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06/24/13 LED Performance and Reliability Standards

Article- June 2013 By Larson

hazardous area location LED light

Larson Electronics Hazardous Location LED Light

 One of the big problems posed by LEDs as they began to directly compete with more traditional forms of lighting such as fluorescent and incandescent bulbs has been the uniqueness of their design and the difficulty this presented for creating a homogenous manner of performance evaluation. LEDs have some unusual characteristics that make applying the same methods of measuring intensity, luminosity, radiance, and other factors used when evaluating typical luminaires inaccurate. This has resulted in a lack of cohesive quality and ratings standards LEDs manufacturers can use to describe and adhere to a minimum level of product performance.

With the vast potential LEDs hold for would be manufacturers and distributors quickly being realized, there has been a matching rush by some to bring to market LEDs regardless of whether or not they meet the minimum needs and expectations of the average lighting customer. Coupled with a lack of homogenous lighting standards, the result has been a very large disparity in LED quality and a great deal of confusion among consumers as to just what LEDs are capable of and what they can realistically expect. Although two similar LED fixtures from different manufacturers may carry the same ratings, it is often the case that there is a large disparity in their actual performance.

Since LEDs first began to gain intense international attention due to their extreme efficiency and ability to operate for tens of thousands of hours without significant performance loss, there have been many efforts made to build some type of cohesive set of standards for solid state lighting with which to make effective comparisons against more traditional lighting. These efforts have in large part appeared in fits and starts and for quite some time have been largely unproductive. The public in general has become accustomed to equating wattage with light output, ie higher wattage means a brighter bulb, but with LEDs this is not always the case, and comparing brightness equivalents between incandescent and LED bulbs according to wattages is impossible. The result is that more accurate methods of evaluating lighting performance have had to be designed and implemented in order to more successfully introduce LEDs to consumers.

Because LED technology is advancing at such a rapid pace and the potential output and intensity of LEDs is continually increasing, applying a reliable set of standards has been problematic at best. Additionally, getting manufacturers, developers and regulating bodies to agree on a cohesive set of standards has proven difficult due to the need to balance development costs for manufacturers and affordability on the consumer end with federal efficiency standards and practical performance expectations. What has been taking place as a result has been nothing less than a general overhaul of the traditional ways in which lighting performance is described and presented to the consumer. In the end, consumers are going to have to essentially grow into a new understanding of how lighting performance is perceived, which in all reality is simply going to be a matter of patience and allowing time for acclimation.

Regardless of these issues, some progress has been made and the current the quality of LED products from more well known names in lighting such as GE and Philips as well as dedicated solid state lighting developers such as CREE has shown great improvement in consistency and reliability. As it stands, consumers can now expect a fairly accurate representation of LED performance from the more established names in lighting although with the caveat that they should understand that LED performance is rated differently. Factors such as total lumen output, LUX, and color rendering and color temperature now play a much larger role in how lighting performance is determined. It is no longer enough to simply assume a more powerful bulb will be more effective for a given application, but with developers working to make understanding LED performance easier and providing detailed performance information on packaging and fixture literature, choosing an effective LED fixture is becoming easier.

The US Department of Energy has also been working to improve the perception and quality of solid state lighting through programs such as LED Lighting Facts® which serves to act as impetus for manufacturers to adhere to a consistent set of industry standards. This particular program showcases LEDs from manufacturers who have agreed to the terms of the program and provides detailed information and an “LED Lighting Facts “ label that allows end consumers to make an effective evaluation of the products carrying this label. Other groups and agencies such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the Energy Star program are also working in similar fashion to help guide the development of LEDs and publications that will eventually bring about homogenous development and manufacturing standards as well as simple yet easy understand criteria for solid state lighting evaluation.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) as well as the American National Standards Institute ANSI have been instrumental in publishing guidelines directly related to the development and production of solid state lighting.  In 2008 ANSI C78.377 (chromaticity), LM-79 (luminous flux) and LM-80 (lumen maintenance) were published and served to provide some specific standards by which manufacturers could measure detailed areas of LED performance in order to meet practical requirements. In 2011 the Illumination Engineering Society approved TM-21, a new industry standard for determining lumen maintenance over the life of an LED that addressed the long standing problem of providing a reliable measure of expected LED lumen maintenance, thus allowing a more reliable way to predict expected LED operational life.

As can be seen, there are indeed concerted efforts being made to address the issues of LED standards and consumer understanding of LED performance criteria. As can also be seen, these efforts are wide ranging and still somewhat varied in their scope. The biggest issue of easy to understand and cohesive  ratings at the consumer level still remain, but as LEDs become more prolific and consumers become more familiar with solid state lighting it is likely that understanding of LED performance versus traditional incandescent bulbs will gradually improve.  

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