Kevin Parmenter, Director, Applications Engineering. TSC, America
The electronics industry has made LEDs the standard in most lighting applications, both new and retrofitted. LEDs are replacing 48-inch fluorescent tubes and HID lighting, and they are evolving into ever-higher power applications – from streetlights to high bay lighting. In these COVID-19 times they’re even being used for the UV sterilization of tubes. This ubiquity of LED applications opens new and interesting opportunities for electronics designers.
LED lighting applications span all electronics markets: consumer appliances, automotive, medical, general-purpose consumer, and industrial and commercial. The market for LED power supplies, often called drivers, has become hyper-competitive. So how do electronics manufacturers differentiate themselves in the lighting market? Simply by adding features and functionality beyond lighting. The list is wide and varied and includes wireless and wired interfaces; IoT functions for networking controllability, such as daylight sensors that dim or switch the lighting on and off, as needed; PIR and microwave sensors to detect motion and turn on when needed; color temperature modulation; lighting effects; and processing and control.
Today a bifurcation has occurred in the LED IC world, with offline AC lighting ICs being offered with new and different device features and functionality, including digital interfacing and control options. The latest phase is on the DC input front, with a focus mainly on the automotive AEC-Q lighting capabilities, from the small linear constant-current drivers in a car’s dimmable dome lights, which can be PWM-controlled, to the high-power ICs in its headlights.
Microcontrollers used in lighting have become mainstream to keep up with the need to communicate data via modulation of the lighting and other features. Such features result in energy savings. It also leads to better lighting quality combined with the ability to acquire, communicate with, and control the lighting.
To illustrate the point, I was recently in a big box store early in the day. Since it was dark inside, I asked if lights could be turned on. The response was that nothing could be done because the lights were being controlled from the store’s Atlanta headquarters 2,000 miles away! Although it’s funny that this high-tech functionality literally couldn’t turn on the lights, it’s also amazing that one location can control the lighting and measure the energy consumption of all its stores in real time.
For those of us in the power electronics industry, the good news in that the lighting control market is far from saturated. Smart companies are betting that a complete value chain will include lighting that is low cost, high efficiency, high value, and have high integration of features and functionality. It will also need to adhere to safety and IEC standards and EMI and environmental disclosures, such as WEEE, Reach, RoHs, plus be backed by 10-year warranties. This market is moving fast, but if you can keep up – and keep adding value – you can compete in a fantastic market with plenty of room.