03. May 2016

The Rise of LED lighting

LED Lighting is here and it’s growing. And as the technology matures and becomes more widely deployed, so too do the design and manufacturing techniques employed in creating new, innovative LED lighting products. Consequently, the market for components associated with LED lighting is already becoming highly competitive.

The lighting market share of LED lighting technologies has grown rapidly. According to McKinsey, in 2010, LED’s represented just 14%. By 2016, this has grown to 58%, and is predicted to rise to 78% by 2020.  This massive growth has been driven by three main factors.

The first of these is the reduction in price of LED technologies in comparison with other available technologies. Not only does this price reduction mean that it is relatively cheaper to specify LED lighting units verses other technologies, but the installation cost has also fallen relative to the cost of energy used. Given that LEDs use as little as 20% of the energy consumed by other technologies and can be virtually maintenance free for up to 50,000 hours of operation, this has significantly shifted comparisons of total cost of ownership greatly in favour of LEDs.

The second factor is a shift in the regulatory environment. Many countries have introduced laws or other statutory mechanisms aimed at reducing CO2 emissions.  The greater energy efficiency of LED lighting versus other technologies is an easy option for those specifying lighting for streets, indoor areas or road signs when seeking to reduce attributable CO2. In addition, other regulations have been put in place to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in lighting units, to make them easier to recycle, or to extend the life expectancy of lighting units. A good example is the European regulations in 2015 that ban the future specification of Mercury Vapour street lights.

The final major factor in the growth of LED lighting is the expanding range of applications to which designers are applying the technology. As mentioned, very effective LED street lighting solutions are becoming common across Europe as new lamps are installed and old ones upgraded. Increasingly, LEDs are being used to light road signs and motorway direction boards. But LEDs are also appearing as indoor lighting solutions, and these present a whole new range of challenges to designers.

Many indoor applications, both domestic and industrial, require a level of ‘ingress protection’ or IP. This may be for reasons such as protecting the lighting unit from ink mist, water vapour, dust or other substances. LEDs lend themselves well to these applications due to their low levels of waste heat and small size.

While outdoor lighting applications are often about efficiency and creating as much light as possible from as little energy as possible, indoor applications often have an additional ‘quality’ element in their specification. This is particularly important in signage and advertising. Because of their small size, LEDs are particularly suitable for innovative distributed designs of back-lighting.

By positioning LEDs around the inside edges of the frame, designers can achieve a very even spread of light across the sign producing a brilliant image without ‘hot spots’. To avoid shadows and dull spots, components such as PCB terminal block connectors and discrete wire cables must be ‘light neutral’, preferably white in colour, and with very small profiles above the PCB to eliminate shadows. PCBs are usually white coated to maximise reflection, but it is remarkably easy for components such as connectors to cause a dull spot by discolouring during reflow soldering (which heats the components as well as the PCB and contact points).

While this same issue obviously occurs in other forms of decorative and domestic display lighting, it is particularly the case for the higher quality performance industrial indoor area lighting, both High-Bay and Low-Bay.  In the past, to avoid the problem of shadowing and discoloured dull-spots, most LED lighting PCBs were hand soldered for wire-to-board connectivity. However, this creates other disadvantages, such as the high-cost of manual work, disruption of automated manufacturing processes, and failures due to leaving excess tin-solder on the PCB (short circuits). Add to this the sheer difficulty of soldering onto the energy absorbent PCB`s used to conduct power to LEDs, where tin-solder does not reach its melting temperature caused by the PCB being specifically designed to dissipate heat.

The result is the development of SMT PCB terminal block connectors such as the HARTING har-flexicon®, designed specifically to deliver power to LED lighting units. These connectors are available in a white high temperature LCP plastic material that is compliant with the reflow processing requirements of the thermally conductive metal PCB substrates.  They also satisfy the high lighting quality conditions of minimized shadowing by remaining colour-stable after SMT processing, and during the light’s operational life because of the LCP material’s high resistance to UV damage.

LED lighting lifetime is further extended through har-flexicon® pluggable discrete wire cable connectors that feature highly reliable push-in spring-cage discrete wire termination and have a strong but flexible locking-latch design which is damage resistant, ensuring dependable mating and field maintenance.

As LED lighting continues to become the lighting standard technology, innovation in how units are applied and manufactured will surely also continue to match developments. Energy prices will no-doubt continue to drive the uptake of efficient LED lighting in many markets, but as the market continues to mature, manufacturers must look to better quality products created through more efficient processes. Connectors are bound to be an important part of both.

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