got OLEDs Or Other Illuminations?
Although LEDs sit on top of the SSL lighting charts, other alternatives are vying for their position. However, the competition seems to be slowing down. For commercial and general lighting, cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) and halogen components have been around longer than LEDs, and some development for these aging technologies is still going on. Organic LEDs (OLEDs) also may be making a play in the lighting space.
Not much serious R&D is being put into halogen or CCFLs, and what is being spent seems to be minute enhancements to meet specific regulations, such as EISA, California Title 24. Mark McClear, director of global applications engineering at Cree, says that OLED technology has also been around for a very long time and it is getting closer to commercial viability due to the investments made from the display markets. In the grand scheme of things, OLEDs are not viable for true general illumination.
Most likely, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) will hang around for quite some time, but they will eventually be ousted due to increasing hazardous-material legislations and mandates. And, since suitable replacements employing LEDs are not rare, there may be no need for halogens either.
“For sure, competing technologies are trying to keep LED solutions at bay as long as possible,” says John Perry, LED lighting product marketing engineer at Texas Instruments. So the explanation here is CCFLs will have a place in the market until SSL products reach cost parity. Perry also points out that OLEDs are interesting, but the practical implementation for anything but niche lighting apps is still a long way off.
“There have been significant improvements with OLED-based products that lend the technology nicely to the architectural market,” says Jim Bachle, industry manager of lighting at Wago. “However, challenges associated with cost and lumen output limit their commercial acceptance at this time.”
There appears to be consensus that OLEDs are achieving significant advancements in efficacy and their unique use of light will move them forward with LEDs. However, LEDs are still advancing much faster than any other technology. This means they are quickly approaching even better affordability and viability levels. They most definitely have already outpaced halogens and CFLs. So, it looks like LEDs will be the growth leader until further notice.
Safety: Another Consumer Concern
Many LED products were recalled in 2011. Some had minor malfunctions while others had the potential for creating fires and other safety hazards.
Many were fairly publicized. Examples include emergency exit signs recalled by Best Lighting Products due to their failure to illuminate (January 2011 through May 2011); LED nightlights recalled by Camsing Global due to a burn hazard (March 2011); and the Superex Safe To Go LED flashlight and battery set recalled on January 26, 2012, by the Consumer Product Safety Commission due to a potential fire and burn hazard. Obviously, such events have a significant impact on consumer expectations and acceptance of LED/SSL products. What can OEMs do to reverse the effects and instill consumer confidence?
“I saw a letter from a manufacturer of a light, and they were concerned about the luminosity of the product,” says András Poppe, cofounder of the MicRed office of the Mentor Graphics Mechanical Analysis Division. “The LED was embedded deeply into epoxy resin without any method of heat flow for cooling purposes. They hadn’t considered that not only will overheating reduce the light output, but they could potentially have a fire hazard on their hands as well.”
It’s hard to deny that these faulty, poorly designed products erode trust in the technology. But how much of that trust is lost really depends on how wide of a customer base was affected. If SSL acceptance is still in its infancy, these failures may just pose very minor setbacks.
“I do not think these events will have any impact on consumer confidence,” says Brett Shriver, vice president, sales, Global Lighting Technologies, “I believe consumers see these ineffective products for what they are, a low-cost, inexpensive, cheap product, and not a reflection of the technology.”
“Overall, these malfunctions will have no impact on the advancement of LEDs,” agrees Steedly.
In essence, the community of SSL experts needs to educate the product designers and make them realize the importance of safety concerns. And with LEDs, just like any other new technology, additional testing and standards compliance starts getting stricter to weed out such failures. Having a compliance marking from testing labs based on country may also alleviate customer concerns and improve consumer confidence.
Will Consumers Ever See The Light?
By now, everyone is tired of hearing how the economy has changed every market. Yet the consumer market for LED products remains challenged in good and bad economic times alike because the products are more expensive. Also, consumers ignore or overlook the long-term benefits and savings involved with a migration to SSL. What can SSL manufacturers do to reverse this situation?
The first thing they can do, and what they have been doing, is educate customers about the advantages and value of LED products. Once again, major hardware stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot and mainstream consumer retailers are devoting large amounts of space to LED products. And their staffs spend a good chunk of time demonstrating those products and educating customers about selecting and using them effectively and efficiently.
Consumers also need to see a bit beyond lower shelf prices and learn the other reasons why they are changing their light bulb: lower utility bills for the long haul and a smaller impact on their living environment.
In contrast, “When we think of lighting, we think of the A-lamp. Actually, the residential or consumer segment is one of the smallest segments of the overall lighting market, and forcing LEDs into the A-lamp form factor often comes with significant technical, cost, and quality compromises,” claims Mark McClear of Cree.
“We expect to see lots of people continue to try and push this square peg in the quest for a sub-$10 LED light bulb, but this is just not the best nor cheapest use of LED technology. The far bigger market and far better use of LED lighting is actually in commercial and municipal applications,” McClear adds.
Consistent consumer education also is important. “Education of upfront cost versus savings over time needs to be continually reinforced,” says Brian Terao, director of solid-state lighting at Osram Opto Semiconductor. “Given the long-term/life-of-product perspective, LEDs are more cost-effective than existing conventional solutions in many applications. Lower costs drive lower prices, and the SSL industry has demonstrated that ongoing trend.”
What’s Hot Right Now?
The Avago Technologies HLMP-Lx75, HLMP-Hx74/75, and HLMP-Ax74/75 series of high-brightness oval through-hole LEDs raise the performance bars for electronic signage applications (Fig. 1). Their matched RGB radiation patterns maintain consistent light and uniform color mixing from all viewing angles.
The HLMP-Lx75 and HLMP-Hx74/75 LED series offer a typical viewing angle of 40° by 100°, and the HLMP-Ax74/75 LEDs offer 30° by 70°. The aluminum-indium-gallium-phosphide (AlInGaP) LEDs are available at a 626-nm dominant wavelength, and the green indium-gallium-nitride (InGaN) and blue InGaN LEDs are available at 530 nm and 470 nm, respectively. Prices start at $0.12 each in lots of 2000.
The OL2 series 2- by 2-ft square LED flat-panel downlight assembly from Global Lighting Technologies provides a brighter, lighter weight, and more efficient replacement for like-sized fluorescent lay-in troffers (Fig. 2). It employs the company’s edge lighting technology with 100 LEDs spaced along two sides of the light guide for optimal light dispersion.
Four models are available. Color temperatures range from warm white to cool white (3000K, 4000K, 5000K, and 6000K). Brightness (luminous flux) ranges from 2050 lm to 2840 lm, with efficiencies from 45.5 lm/W (at 3000K) to 62.8 Lm/W (at 6000K). Color rendering index (CRI) is greater than 75%, power consumption is 45 W, and lifespan is 30,000 hours. Price begins at $122.79 each in quantities of 100.
TT electronics Optoelectronics’ OPA779 series provides lighting for retail display, architectural, under-counter, refrigeration, mobile food service, and point-of-sale displays (Fig. 3). Typical LED pitch is 1.5 in., and CCT ranges from 5000K to 7000K. Total luminous flux, depending on device, ranges from 40 lm to 180 lm with a maximum current drive range from 35 mA to 175 mA.
The operating temperature ranges from 0°C to 70°C. The OPA779 series is packaged in an acrylic water-resistant assembly suitable for indoor use only. Pricing begins at $13.05 each for the OPA779D-616 and $22 for the OPA779D-1169.
Flaunting maximum flexibility and minimal size, the Oslon Square LED from Osram Opto Semiconductors handles a wide range of applications including designer luminaires for the home or office, retrofits, and streetlights (Fig. 4). Available in many versions with different color temperatures, it can be operated with different currents. Like the Oslon SSL, the Square measures 3 by 3 mm, has a thermal resistance of 4 to 3.8 K/W, and features a robust package suitable for outdoor use.
The LED chip is enclosed by a reflective package that reflects light emitted at the side or at the back so all light is usable. Other features include a color temperature of 3000K, a viewing angle of 120°, and a CRI of at least 80. At an operating current of 700 mA, the LED achieves a luminous efficacy above 90 lm/W and a luminous flux of 200+ lm. At 350 mA, its efficacy exceeds 100 lm/W.
As time moves forward, SSL lighting seems to be getting a better foothold in its various target markets and will continue to do so. “Unit pricing of finished goods will continue to decline as the industry approaches full utilization of efficiencies associated with automated production,” says Jim Bachle, industry manager of Lighting at Wago. “Education and public awareness of the inherent benefits of SSL technology will remove some of the anxiety associated with change. In other words, seeing is believing!”