In the 130 years since Mr. Edison’s solitary bulb of glass, wire and carbon filaments, lighting has evolved into more than a source of illumination. Almost overnight, traditional fluorescent bulbs appeared in every home and business to bathe the events of life and commerce in a white-yellow glow.
With this innovation came mass production and the inevitable need for decoration — and so the lighting industry was born.
For years, fluorescent bulbs were the standard. Lighting designers created so many new styles, shades, and features that a change in lighting became a decorative choice rather than a functional one. Sure, you had to change the bulbs from time to time, but fluorescents have a lifespan of 15,000 hours – that’s an eternity!
Eventually, progress and innovation always move forward, and it became apparent that fluorescent technology had a downside. The bulbs flicker and do not dim well, and while the bulbs may take different shapes, they always maintain similar volume.
Perhaps most importantly, fluorescent bulbs contain an environmental enemy: toxic mercury. Lacking a suitable alternative, consumers held on to their fluorescents.
Enter the LED
LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights did not burst onto the scene to immediately solve the problems of fluorescent bulbs. First used in the mid-1960’s, early LEDs emitted low-intensity red light – ideal for use as indicator lights in a variety of settings.
But the technology was solid and it was clear that, with more research, the LED could be used in myriad applications.
For the next 30 years, LED efficiency and light output had risen exponentially, and this tiny light source has become powerful enough to take on – and perhaps bring down – the once-mighty fluorescent.
There are many reasons for LED popularity:
- Most LEDs are RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) compliant and do not contain mercury.
- They don’t flicker and they can be dimmed with ease. In fact, most LED luminaries on the market have built-in dimmers or are compatible with after-market dimmer switches.
- LEDs are also very small – they can fit into any lighting design housing.
- LEDs have a lifespan of 50,000 hours and only use a fraction of the energy necessary to power fluorescents.
Trend of LED Technology
LED technology seems to be everywhere. But the lighting industry is where the LED …shines. From traffic signals to televisions, LEDs play a part in almost every industry. This growth has brought about a maturity within the industry.
LEDs of higher efficiency are rapidly becoming available, and today the best LEDs can obtain over 200 lumens per watt (A 60-watt light bulb is capable of approximately 14 lumens per watt).
Early issues about the color of LED light have resulted in technology that provides better color consistency and a higher CRI (Color Rendering Index). LEDs with a higher CRI rating provide more accurate light color and a more desirable light source.
Several years ago, a one-watt LED was the dominant LED package. However, two exciting trends have appeared in the LED market: smaller wattage single-chip LEDs, and higher wattage multi-chip LEDs. Both offer a number of interesting possibilities and will certainly provide greater flexibility in lighting design.
LED technologies on the horizon include OLED (LED chips made partially from organic material), and printable LED ink that mixes millions of tiny LEDs with a special ink formula and to print “light” onto a paper surface.
What LED Means for Workspace Users & Designers
For those who spend their days in a workspace, and for those who design the workspaces, LED lighting provides you with two important features: a number of lighting possibilities and a very significant cost savings.
Today’s workplace focus is on task lights – lighting for each employee’s workspace – and LED fits this niche perfectly. It provides more user comfort and control while producing very little heat, saving the company on high air-conditioning costs.
Task lighting also eliminates the expense of hiring a contractor to periodically change fluorescent tubes. Two of the most popular forms of task lighting are the desk lamp and the undercabinet light. Both provide very focused light for each employee, resulting in less need for expensive ambient (overhead) light.
As a compliment to the task light, today’s most popular trend is the occupancy sensor. These individual sensors are fitted to each task light and will turn off the light if they sense no movement from the user. When the user returns, the sensor reacts to the movement by turning the lamp back on.
Occupancy sensors with the task lights provide even more control and save energy consumption at the workstation level.
LED lighting has clear advantages – flexibility, energy reduction, cost savings – that fluorescents cannot match. So has LED replaced the fluorescent? Not yet. But like today’s workers, the workplace is changing and becoming more efficient. And as technology advances, more innovative lighting designs will emerge. Illumination that was impossible could become possible.
I’m sure Mr. Edison agrees.