So, you have this great new LED, generated a wonderful 130 lumens per watt. Life is good. Is this representative of real energy savings? What about Power Factor and its impact on the demand it places on the energy grid? What’s up with THD and what does it mean? Do either of these detract from the energy savings of new technologies using electronic power supplies? (more…)
I planned to take a short break from the madness of creating a new product each week… that has turned into half a year, which was not the intention at all. For fun, I offer the following as an insight into what has been going on.
The time has been spent looking at the market overall, it’s direction, and areas where there are values to be offered. I’ve also had a chance to look at what I was doing, how it was working for me personally, and for my customers. Among all of this has been my own design efforts, some to satisfy my own needs around the office and home, others to experiment, and still more working with customers to solve new an interesting problems. I wish I could share everything that;s been happening, but that’s not possible due to NDAs and all that top secret tech stuff.
What I can share is that I have been working on a product line of my own, as announced a few weeks ago. I will show more of this soon. Unlike all SSL projects being pursued by others, it is not going to start the universe ablaze, nor is it going to rock the market. Tasca is, a nich market product targeted at customers outside the mainstream, where I can pick off a few targets and provide value. This project has included over a year in experimenting between active projects, and the last 3 months in continuous testing. The first of the tooled components arrived last month, and the first full on prototypes are cooking along in durability testing, as I refine some details. More on this soon…
Tasca aside, the break really was not a break at all, just a redirection of energy used last year to build 52 strange little designs…
Anyone who has ever owned and operated their own business can probably relate to this one. A large organization present an attractive opportunity, promising autonomy, a large budget, the freedom to succeed using their money. Add to this the prestige of that executive position, some lucrative incentives, and well… your mind starts to wander. Even the most committed can be drawn off course by such things, especially when facing the continued drag the economy can be at times. That was Zenaro this April. They are a good group of people, with the new crew building up nicely… Yet, no matter how hard I tried to divorce myself from my little universe (Lumenique), I couldn’t bring myself to a full on divorce – closing it outright. I like my little corner of the world, and the folks who come by and let me play with their toys.
At the end of May, I returned to my own efforts here, and picked up where I left off. Zenaro was nice enough to accept this, and have asked that I continue to help, as consultant. This was a close call, that reminded me just how much I value what I’m doing and how, and all that has been built around that. I’m also thankful that all of my customers hung in and waited me out. Those that knew me best knew what I didn’t at the time, offering some interesting “WTF” emails. This path also led me to inventory the assets of what Lumenique had become, and assess its value to me, and what I can bring to others.
With all of this now part of history, the next step is to get back to the work of moving forward. With a fairly complete model shop capable of machining, plastic modeling, powder coating, metal forming, photometric and electrical testing, not to mention outright short run manufacturing, I can make all sorts of things. Add a few reliable vendors for optics, LEDs, electronics, and hard tooled parts, and short run manufacturing is in the bag. This will be used to support the Tasca effort, as well as serve customers needs for prototypes and test rigs – not to mention help with strategic product marketing.
Architectural SSL magazine also remains an important interest for editorial exploration. The SSL market is still nascent, making it a rich environment for potential large scale transformation within lighting. I am really looking forward to the coming ArchLED’11 event coming in November, our annual bash.
While all of this seems very much as it was before, the most significant course correction is in maturing the approach to SSL in the lighting market. The technology has grown tremendously over the last 5 years, and will continue to integrate itself into the fabric of the market space. Rather than simply advise others that the time is now to get in, it’s time to put my own neck on the line and jump in with both feet and hands.
A Last Word or Two
I will address this in a future entry here, but just wanted to touch on a subject dear to me – that of the role of small players in the lighting market, and how SSL is impacting them. Of all the subjects that have caused me to loose sleep, this is a big one. If there is a place for small entities to exist, and opportunities to succeed, I want to be there. If not, I need to move on and abandon the thought as obsolete. I’ve vacillated on this topic, from feeling there is no hope (leading to considering moving back into a corporate seat), to visions of conquering small hero’s rescuing the market from the blandness of low cost leadership through massive production capacity from exploited labor. In the end, I’ve settled back on the reality that this market has room for us all, large and small. I’ll share more on this another time.
It’s good to be back on track and re-energized!
There are many things I keep around me for perspective, my way of keeping time. I find the passing of technologies interesting, and attempt to understand how the transformations came about, and where they add real value – and where they don’t. For example, I have this great little carboard calculator issued by GE (dated 1973.) It describes incandescent lamp bases on the front, and shapes on the back, with instructions on identification of lamps by model numbering. Note that there is no reference to the MR16 lamp or base, as this was not yet in the market. Inside this little gem is a calculator that shows the impact of operating voltage on light output, power use and lamp life. I used this in customer presentations for years, as well as calculating dimming effects of light output and lamp longevity. So, today this is nothing more than a relic, a novelty from the past. CFL and now SSL is rapidly putting the lamps involved out of the market, and the government is aligned for the kill shot.
Another item I have in my care is a GE Model DW-48 light meter, this one a 1940 model. It has a dual purpose. It reads footcandles for general illumination use, and provides F stop data for photographers. This was left to me by my father when he passed, and remains a favorite of my lighting instruments. Interestingly, this meter reads LED light levels just fine. Unlike some of the modern meters I have, this meter remains within a 5%+/- range of true readings. I recently purchased an Amprobe LM-200LED meter for a field device after discovering other meters were giving me odd readings. The Amprobe device is really good for the $100 asking price, and provides reading in line with what I see using a full blown sprectroradiometer. So does the DW-48, reading virtually the same as my Amprobe, and with less variability than my Minolta T10M and Testo meters. I also like the deco styling, metal and glass enclosure. However, its not very useful in low light conditions, as the meter face is not illuminated and black, making it more a curiosity than a functional meter for daily use. Besides, if it gets damaged, it would break my heart, since it is more than a meter to me personally.
As we rush into the future of lighting, I can’t help but smile at the thought that one day we will look back at what we have in our hands today and feel nostalgic at its crudeness and simplicity. We are heading into a bold new future, that will be obsolete at a rate that will embarrass all prior technologies that have swept through this industry. Just look at one of the original K series LEDs mounted on a star board – it’s got nostalgia written all over it! I have bins full of LEDs, drivers, power supplies and circuit boards that are so far out of date (made just 5 years ago BTW) that I can’t see using them on anything, regardless of their expense. I can get more for so much less today.
For the real cynics out there (I be one), I find it truly entertaining when I am exposed to the myopia of techno-philes now in SSL, who actually believe that LEDs are the ultimate end-all to general illumination. The future is not that predictable. We can be certain of but one thing – that there is someone out there today or in the near future, with ideas beyond LEDs as we know them, that will eclipse what we are able to imagine today.
The following note was sent to me for posting by the previous President of Kim Lighting:
“Hello Kevin. I enjoy reading your articles and seeing your “52 in 52″ work…. (more…)
I am personally exhausted with the constant barrage of PR hype clowns that have invaded the entire SSL market space, it’s like a bad virus that feeds on active brain cells like some zombie brain eating monster that insists on howling at the top of its lungs whenever it thinks its done something interesting. The lighting market has always had a little bit of a stomach pit inducing illness, with claims made that are silly and obviously not founded on the reality normal humans are forced to exist within. However, what has been happening over the last 5 years coming from the SSL universe is an all new illness, it’s far more aggressive, and more painful.
Part of this is due to a change in paradigm regarding marketing. In the past, lighting companies employed in-house marketing people, who used local marketing agencies to place ads, or do some graphic work on catalogs. I know, as this is the function I performed for three leading product manufacturers for almost 20 years. We communicated to our target audience through reps, catalog sheets, web sites, trade shows, and an occasional letter campaign. Few actually used big PR agencies with broad marketing campaigns aimed into the wind. Know why? Simple, they are really expensive, so were never even considered as affordable, let alone useful. Most have zero knowledge of the market, think that that lack of knowledge is not an issue, and cost more for a few press releases than most total marketing budgets for an entire year. It takes the funding of venture capital to back a company with the funds needed to spend what they do on PR, while at the same time producing the need to broadcast their message to the world at large to support investors who are outside this market. The result, we now have a pile of non-lighting PR agencies with bullhorns, blaring whatever their customer companies (also non-lighting people) tell them is news to our once relatively quiet lighting world. The resulting din is akin to a neighbor who can’t seem to listen to music without cranking the dial up on an expensive amp to “11″. To make matters worse, the music selection is like bump-bump rap, the same noise, over and over and over, drumming and pounding messages of efficacy world records and earth shattering performance that will save the planet from certain destruction by incandescence, and fluorescence.
To make all of this even more painful, is that this virus is unpredictable. One day I get pounded with three releases that when exposed to the light of day squirm off the screen and hide under a table. You’ve seen them, the claims of a 12W LED product with a CBCP of 4,000, and 800 lumens beating a 70W Ceramic Metal Halide producing 22,000 CBCP and 2,100 lumens – or the claims that the LEDs used will last a lifetime, or that if everyone used the product, our teeth would become whiter, and our skin smoother. Anything goes here, from claims of efficacies of 180 lumens per watt (at some stupid CCT), to performance comparisons that are simply fiction no matter how you look at it. Then, the next day, you get an interesting release about a color control system that, well, oddly enough… actually provides something useful and interesting. Unfortunately the ratio of garbage to inspiration is heavily weighted toward the landfill side of the formula.
The cultural shift that surrounds solid-state is not founded on anything the electronics gurus believe. Contrary to the impression that we are slow-witted laggards, we lighting people will absorb and put SSL, to use, just as we have every other useful technology that has come before it. When the SSL providers actually produce lighting product (not just the LEDs, not just an electronic gadget, but a real live luminaire product) we will find uses for it, IF it works, produces a benefit beyond just using LEDs, and if the price makes sense in balance to the benefits realized. By this, I mean benefits in lighting terms, as we define it, not in terms of PR baloney, engineer pipe dreams, or marketing department trickery – I mean in real terms, using real data, real photometric tests, etc… The electronics gurus give us too little credit here, and don’t see where the real culture clash is founded – a huge difference in the perception of money.
The difference between an SSL start up and a lighting industry start up is spectacular. The vast majority of lighting industry startups began from the personal checkbooks and savings accounts of individuals, who worked their way into a market one step at a time, sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, and rarely with much fanfare from expensive marketing entities from New York or Chicago executive towers. We are talking about real world, grass roots, dirty hands startups. Solid-state startups, at least by the time we see them, have a lot more money at hand… a lot. Most have more cash from venture capitalists than most lighting company startups realize in total sales after 20 years of effort. Having a starting fund of $20M is not unusual in an SSL startup, while I personally know of dozens of lighting manufacturers who started with less than a few thousand, scraped out of personal savings.
The result of all of this, like the invasion of South America by the Spaniards, is the spread of SSL Hype Clown Virus. A lyric from a recent Pink! album (Funhouse) illustrates this well… “This museum’s full of ash, once a tickle, now a rash… this used to be a fun house, now its filled with evil clowns….” Unfortunately, behind all this overly aggressive and ridiculous press is a population of really creative technicians, who are making strides and inventing new things we will all come to put to work. It’s kind of like having a best friend married to a loud and obnoxious partner – in the end you avoid them both to maintain sanity. There is a part of this happening in the adoption cycle of SSL. There are more than a few potential customers who are so sickened by SSL HCV they can’t see the great technology behind it.
There needs to be some effort to vaccinate this market from the most aggressive forms of the PR sickness. This can only come from the solid-state providers themselves, reigning in what has become a real evil-clown parade, leaving behind horse apples and associated stench. We lighting people are not going to respond to this positively. We have heard so much trash talk, been promised the impossible, and seen so many ridiculous claims, that we’re becoming deaf to the noise, reducing the effectiveness of any releases going forward anyway. Might as well try a new angle – clarity, realistic statements, backed by independent test results and data we can all put to use. Fire the high power marketing agencies, spend the money on more product, and communicate to us all like the professionals we are.
As I move most of my application content to SSL Interactive I struggled to find the time and purpose for this blog entity. Then, it came to me – do what I intended to do all along. Share personal projects, provide projects with instructions for others to try for themselves, and let the pundit clowns who are spoiling the SSL universe have it with both barrels.
I have come to a point where I am simply sickened by the bull that this industry attracts. In a free market system there is no way for a governmental agency to clean this up, so the only real recourse is for those who seethe crap to expose and pound on those who spew it with a hammer. So, let’s get ready to rumble. It’s not only time we clean up the environment, it’s time we clean up the environmentalists, the SSL clowns, and the marketing shills and scam artists!
There is one universal truth in all solid-state components, LEDs included – HEAT is the enemy. There is no escaping the loss in performance and life that results from heat within an LED device. The reason packaged High Brightness LED devices do as well as they do comes down to one key factor – thermal management. Inside those innocuous looking devices is a slug of copper that conducts heat from the LED and delivers it to the PCB, or MCPCB directly. This is considerably more effective than the 5mm (and similar through hole design) products, which have virtually no heat sink beyond the legs and one small bit of metal under the reflector cup. The illustrations here show this in better detail.
The standard 5mm, or through hole style LED is just fine for what it was invented for – loads of a fraction of a watt, and use for indicators that were operated intermittently. It’s when this design is loaded with high output LED die driven at higher currents, then operated continuously, that causes these things to fall apart. Thermal design is all about staying ahead of the heat gain. Fail that and the microchip can’t survive. First lumen output suffers, then ultimately the die begins to break down. In the worst cases, the bond wires melt or break from thermal expansion and contraction.
HB Packaged LED devices are designed specifically to manage the additional heat of high current operation and continuous duty that general illumination requires.
In addition, this thermal conductor design allows luminaire engineers to draw heat away from the LEDs through metal circuit boards, heat sinks, and other designs that pull heat from that internal slug and distributes it. This cannot be done effectively on through hole LEDs (5mm or others), as the stand off legs simply cannot conduct heat effectively from the die inside.
HB package devices also include considerably more reflector area and optical control around the LED die. This amplifies the performance of the die inside, as well as producing control from more precise placement of the LED inside luminaire optical systems.
As a general rule, surface mount LED devices should be held to elss than 1/4 watt, and driven at no more than 10 to 30 mA. Common package devices using high quality LED die and proper internal and external thermal management can reach power levels up to 5 watts at drive currents of 700 mA. At the extreme end, LED packages have been deployed that exceed 200W, while delivering reasonable life and lumen depreciation – although these devices require expert engineering development and are generally very specific in application. Try any of this with a through hole device and the result will be a little pop and barely visible flash as it expires.
While I appreciate and am an enthusiast for SSL, my personal interest extends beyond the white light universe. I personally belive that in the very long haul, fixed white light will eventually give way to blended color, specifically R+G+B+W. Actually, more like Red Orange + Green + Cyan + 6,500K White . In either case, this approach has the potential of producing the complete white light tonal range, pastel soft light colors, interior color tuning, and exterior vision enhancement. Above all, these combination create the potential for the deployment of “Visual Efficacy” we have not yet had an opportunity to approach. (more…)
For anyone who has read my contributions to Architectural SSL magazine, or Illuminate, this blog, my web site, or comments on various industry groups, one might believe I fail to remain objective about solid-state. In my defense, I do simultaneously propose that solid-state is a technology that will lead lighting to all new quality solutions, while attacking product of poor quality, or of dubious value to the market sold on the momentum of interest that exists for LEDs.
To be perfectly clear – I am not an advocate of retrofitting conventional lighting in general – while it has its place in the near term, it fails to deliver the real value of LEDs, places thermal stress on a source thjat already suffers enough from that, and packages LEDs into lumps that give away the design value of solid-state in order to serve a market emotionally attached to the familiar and fearful of anything truly new. Retrofit CFL lamps are a failure, for exactly the same reasons. Meanwhile, fluorescent lighting, from small to large, is a huge success, based on new products developed to bring their unique capabilities to the market. (more…)