The Switches Behind Today's LED Lighting Applications

Mike Bolduc, Global Marketing Manager, Industrial & Medical Segments, C&K


The impact of LED lighting is far-reaching, and its use cases are diverse.

The global LED lighting market is undergoing a drastic change, propelled by the exponential urban expansion expected over the coming years, and the drive towards increased energy efficiency. In fact, the global LED lighting market is expected to surpass $100 Billion by the end of 2024, according to new data from Renub Research. And it’s no surprise: LEDs offer longer lifetimes, lower energy consumption and reduced maintenance expenses when compared with other lighting technologies.

As such, the impact of LED lighting is far-reaching, and its use cases are diverse. Applications from smart cities to industries such as retail are beginning to feel the positive impact of more efficient lighting. For example, LEDs are quickly becoming the dominant source of lighting in cities around the world. From 2017 to 2027, global investment in LED street lighting is expected to be $53.6 billion, according to Research and Markets. In fact, Walmart has reported saving more than $100 million in energy costs after installing more than 1.5 million LED light fixtures at its stores, according to a recent article in Electric Light & Power.

From residential to commercial, indoor, outdoor and even portable lighting systemssuch as those used at construction sites or during emergency response, lighting applications are only as useful as the hardware that powers them. Early LED adoption was simplyabout switching out bulbs for energy savings. Companies today however want to take advantage of the full capabilities that LED products have to offer. As a result, attention to design features on the light engines, controllers, luminaires and fixtures is critical to the style and functionality of the end product. Described below are some of today’s most important LED lighting applications, along with the electro-mechanical switches found in them and some considerations design engineers should keep in mind as they light the way forward.

Residential and Commercial Buildings

LED lighting systems for residential and commercial buildings must facilitate eco-friendly initiatives, perform in high-use and often harsh environments and be aesthetically pleasing. Common LED system components including controllers, luminaires and fixtures, operator consoles and energy management systems must be designed with a combination of performance and customer appeal requirements in mind.

Residential systems typically place a premium on aesthetic appeal and ease of use to the end customer. As a result, the components used in these devices must perform reliably but also have features which convey an image of quality and performance to the user. Consider the various wall switches and consoles used to operate the dimmers and timers found in most residential lighting systems. In addition to miniature form factor and life cycle requirements, the switches used in these products often have specific haptic (sound and feel) requirements meant to create a perception of quality to the customer.

C&K’s KSC and KMR series tact switches have small footprints and offer a number of options – including tunable haptics and various actuator heights and materials – which enable product designers to develop the perfect experience for the end user.

Commercial LED applications can range from luminaires and fixtures used for accent lighting in a restaurant or retail store, to strobe lights used in factories for machine vision systems, and even to digital signs and message boards found in a local mall. Each of these applications places different requirements on the hardware such as switches used to configure and operate the device.

Commercial luminaires and fixtures may rely on a simple toggle or rocker switch for manual on/off control, however these switches need to be robust enough to stand up to commercial use. Strobe controllers used in LED lighting for machine vision systems typically utilize small tact switches for setup and control. The switches used generally need to be sealed in order to last for years in a factory environment. Commercial buildings such as movies theatres and malls rely on LED emergency lighting in the event of a power outage. DIP switches are commonly used on these products to configure various settings and should meet the same harsh environment performance requirements as the fixture itself.

Various tact, DIP and toggle switches are also found inside digital message boards to configure the output or change the display.

Despite the different aesthetic and operational priorities of commercial and residential applications, tact, DIP, and toggle switches can offer a reliable solution for making sure buildings remain functional, safe and efficient when it comes to the LED lighting applications within.

Outdoor LED Lighting

Efficient and powerful LED lighting is also used to power a number of critical outdoor applications in our world today. Imagine a highway or parking lot with no lights, a construction site at night with no roadwork signs or a crash site with not enough light for emergency crews to do their job safely? Typical outdoor LED applications include roadway and landscape lighting, sports or stadium lighting, speed limit alerts and digital signage used in railways, bus stations and intelligent transportation systems. Most of these devices utilize hardware such as electro-mechanical switches for on/off and menu control as well as to configure the output of the light controllers.

While there are many types of switches used in LED lighting applications – the aforementioned tact switches, as well as toggle, DIP, pushbutton and rotary switches – any used in outdoor products must be more robust and able to withstand more challenging conditions than their indoor counterparts. Knowing that environmental requirements and other critical performance factors need to be taken into consideration will have an impact on the lighting application and component selection from the design phase.

Understanding where and how the lighting application will be used, the temperature range and whether or not it will be subjected to corrosive elements like salt, dust or moisture, is critical to incorporating the proper switching components. Better protection and more robust components lead to improved performance and reliability, as well as a longer product lifecycle of the end device.

For example, LED street lights frequently use constant current or constant voltage drivers which can be adjusted based on the light output needs of the application. Rotary switches, such as C&K’s M series are commonly used for voltage selection. A stainless-steel shaft and IP67 sealed internal components allow this switch to stand up to outdoor environments for many years.

Similarly, push button switches are commonly found on the control panels of potable LED lights used for sporting events, construction sites or emergency situations. These buttons can be illuminated or non-illuminated but typically need to be IP67 or epoxy sealed for harsh environment performance. C&K’s AP and 8060 series are typically examples.     

Durability is another differentiator when it comes to indoor versus outdoor lighting. While maintenance indoors can be as simple as switching a low-hanging light bulb or reconfiguring an easily-accessible wall panel, performing maintenance or repairs on outdoor lighting products can be difficult and time-consuming, given the location and accessibility of many of these devices. Designing products which are maintenance-free or that perform reliably for many years is of significant benefit to the end user. Materials, contact system design, over-travel, over-force protection and durability are all key considerations to have in mind when determining the ability of the switch to work properly and remain efficient over the years.

Switch selection for LED lighting applications can be a challenge, whether it’s for a street light or a light fixture in your kitchen. Therefore, it’s important for engineers to keep both energy efficiency and other factors such as reliability, durability, product lifecycle and the environment it will operate in – indoor, outdoor, commercial, or residential – top of mind when creating the LED lighting systems of the future.

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