Archive for the ‘General Commentary’ Category

The recent article: LED Bulb Efficiency Surges, But Light Quality Lags states very well the findings of the DOE and others reviewing LED retrofit lamp performance. While well stated, there are severl missing dynamic issues in the conversation that need to be included if LED is to overcome the failure of the CFL to capture the consumer market it so desperately seeks to dominate.

While efficient, there has been no great interest in the consumer market to lamps with poorer quality at higher prices.

While efficient, there has been no great interest in the consumer market to lamps with poorer quality at higher prices.

The CFL lamp has failed in the consumer market for these reasons:

  1. Light quality is poor in comparison to the far cheaper incandescent lamp. This includes color quality, distribution (photometric) pattern is poor (flood type products)
  2. Appearance and fit of the product into existing fixtures – i.e. ugly to look at, stick out of fixtures, create dark spots in shades and fixture diffusers, etc.
  3. They did not last as long as advertised. When switched frequently, the life of a CFL screw base product can be shorter than a long life incandescent. In outdoor cold climate environments, some fail within a few months. In down-lights and enclosed fixtures most fail even more quickly.
  4. They cost too much compared to incandescent of higher quality
  5. They save some energy, but have so many other liabilities the consumer does not take this seriously.
  6. Flickering starts, flicker under dimming, and 120Hz strobe effects from cheap ballast designs
  7. Slow to warm to full brightness – often taking longer to get up to full light than many products are on for in many rooms (pantry, closet, hallway, etc.)
  8. Mercury disposal concerns for some


08285I have a fondness for the halogen lamp. From the little 20W bi-pin 12V burners to the 500W double ended monsters, the combination of light quality, simplicity, toughness, light density and versatility filled a special place in the hearts of lighting designers for decades. While there were also  larger iterations of the technology reaching 20,000W, even the most halogen crazed found them to be a bit over the top, setting them aside for special applications. In my own experience, the 20W through 75W 12V burners, 15W through 65W MR16, 35 through 50W PAR36 and 75W through 250W mini-can line voltage lamps hit the spot for a wide range of focused and unfocused lighting product designs. For my personal portable lamp works, the low voltage burners, MR16 and the PAR36 lamps were my favorites. I could create live-structures (where the fixture acted as conductor) using remote 12V power supplies, allowing sculptures to be simple to the extreme.

This simple bridge design was created using building and armature wire, a PAR36 halogen lamp, and a ball bearing counter weight.

This simple bridge design was created using building and armature wire, a PAR36 halogen lamp, and a ball bearing counter weight.

When LEDs arrived on the scene in the late 1990′s, I caught a glimmer of what was to come. By the year 2002, it was obvious that solid-state would be delivering something new, and that the properties of the source technology shared a great deal with the halogen lamp from a lighting perspective, with a huge advantage – far less heat, much tougher and resistant to impact, and very long lived. The only issue was, color quality was initially poor, consistency from LED to LED was awful, and light output per individual LED device was pathetic. This required designs utilize a number of LEDs mounted to circuit boards, wired to drivers that were clumsy at best. The complexity of LEDs in the earlier stages were compounded by the lack of available components, which meant one-off application of the technology was out of reach for anyone not up for custom electronics design. (more…)

To set things off on the proper foot – I do not like complexity when it is not necessary. I’ve noted many times that if energy were free and maintenance was not a consideration, the perfect light source is the tungsten halogen lamp. This technology delivers a very attractive white light, is very easy to control, provides optical focus, and is as simple as it can get. The low voltage versions of this technology are equally attractive, accepting that transformers were a horrible thing to tag onto an otherwise neat little light source. I have made hundreds of lights using halogen lamps, mainly 12V versions, starting back in 1985. It was my go-to light source. I still have boxes of transformers and sockets, acquired over years of making lights for myself and others.

Applying LEDs in efficient lighting designs is no more complex than use of any other source, just more productive.

Applying LEDs in efficient lighting designs is no more complex than use of any other source, just more productive, and attractive than CFL or other conventional “efficiency” improving sources.

That said, there is no escaping that energy is an issue, and maintenance is a pain. The cost of operating halogen technologies is simply impossible to bear. This is why we have HID sources with all their ugly liabilities, and the fluorescent lamp.  While I get HID technology as a giant super-power halogen device, it has always been a clumsy, heavy, messy engineering gadget that sets aside the art of lighting for raw lumen energy. Fluorescent lamps have are a source you are forced to live with, in an uninspired, just-get-lumens-in -the-box sort of way. There is very little to love about their scale, lack of focus-ability, ballast hardware, delicate tubes, and ghastly glow. I’ve specified millions of these lamps into existence, wishing every time there was a better way. I never made a single art light using fluorescent lamps, not because itsn’t possible, but because I never liked them enough to give them that part of my time.

The emergence of solid-state lighting, specifically LEDs, hit me in two ways. One, I get the small controllable source I had with 12V halogen. Second, I get the efficiency and raw lumen potential of fluorescent that made it indispensable. Because of this, the last time I made a light using halogen technology was in 2004, and that product was converted to an LED sources in 2006. For my own use, every halogen light I made from 1993 to 2004 still in use around the house, has been converted to LED. Every new fixture made since 2005 has incorporated an LED light source, without exception. I do not use retrofit lamps. I either tear down and rebuild products to utilize LEDs properly, or design them around LEDs in the first place. (more…)

I’ve gone around in circles over the expanding complexity we find ourselves in. While I understand the benefits we enjoy, it comes at the price of elevating product beyond the understanding and serviceability of a growing number of end users. At least that’s what I once thought. In deeper reflection, the reality is most end users don’t understand how things work at the less complex level, so any elevation from that has little real impact. For example, the internal combustion engine has been around for a century. The percentage of the population that drives cars, who understand the fundamental principles of this technology is probably on the order of 25%. Of those, what percentage understand the basics of fuel injection? Of those, how many can explain why the engine in a modern day Corvette can generate 50% more power of the 1972 426 Chrysler Hemi, using 70% less fuel, generating 97% less emissions, and last 3 times as long? While there is a romantic notion that previous eras were simpler, that products were hand made and tougher than they are today, these are unsupported fantasies. Old products are almost always heavier, lower performing, and requiring of more regular service. (more…)

While we all know how infallible Einstein was. Yet, all previous scientific genius has come into question as time passes. At some point, the whole issue of traveling at the speed of light, and Einstein’s assertion that this is the cosmic speed limit, will be seriously challenged. We might keep in mind two points: 1.) Just a few decades ago, the speed of sound was considered an impossible barrier, 2.) Einstein’s use of the speed of light as a constant, with mass a variable, was a convenience to completing mathematics, not founded on actual study of the velocity of photons, or the rubberiness of the properties of mass.  But lets put all this aside a moment and assume the speed of light is just really fast, and see if it’s even relevant.

There are a few things we know in fair certainty. One is that the human body cannot sustain high rates of acceleration for long periods of time. Aerobatic pilots can train to sustain upwards of 7G for a few seconds, military pilots very brief encounters slightly above that. With exceptional training effort, sustaining high G forces is a significant issue for humans in attaining the speed of light. Here’s why: The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. That’s 669,600,000 miles an hour, or 982,080,000 ft./s. If we were to accelerate at a rate of 1G (32 ft/s/s) it would take 1 year to reach the speed of light, 118 days at 3G, and 71 days at 5G – the upper limit of endurance of human physiology for short bursts. So, let’s assume that exceptionally trained pilots and crew could manage to withstand 3G for 118 days, it’s possible they could survive and attain light speed velocity (near light speed for those unable to get past Einstein as infallible). (more…)

It appears there is some confusion over what I do for customers, and who I compete with. While I’ve not helped anything by announcing that we make products now under the Tasca name, I’ve recieved some odd feedback that indicates that there are suppliers out there who think I am competing with my own customers – which is patently false. So, to set things straight, her’s what’s going on:

1.) Lumenique is first and foremost a design resource to lighting and electronics product producers. We now provide design, prototyping, preliminary testing, market and product research, and application evaluations. With the addition of Angie, who focuses on research, data acquisition and evaluation, as well as all around coordination with customer activities, we have a greater capacity to provide the up-front research and development work than ever. The underlying goal for Lumenique is to act as an auxiliary team resource to fill gaps in our customer’s own capacities, as they grow and evolve into offering their own solid-state lighting product range. As our customers grow their own capacity, we evolve into a support role, and eventually advisory role. Frequently we continue in new product development capacities, providing working samples, concept proofing, or simple preliminary mock-up testing. We also provide very limited lighting design services, mainly focused on the blending of attaining high degrees of energy efficiency in high quality lighting application. We no longer provide general lighting design consulting services to the market at large.

2.) As a writer, I provide editorial content to trade publications, as well as present on the topic of SSL. I also provide lighting educational briefs for newcomers to the lighting market, as well as production of white paper studies on various lighting and non-lighting topics.

3.) Tasca is a very small, specifically focused task light product manufacturer. It produces a limited production, made to order, solid-state work environment task light. This company does not compete with any of our customers, by its very design and market focus. We do not make or intend to make architectural lighting products, or products sold as general lighting into the commercial or residential markets. We avoid all conflicts of interest by simply steering our own desire to produce products into the work light space, where we can satisfy our interest in delivering high performance task lighting – a pursuit I have had interest in long before LEDs were even used for white light.

4.) As a sculptor and artist, I also produce one-off portable lighting sculptures. Many of these were seen in the 52 in 52 works of 2010. This is an interest of mine that utilizes the facilities accumulated to serve Lumenique customers in ways that are not competitive. These products are marketed independently of Lumenique for the most part, and are often nothing more than works in process until I feel they are ready to be moved to a new home, or just put them into service here at home. (more…)

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.

A Too Long Break

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…

A Close Call

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.

A Course Correction

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.


Posted: February 24, 2010 in General Commentary
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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…)