IBEX 2007: What’s New in LEDs?

On Thursday afternoon, David DeHorn, the National Sales Manager for AquaSignal (www.aquasignal.net) – maker of LED navigation lights, gave a surprisingly candid seminar about the state of LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting technology. And by candid we mean he didn’t shy away in the least from discussing both the advantages and disadvantages of LED lights on boats. Dave Baldwin sat in. Here’s a run down of DeHorn’s presentation.

“Where we are today with LEDs is where we were in the late 1960s with fiberglass technology,” says DeHorn. We’ve come along way, but there is still work to be done.

Advantages of LEDs

  • Compact – Allow for a wide range of highly flexible and creatively-designed housings and clusterings.
  • Long life – Many are estimated to last 50,000 hours before degrading to 50% of their output capacity.
  • Safe against mechanical shock and vibration with no risk of implosions.Very difficult to damage.
  • Low maintenance costs.
  • Draw a minimal amount of power.
  • Produces more light per watt than incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs emit colored light and don’t require color filters. This lowers the cost.
  • Produces a focused narrow light. DeHorn notes that this is also an inherent disadvantage that the industry should remedy within the next five years. “The light is not a spray. It’s great for a reading light but not for lighting a big area.”
  • LEDs don’t change color as they are dimmed.
  • Don’t burn out (degrade in output) when cycled frequently.
  • Illuminate very quickly – in microseconds – providing immediate on/off switching.
  • No reflectors are necessary. Also, LEDs don’t produce UV or infrared radiation that will bleach out the fabrics on a boat.
  • Highly efficient. Current white light LEDs produce 60-100 lumens/watt.

According to DeHorn, the LED lighting industry has set the goal of 150 lumens per watt of white light by the year 2012. Today, white LEDs produce between 80-100 lumens/watt. In 1970, it was around a lumen/watt. By comparison, a compact florescent light produces 60 lumens per watt while a standard incandescent bulb is around 14 lumens/watt.

Disadvantages of LEDs

While LED might be the buzzword in the lighting industry, “we’re not quite there yet when it comes to boat interiors,” DeHorn says.

  • LEDs are very sensitive to surge, overvoltage, and polarity.
  • Most High Powered LEDs (3 to 5 Watts and the kind used to light interior applications) require an additional well-designed power supply. Some may need an internal voltage regulator.
  • While LEDs are cool to the touch and don’t generate much heat in front of the light, high powered LEDs do produce a significant amount of heat in the back. They can be very sensitive to overtemperature/heat buildup and some require heat syncs to keep them cool. Heat management technology may need to be built into the lights, which leads to a higher cost.
  • Expensive, especially high powered LEDs. DeHorn predicts though that due to new technologies on the horizon, the price for LEDs will drop substantially over the next five years.
  • Some need to be designed with internal drive circuitry.
  • Initially more expensive per lumen, largely due to the need for heat syncs, drive circuitry, and separate power supplies. Over the long term, however, LEDs prove to be less expensive due to a lack of replacement, maintenance, and energy consumption costs.
  • LED performance depends on ambient temperature of the environment. If they run too hot (even 10 degrees above the norm), a 50% reduction if life expectancy is possible.

    Most importantly, DeHorn can’t stress enough the need to match interior white light LEDs with your boats interior. LED white light ranges in temperature (from cold blue to a warm yellow) and will look different depending on the surrounding environment, especially on boats with a lot of teak, woods, or warm colors in the interior. “The difference can be shocking,” he notes of a white LED in the showroom versus in a boat. Check the LED color temperature down below before making the investment.

    For more on LEDs from SAIL and BoatWorks, click here.

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