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4 Ways to Improve the Already-Disruptive Technology of LEDs

<p>LED lighting has already come a long way from the bulb behind your television -- but the growth potential has no end in sight, as long as manufacturers can improve in these key areas.</p>

Light emitting diode (LED) technology has made remarkable progress in the last decade. In recent years, the LED market has seen consistent double-digit growth and technological advancements have expanded their functionality and capabilities while improving efficiency.

While strong short- to mid-term market growth for LEDs has been driven mainly by television backlighting, mid- to long-term growth for the market will be driven primarily by lighting applications.

The growth potential for solid-state lighting is constantly expanding as LED technology continues to improve. LEDs can now compete with essentially all traditional lighting technologies and it is by far the fastest growing technology with the highest potential.

In fact, LED technology has made so much progress that the end of the efficacy race is coming into sight. We can expect to reach economical limits for efficacy in this decade, making efficiency critical on every step of the value chain, from the microchip level to the full system.

Despite the unprecedented market growth and remarkable technical milestones that LEDs have achieved, there are four key areas of where there is room for future optimization.

1. Cost

In addition to increasing the efficiency of LEDs themselves, the industry is also heavily investing in methods to increase production efficiency as demand for LEDs continues to grow.

Manufacturers have been able to boost yield considerably, and we can expect LEDs to become increasingly more affordable in the coming years, making the technology more widely available.

2. Quality

While LEDs have come a long way and have already proven themselves in tough environments such as the automotive market, there is still a significant need for further quality improvements for solid-state lighting.

Continuous improvement of LED quality involves several factors, with the ultimate goal being the fulfillment of customer expectations in terms of reliability at real-life conditions, long-term availability and color rendering.

First and foremost, the solid-state lighting industry lacks standardization. In order to improve the technology and encourage broader adoption, industry standards must be developed across LED components, modules and systems. This will help to ensure that products meet quality benchmarks, eliminate compatibility issues and direct the future of LED technology.

Developing industry standards will also be important for improving the reliability of LEDs. Currently, the industry has made a great first step in implementing some lumen maintenance testing such as the LM-80, but these tests do not incorporate all necessary elements.

More advanced and accelerated testing should be performed to better understand the performance and degradation of LEDs. This will enable manufacturers to improve system designs, making them more robust in terms of materials, processes and functions, and ultimately improve the reliability of LED technology.

The quality of light output is another area that LED manufacturers are trying to improve upon. The major challenge facing the industry is the balance between color rendering, efficacy and system optimization. In order to maximize one of these factors, one or both of the others may suffer.

While it is possible to create a high color-rending, high efficacy LED system, the circuitry and design becomes much more complicated. To simplify the system design while maintaining high color rendering capabilities, the system becomes less efficacious, while alternately, to maximize system simplicity and efficacy, it becomes difficult to maintain high color rendering.

The "holy grail" for improving LEDs' quality of light is to master this dichotomy and identify a method that will optimize each of these elements.

3. Fit

LED technology has advanced to a point that it is possible to replace many conventional light sources for general illumination with energy efficient LED lighting. Applications for LED lighting are continually expanding alongside the technology and today include office lighting, retail lighting, architectural effects and accent lighting, street and area lighting, and tunnel lighting, among others.

As we look to the future of LED lighting, new applications will be developed based on the performance and design characteristics of LEDs, as opposed to making LEDs fit into existing fixtures and applications.

As LED technology continues to advance, we can expect further reductions in energy consumption for general illumination thanks to higher LED efficiency combined with intelligent light control and infrared sensors.

In the near future, it will be possible to configure individualized light atmosphere through easy-to-use light management, as well as achieve outstanding color consistency for advanced homogneous lighting solutions. Once standards for LED products are implemented, we will also begin to see more simplistic systems, enabling easier installation and maintenance for LED applications.

4. Intelligence

Not only will LED systems adapt to fit the illumination requirements of conventional and future applications, but LED systems are also becoming more intelligent and customizable by application.

As technology advances, intelligent sensor data fusion will allow for completely new lighting solutions that will utilize the full potential and features of LEDs, including efficacy, instant-on, reliability, etc. Intelligent LED controls will direct light precisely where it is needed with the quality required, ensuring cost efficiency and occupants' comfort and safety.

What's Next?

Beyond general illumination and traditional applications, LEDs are creating new possibilities for lighting applications everywhere we look. The electronization of light enables new solutions precisely tailored to specific applications, including specialized LED packages for mobile projection or custom wavelengths to increase growth in horticultural applications.

Despite how far LED technology has already progressed, we are only just beginning to uncover the potential of LEDs for solid-state lighting and one can only imagine what will come next.

Photo CC-licensed by Velo Steve.

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