Lighting fixtures are built around a given light source. In the case of LEDs, this task is more complex because LEDs are sensitive to heat and require special means to transfer it away. Additionally, the supporting optics and components are more sophisticated than simply wiring a socket to a ballast. As a result, high-performing LED fixtures are typically highly engineered lighting devices.
What’s more, LED lighting fixtures are typically built around custom light engines that are hardwired into the fixture. The light engine is built to a proprietary design and is permanently integrated into the fixture. As a result, LED fixtures typically cannot be upgraded or serviced; instead, at end of life, the whole unit must be thrown away, which adversely affects the environment and can be a waste of money, particularly if it is a premium or custom product.
If the light source were available as a separate drop-in-ready component, fixture design and fabrication would be simplified and accelerated, with common light sources used across multiple fixture designs. If the light source could be easily accessed and replaced, users could service and upgrade their lighting systems over time while leaving their fixtures intact, making their lighting more economical and environmentally friendly.
Manufacturers now say they have the solution—LED modules, comprehensive LED devices designed for quick, easy integration into new fixtures. There are three basic designs. The first two are basic modules with lead or plug-in wiring connections. Many of these devices are designed to facilitate OEM product development, not necessarily ongoing servicing and upgrade; future replacement may entail special effort to access the fixture and connect the new source. Along those lines, the user must accept the possibility of discontinuation of the LED package or module.
The third type of module uses a twist-lock or plug-in design, analogous to conventional lamps and sockets; the fixture manufacturer includes a socket supported by any needed electrical connections. This approach is most friendly to future servicing and upgrading.
GE’s Infusion module, from Journee Lighting, installs with a twist motion that couples the light source to the heat sink and power supply housed in the fixture. Three different light output and wattage options can be selected with a simple twist.
Another example is the Helion from Bridgelux and Molex, which won Best of Category for Specialty Lamps and Most Innovative Product of the Year at the Lightfair 2010 Innovation Awards. This module integrates the light source, optics and thermal management into a single unit that engages with a simple twist for easy mounting and adjustment. Beam angle, color temperature and light output can be adjusted with a simple turn and click.
And another is Philips Lighting’s Fortimo series of LED modules available in a range of designs, including a new twist design with an integral driver. Other manufacturers, meanwhile, are expected to follow with their own introductions.
Note that, while manufacturers are now offering solutions that facilitate easier product design and fabrication for OEMs, quicker product assessment and/or easier servicing and upgrade for contractors and owners, true interchangeability still is not available. As a result, while servicing and upgrade may be available for the given solution, the user will be tied to a particular manufacturer. For interchangeability, an industry-accepted standard is required that covers the interface between the LED engine and the fixture. NEMA, IES, ANSI and Zhaga (an international industry consortium) are now working toward standard specifications for the interfaces of LED light engines, which would enable LED modules to become interchangeable.
Modularity in LED product design is young, but it holds significant promise for adoption of LED lighting systems by offering the benefits of faster and lower risk product development, environmentally friendly durability, ease of servicing and upgrading as the technology continues to advance, easier product evaluation, and, ultimately, cross-platform interchangeability.
DILOUIE, L.C., a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at www.zinginc.com.