Archive for the ‘General SSL Commentary’ Category

Bridgelux has announced the End of Life for the BXRA product. This is the product that put this company on the map, and has been very popular. The company is now hawking its me-too product platforms, along with its proprietary Vero product. I for one will never again consider a proprietary platform from Bridgelux. I am also sure they will experience a significant number of defections as customers find their way resolving the disruption the end of the BXRA platform will cause. I know this, as I intend to help every customer of mine, and anyone else interested, to find a path to other provider products.

When Bridgelux came onto the market, it professed to know the architectural lighting market, making bold statements about how it would support its customers with consistent products with little or no platform obsolescence. O bought it. Cree has done this, so it was no stretch to believe Bridgelux could make good. They were also touting themselves as a U.S. company, invested in the U.S.A. Yet, over the last several years, they have proven that all that blather was just marketing farf. They’ve made regular product changes that have demanded redressing driver selections, not to mention changes in fV and max current limits that have fouled up UL listings. They have walked out of the U.S. market as a manufacturer. Now they are owned by the Chinese CEC company, and have completely turned their back on past promises to serve their customers with the product stability. I have promoted this company to customers, and use it in my own Tasca products. That ends with the demise of the BXRA3.

At the core of this seemingly small issue of planned obsolescence, is the impact these changes will have on hundreds of customers, effecting thousands of end products, including UL and photometric test implications that will result in a lot of cash being spent in response to this discontinuance. The underlying issue is that BXRA ES and RS arrays once presented a unique combination of voltage and current that created unique driver configurations different from their competition. For most, changing to any other COB will require redressing driver selection, which will demand UL changes. For some, the implications are going to be significant. For example, in some products I am directly involved with, the power supply is 24VDC, with buck CC drivers connected to the LED. That is no longer possible using any of the new COBs from Bridgelux. Cree, thankfully, has a few options that will limit the damage to some degree. For others, the open circuit voltage of higher fV drivers will create a mess with LED holders that have exposed metal contacts that UL will insist be covered, demanding changes that will likely lead to re-testing. And, for many, the impact on optics is going to be a long and hard road to travel. Changing the array to a new platform will require new optics be sourced, and since these are not exactly the same as the outgoing combination, new LM-79 testing will need to be done. This is all going to have to happen NOW, as the announced EOL is immediate, with the last products available for order in mid June.

The saving grace in all of this is that the replacements Bridgelux offers are not significantly unique in voltage, current limits, lumen output, color, or general size/configuration from what is available from many others today. That means that when customers are faced with the disruption of re-configuring their products to the higher fV/lower current requirements,  and new optics, they can consider pretty much all competitive products to protect themselves from any future recurrence of changes in any one proprietary configuration the end of the BXRA platform presents. Since the new configurations will require updates, if not completely new UL testing, and likely new photometric testing, I strongly recommend that every Bridgelux BXRA customer cross their requirements over to at least three providers. Cree, Samsung, Citizen, and Luxeon now all make very strong performing products that can stand up against anything Bridgelux offers – with the same core fV and current combinations  to attain equitable output. This, combined with the range of Zahga compliant LED holders and associated optic accessories, pretty much means the proprietary Vero series is a non-starter – except for those that are Zahga compliant.

I personally will not update with Bridgelux new products. For my own products, we are black-listing Bridgelux for its inconsistency between what it says it is doing and going to do, and what it actually does – often with very short notice given. My continued strong support for the company ends with the BXRA platform EOL. It is the perfect opportunity to break away from them and move forward with new providers, and I intend to take full advantage of that. This saddens me in some way, as I have had so much fun and enjoyed building products around the BXRA. This is the end of a very short lived era for me.  When Lumileds ended the K2, the backlash was severe. I expect that Bridgelux is going to experience much the same with the ending of its BXRA ES and RS arrays. I’d wish them luck, but can’t find it in me to be that polite. This situation stinks, on so many levels that its hard to be calm about it. At a time many are finding their feet after being pounded by the cost of SSL development and a soft economy, to now face redressing products already in demand and on sale, caused by manufacturer planned obsolescence – means nothing of value is gained, and a lot of unnecessary cost will be incurred.

While the proponents of LED technology in the US market have felt safe under the House Bill HR6 (see prior discussion – the supposed incandescent lamp ban) since 2007, much of the power of the federal government to enforce the law has been stripped. This month was yet another blow to the cause, with the latest budget compromise for 2015 “Cromnibus” continuing a ban of more critical import: The continued ban on federal funding for enforcement of the efficiency standards set out in HR6. A summary of the latest inclusions in the budget bill can be found at Reuters. The relevant summation is as follows:

It also prohibits funding of the Energy Department’s enforcement of controversial light bulb efficiency standards, which ban higher-wattage incandescent bulbs.

Other summaries can be found elsewhere, like the Washington Post:

The bill once again prohibits new standards that would ban the use of cheaper, less energy-efficient incandescent bulbs. The proposal was first introduced and set in motion by the Bush administration, but the Obama White House allowed the change to continue, despite sustained consumer demand for older bulbs.

… and the National Priorities Project:

Energy & Environment
  • Continues a trend of declining funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, which will lead to the lowest staffing levels at the agency since 1989.
  • Prohibits the use of funds to require manufacturers to phase out production of incandescent light bulbs.
  • Prohibits President Obama’s requested increase in funding for renewable energy research.
  • Prohibits funding for the Green Climate Fund, an international effort to address climate change.
  • Increases funding for nuclear energy programs, especially research.
  • Increases funding for fossil energy research and development.

Note that when it comes to energy, the Federal Government is not a progressive body in any form of the word or concept.

What’s my point? Simple… When one depends on a Federal action to ram through change, or to back ones project, marketing scheme or pipe dream, one must be aware that, when it comes to energy policies, the Federal Government has a bad habit of reversing itself, or saying one thing and doing the opposite with a straight face. My arguments against prioritizing SSL deployment on a massive effort into the headlong rush to retrofit incandescent sockets, founded primarily on the advertised claim that the incandescent lamp was being outlawed, were not laggardly, they were realistic and pragmatic. Consumers are not buying the energy efficiency saving money story (they spend more on smart phone service each week than electrical energy costs over a month),  they don’t get $9.00 light bulbs that look goofy, they are extremely resistant when feeling forced to change by a government they distrust – while the laws attempting to cut incandescent lamp use are essentially just words on paper, with zero backing to enforce.

For this reason, we come back once again to the need – no mandate – that for SSL to succeed, it must stand on its own two feet, it must deliver new value, and it must deliver as promised. I covered this in the post about quality being critical to success in Without Quality – LED Retroifts Will Fail . I also covered the HR6 issue and it not being the free ride at its core. I have also shared my view on retrofit lamps to the point of being a bore on this topic.

So, how do we deploy a technology many of us know is the future? the first step is to ween the entire industry from its ties to any federal mandates or programs. If you have to rely on a government to ram your products down customers throats, your product is garbage, and will never be accepted beyond compliance with a law. This is not how you build a revolution in any market. Lighting being a low enough priority on the general populace, all that being achieved in the current trend of marketing for solid-state lighting is impressing upon customers who know little of the real potential of lighting in their lives is this:

  • Lighting sucks energy from the power grid – which is bad. We must stop this parasitic draw on our national resources before it destroys the environment.
  • The incandescent lamp you love for its light and low-cost is the enemy and is being taken away from you by law, since you are too stupid to choose better for yourself.
  • While replacements to incandescent lamps are expensive by a factor of 9, produce poorer light quality, are strange-looking, don’t fit into your fixtures, don’t dim when you want them to, and flicker… you’re just going to have to live with it, because they are the future.

While commercial customers must live with energy code demands causing uncomfortable compromises, the consumer market is not as motivated. In fact, every architect, interior designer, lighting designer, building owner, decision maker, comes home as a consumer. While they are obligated by law to comply with energy use codes and accept the impact of this on their commercial spaces, when they go home, they don’t feel the same pressure to comply. In fact, they may act at home in ways opposing what they are forced to accept in business. The general consuming public only knows that laws forcing them to do anything against their own will are to be complied with under duress. When those laws have no teeth, they are ignored.

For these reasons, the success of SSL in the consumer market comes down to adding value and selling the technology without connecting it with a federal mandate or law. I am of the personal belief that the surest way to end or significantly delay the deployment of a technology is to make it law. The best and only real foundation on which to base the deployment of a technology like SSL, is to deliver value so compelling that consumers flock to it by choice. That has not been the case with LED retrofit lamps, which have been horrific in quality, extremely high in price, and poor substitutes for the low-cost lamps they propose to replace. In Europe, reputed to be far ahead of the US market, has been revealed to be avoiding LED and CFL lamps, preferring the halogen based replacements to their disappearing incandescent lamps. Makes perfect sense to those who know lighting. Halogen lamps deliver the same qualities as incandescent, some improvement in efficiency, and a way around adopting the less attractive higher technology alternatives. And the response to this revelation in the EU? More call to action to force consumer behavior. No demand that alternative products be made to deliver higher quality light, add value to support their existence.. just more demands for mandates and laws to force something the market is naturally rejecting into existence.

So, with the Federal Government once again failing to back its play on the lamp ban, including de-funding enforcement of manufacturing bans, it comes down to the very essence of marketing products. Sell value. While energy efficiency is a value, it is not the reason we buy lamps. energy consumption is a by-product of what we want when we buy lighting. We buy light fixtures and lamps to deliver light, of a quality we find acceptable, that serves our visual need to see when no other natural source is adequate or available. We accept that we must put energy into them to get light out. The same can be said of lamp life, another byproduct of extracting light from the product over time. So, basing value on reducing the by-products of realizing the core values being sought is simply bad marketing. It’s how the US auto industry failed when it attempted to sell junk cars that got great mileage, while the Japanese and Germans sold cars that were reliable and fun to drive, that also got great mileage and were cheap to maintain. A more robust program for lighting products would be able to state:

  • Delivers a higher quality of light than you have ever experienced in comfort, color appearance, and enhanced visual performance.
  • Reduces eye strain and associated headache, dryness, and discomfort caused by flicker and glare.
  • Produces a smooth, beautiful light beam pattern with no hot spots, rings or glare.
  • Fits into any fixture designed around a standard lamp, open or enclosed, with improved overall appearance without compromise – or replaces an outdated fixture with something new and fresh, delivering an attractive product that delivers light that is exceptionally attractive.
  • Dims smoothly from full to nothing, with no flicker, stutter, or cutoff, using familiar dimmer controls.

That will get SSL place at the table to then press the case of less energy use and longer service life to justify a small price premium. But, reading through the list, how many current LED retrofit lamps can make this collection of claims? Missing one or two means compromise, as halogen replacements are available that can nail all of these claims, at a very small premium, delivering a level of energy-saving and longer life.

With the Federal Government once again demonstrating its lack of support for its own force feeding program, and a conservative agenda almost assured to whittle that down further in the next few years – for those in the business of deploying SSL technology and product, it is time to truly engage value delivery beyond dependence on the dope of legal compliance. The technology is capable of delivering all of the real values being sought by lighting customers, and more. Let’s build the future on those values, and leave the government to its dysfunctional self. The sooner we can make lighting an industry of self-sustaining excellence, the sooner we can be free of impotent legislation that only creates negativity as its sole contribution.

There remains an issue of flicker and its issues that has been drawn out by a lack of action on the part of our standards and professional organizations. The topic of flicker has been turned into years of discussion, consternation, regurgitation of old information, tests to prove what has already been known for years, and avoidance of conflict. One of my best selling products from the Lumenique Product Center is the Flicker Machine, as simple device for visually detecting and confirming that visible flicker exists within a space or from a source, indicating there is a desire of individuals to know more. I presented a bit on this device and its use here some time ago.

This little spinning wheel tells the story. If you see banding and colorful rainbows, the lights are a flickerin'

This little spinning wheel tells the story. If you see banding and colorful rainbows, the lights are a flickerin’

I have invested my personal time exploring this topic, including membership in the IEEE 1789 committee addressing the risks of flicker, presentations at DOE and other conferences, working with various manufacturers on their line voltage, non-driver products, and personal testing, experimentation and actively living with and under AC LED products.  After more than 6 years of this, one simple question surfaced for me.

If DC and high frequency (>2,000Hz) PWM driven constant current LED solutions produce no visible flicker, why consider a source with greater flicker presence? (more…)

There are many subjects in lighting, specifically in the universe of solid-state lighting, that need to be actively discussed and openly debated. Issues such as qualitative issues (color, color accuracy, glare, brightness, illuminance levels, etc..) over quantitative (lumens per watt), or the discussion of blue light content, or scotopic v. photopic, or supplier issues, or even the problems of being a small fish in a pond filled with big bloated corporate fish and a governmental agency who believes itself now a lighting expert… These all require active dialog to be resolved and grow understanding.  Too many times, the discussion of important topics are held in little rooms, hidden from view, with conclusions drawn, recommendations and regulations written – to be handed down like tablets from the mount, for us all to simply step in line and accept as fact. We have far too many instances of white paper writing scientists issuing their narrowly focused findings through their myopic peer groups, to be used as swords and weapons against the unwashed and unknowing masses. I find the creeping movement of lighting away from its roots as a human experience enhancing art-form into the hands of marketing zealots, narrow minded PhD’s working in their corporate labs, and federal or state agencies with agendas to follow outside our need to know… well, disheartening and disgusting. (more…)

In a recent article published in Architectural SSL on the topic of blue light content of LEDs, I attempted to present the discussion of blue light from the perspective of those raising concerns about blue light hazards against known and practical objective knowledge on the topic. The article covered the gambit of concerns, from retinal damage concerns to melatonin levels in occupants, from both sides of the argument, as there are those who dismiss this as a non-issue out of hand. The article also forwarded two conclusive suggestions. First: The research on this specific topic, as it relates specifically to LED light sources, is a little thin. Second: For those concerned about blue light content, selecting LEDs of a lower CCT and higher CRI delivered the lowest blue light content. Whether or not this is the best choice for visual acuity was not the subject of the article, nor was it suggested as the best solution overall. There is a great deal of research supporting the concept of high CCT light for enhancing human visual performance. Much of this was completed under light sources other than LEDs, so there is no caveat included that states anywhere that blue light content of LEDs is at acceptable levels, or of no concern. (more…)

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…)