Commentary | Jan 30, 2013

It’s the Overall Solution That Counts, Not the Single Component

The LpS 2012 in Bregenz emphasized again that customers from the lighting industry are looking more for solutions and less for components. Without proper support and an understanding of the complete application, the lighting revolution will be prolonged.

As a supplier of LED drivers, the questions that concern us are: What is the best infrastructure? Is the existing distribution channel correct? Will suppliers like us have new responsibilities when completing a product offer in the future?

Are LEDs just one choice among many for creating light? A choice that is possibly more efficient? A choice that has a longer life span? Or are they the beginning of a global lighting revolution? A revolution that will change the rules in a single decade?

Many people today believe that the only answer to the above questions can be an emphatic YES. “Yes” because LED lighting triumphs over efficiency and reliability issues. “Yes” because it adds unlimited versatility. “Yes” because lighting has finally turned “electronic”. And this change necessitates a closer look at a whole set of new criteria. It doesn’t just affect the LED and optics, but the engine that drives the entire system as well.

LEDs contain no mercury and are known to be much more efficient than conventional light bulbs. They also have a much longer life span than CFLs that contain mercury. But as “electronic devices” they require thought in order to be able to operate correctly with our traditional mains. AC voltage needs to be converted into a constant current to make LED chains shine with uniform brightness and color. What are the effects of TRIAC dimming? What happens to the millions of devices that are installed in our houses? One thing people really loved was the dimmable light bulb - and that was one thing they really missed with the energy saving fluorescent lamp. But good flicker free dimming down to almost zero is not easy to achieve with LEDs, either. It took our engineers two long years to come up with an LED driver that provides the perfect solution.

AC is only part of the story, though. What about solar driven street lighting? When the battery is fully charged at the end of a sunny day the voltage will be high enough to drive 7 or even 8 LEDs. But when it drops during operation in the night it runs low far too early. A driver was needed that could generate more drive voltage from less supply voltage. Hence, the creation of a buck/boost driver.

When we look at LED lighting as a system, the LED-driver holds a similar position as the engine in our cars. It runs and runs but when it finally wears out, it is usually the end of the entire car. This is why the reliability of LED-drivers is extremely critical to the life time of the lighting system. LEDs easily last 50,000 hours and more - so ideally this should be matched by the performance of the driver. For many of our drivers we specify a “design lifetime” of >70k hours. Moreover, RECOM also confirms it by giving a 5-year warranty.

But in all fairness, there is much more to a car than the engine alone. First and foremost there is the body shape, size and color. LED technology provides light designers with almost unlimited opportunities. What about cooling? Even though LEDs are much more efficient they cannot dissipate heat and run hot at the junction of the silicon. As in a car, effective cooling is critical for the life expectancy of the entire system. And communication? This is a standard in cars today and will be very common in lighting systems tomorrow. We will be able to switch, dim and tune lights any way we want – even from a distance, by wireless or via the internet.

There are still many open questions that the market will have to answer itself over the next period of time and we are all part of this process!

 

Stephan Wegstein
Stephan Wegstein, Dipl. Eng. studied electrical engineering at the Technical University of Darmstadt/Germany. He entered the Lighting Arena in 2008 as head of EMEA sales for Lighting at Arrow Electronics before he joined RECOM Lighting as VP Marketing & Sales in 2011. When he was responsible for the semiconductor marketing at Arrow in CE he was already focusing on LED technology and required the engineering and sales teams to support customers with this new technology. He has a well founded, deep knowledge of the LED lighting market.

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