What Is LED Lighting? The 3 Key Components and Questions To Ask Your Supplier.

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You are about to walk into a meeting with an LED lighting supplier or service provider, and you know nothing about LED lighting.

Don‘t worry; we have all been there. That is exactly why we wrote this article. It will provide you with the ins and outs of LED lights so that you know the questions to ask during the purchasing process and important specifications to highlight.

At Centropi, we specialise in manufacturing investment-grade grade light fittings. Regardless of where you are in your buying process, we want to provide understandable, accurate information on lighting in large-scale real estate. So no matter what type of lighting you have (or want to have), you can make informed decisions for your facility!

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The Basics of LED Lights

What does LED stand for?

Light Emitting Diode.

What is a diode?

A diode is a small electrical component (semiconductor) that allows electricity to pass through it but severely restricts it from flowing back the other way.

What is the difference between a diode and a light-emitting diode?

The key difference lies in the design and materials used for the LED to enable light emission. In an LED, the semiconductor material is specifically chosen and engineered to produce light.

In contrast, a regular diode is primarily designed to act as a rectifier, allowing current to flow in one direction and blocking it in the opposite direction. Its purpose is not light emission, so the materials used in its construction are not optimised for that purpose.

Traditional LED vs LED Chip (Surface Mounted Device)

In light fittings, traditional LEDs have been replaced by LED chips or surface-mounted devices (SMD). These are smaller, more efficient, easier to adapt, and can be packed closer together to create higher levels of brightness. They both work in the same way but they look very different.

(Left) LED Light Chip or Surface Mounted Device (SMD)

(Right) Traditional “through hole“ LED

What are the key parts of an LED light fitting?

There are many parts to an LED light fitting. All of them play a key role in the overall quality and efficiency of the light fitting. This section will help you understand the key components of an LED light fitting.

LED Light Driver

LEDs are designed to run on low voltage (12-24V), direct-current (DC) electricity. However, most voltage supply is higher - 120 - 277V - alternating current (AC) electricity. This differs from country to country. In Singapore, electrical circuits run at 230V.

An LED driver adjusts higher voltage, alternating current to low-voltage, direct current. LED drivers also protect LEDs from voltage or current fluctuations. Any change in voltage could cause a change in the current being supplied to the LEDs.

As with every element in a light fitting, a range of drivers is available. Not all drivers are created equally, and the durability of the LED fitting is determined by the quality of the driver

- Have you ever seen a LED flickering? - It’s the driver failing

- Have you ever seen a LED dimming? - It’s the driver failing.

- Have you ever heard a LED buzzing? - It’s the driver failing.

So consider the driver as your nightclub door person. A good door person will only let in people they think suit the nightclub. Undesirables are left at the door. A bad door person will let anyone in. This could damage the nightclub's business.

The same goes for the driver in your LED light fitting. It is the protector of your light fitting.

LED Light Heat Sink

The heat sink is a cleverly designed component that enhances the LED's performance and longevity. It plays a critical role in LED heat management. As briefly mentioned above, LEDs operate through an internal reaction converting electrical energy into light. But this process generates some unwanted heat due to inefficiencies.

The heat sink acts as a passive heat exchanger, extracting this excess heat from the LED and dissipating it into the surrounding environment. The heat sink usually consists of materials with high thermal conductivity, such as aluminium or copper, which efficiently conduct heat away from the LED.

By maintaining and moderating the LED's temperature, the heat sink prevents performance degradation and ensures the LED operates at its peak efficiency

If we use the analogy above, it's the element keeping the door person cool so they don’t make erratic decisions! No one wants an overworked door person; they may start buzzing, flickering, or humming!

It is, therefore, obvious how important this element of a LED light fitting is.

LED Chip

The LED chip or Surface Mounted Device (SMD) is the heart and soul of an LED fitting. Its only job is to make light. This tiny chip emits light when an electric current passes through it creating an internal reaction.

Without the LED chip, there is no light.

The LED chip's material composition determines the light colour it emits, colour NOT the casing. Different combinations of semiconductor materials are used to create differing colours. The most common semiconductor materials used in LEDs are:

1. Gallium Nitride (GaN): Creates blue LEDs - B in RGB. Blue light is a foundation colour for creating other colours in LED technology.

2. Indium Gallium Nitride (InGaN): By adding InGaN to GaN, the LED can emit green, yellow, and red light. The amount of indium in the mixture determines the specific colour produced.

3. Aluminium Gallium Indium Phosphide (AlGaInP): This material combination generates red, orange, and amber LEDs.

4. Aluminium Gallium Phosphide (AlGaP): AlGaP is commonly employed to produce green and yellow LEDs.

Colour-changing LED light fittings use a combination of Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) chips. The LED controller changes the chip's brightness to create the desired tone. For example, to produce yellow light, the red and green chips are turned on, while the blue-chip remains off. Similarly, mixing red and blue light creates purple, and combining green and blue light produces cyan.

The SMD technology allows the LED chip to be mounted directly onto a circuit board, making it easier to assemble and integrate into various lighting products. This is the main reason they are used vs traditional LEDs, which are much larger and protrude from the circuit board.

A high-quality LED chip will use materials that increase its efficiency (lumens/watt) i.e. more electrical energy is turned into light, and less is wasted as heat. This reduces the stresses on the bond wire, which connects the chip to the electrical leads of the LED package.

Casing‍

Often referred to as the LED housing or enclosure, it plays a crucial role in the overall performance and quality of the LED fitting.

Its main functions are protecting the internal components, providing mechanical support, and aiding, heat dissipation.

The casing shields the sensitive internal components of the LED, such as the LED chip and other electronic circuitry, from external elements like dust, moisture, and physical damage. This protection ensures the LED's reliability and extends its lifespan.

The casing provides structural support and keeps the LED components securely in place. It also facilitates ease of installation and ensures the LED fitting remains stable and properly positioned.

High-quality LED casings are designed with heat dissipation in mind. As described above, efficient heat dissipation is vital for maintaining the LED's performance and preventing overheating, which can lead to premature failure.

The design and quality of the LED casing can significantly impact the overall performance and durability of the LED fitting.

When choosing an LED light fitting, it's essential to consider the quality and design of the casing to ensure you get a reliable and long-lasting lighting solution. A well-designed casing contributes to the overall quality of the fitting and enhances the LED's performance, making it a crucial aspect to consider in your selection process.

Questions to ask your supplier to determine LED fitting quality

What is the use of knowing all the above without knowing how to use it?

Don‘t worry; we’ve got you covered. Take these cheat notes to your next LED light supplier meeting.

About the driver

  1. Can you provide information about the LED driver's expected lifespan and compatibility with dimming systems, if applicable?
  2. What is the historic failure rate of the driver in the first five years?
  3. Does the LED driver have built-in protection features, such as over-current, over-voltage, and short-circuit protection?

About the heat sink

  1. What materials are used in the heat sink, and how are they selected for optimal thermal conductivity and heat dissipation?
  2. Could you provide details on the heat sink's design and how it enhances airflow and minimises hotspots to ensure efficient cooling of the LED chip?
  3. Does the heat sink undergo any testing or certifications to ensure its effectiveness in managing heat and extending the LED's lifespan?

About LED chips

  1. What is the origin and brand of the LED chip used in the lighting fixture?
  2. Can you provide information about the LED chip's efficiency and luminous output?
  3. Is the LED chip certified or tested for quality and colour consistency, such as its Colour Rendering Index (CRI) and colour temperature?

About the housing

  1. What materials are used in the LED light housing, and how do they contribute to heat dissipation and weather resistance?
  2. Could you provide information about the housing's IP (Ingress Protection) rating and how it ensures protection against dust and moisture?
  3. How does the LED housing design facilitate efficient heat management and prevent overheating, ensuring optimal LED performance and longevity?

You are now armed with the knowledge to make informed buying decisions about LED light fittings!

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