LEDs Improve the Effectiveness of Ultraviolet Lighting Applications|
Inspecting currency is one of the largest commercial applications of UV lighting in the US. With the incorporation of a fluorescent strip into the composition of common paper currency, financial institutions and law enforcement have been provided with an easy and non destructive way to verify bill authenticity. The effectiveness of this testing method and the exploding growth of electronic and other non denominational forms of currency exchange has quickly led to the incorporation of UV markers in credit and debit cards, bonds, titles and all manner of financial documentation. The real growth of UV light application, however, has occurred in the medical, military and industrial fields. UV light can kill germs, reveal flaws in materials and manufactured products, identify previously marked goods for later identification in criminal investigations, speed the curing process in adhesives and coatings and hundreds of other uses.
Some of the most interesting exploitation of UV light’s unique properties has taken place in the military and law enforcement industries. Given the highly critical nature of these industries, UV lighting is proving an invaluable tool that seems to continually increase in usefulness as more and more practical applications are discovered. The military holds one of the longest interests in UV light use and took practical advantage of it as early as WW2 when UV light was used to illuminate cockpit instruments in aircraft instead of the luminous and radioactive materials more commonly used. Using UV light in this manner kept intrusive lighting to a minimum and reduced the crew’s exposure to potentially hazardous luminous materials that relied on radioactive elements for their luminosity.
Later developments resulted from the discovery that UV light was effective in sterilization procedures and it wasn’t long before water, medical instruments and similar materials were being effectively treated by the military with UV radiation. One of the drawbacks to the practical use of UV light, however, has been the inefficiency and high heat production of UV lighting equipment. Producing UV light typically requires a specialized fluorescent or arc lamp that is designed to emit light only in the desired UV wavelength. This method has several drawbacks, the most important of which is the high power requirements of some of this equipment and its inefficient operation leading to high heat production. In a nutshell, UV lighting equipment has typically been bulky, expensive and hot. With increased military and law enforcement interest in applying UV lighting method to the field, developing portable UV lighting equipment has grown in importance. Until the practical development of the LED however, the effectiveness of portable UV lighting has been limited.
UV light has proven an effective military and law enforcement tool in the field. Crime scene investigations, property identification, location and personnel marking, night vision and starlight devices and more all have benefited from UV lighting technology and provide operators in the field with an effective investigative or covert tool. Providing the UV light necessary has been the real challenge and recent advancements in LED technology are now helping UV applications, particularly in the field, reach their full potential. LEDs are doing this in large part because of their unique light producing qualities that set them apart from traditional forms of lighting. Where once a bulky and power hungry UV light source had to be managed in the field, LEDs provide a compact and highly efficient UV light source that is as portable and as easy to manage as your average flashlight. Even better, LEDs produce cleaner and more effective UV light than incandescent lamps, requiring no special filters, materials or lenses to operate.
LEDs can do this because of the way they produce light. Rather than heating a filament and relying on special filters to let only UV light escape from the lamp’s lens, LEDs can be specially configured to emit light only in a specific wavelength. Since LEDs produce very little heat to begin with, this represents a huge increase in efficiency. Additionally, LEDs are very compact and can be powered for tens of hours depending upon their configuration by a single set of batteries. Portable LED UV lights like Larson Electronics’s Ultraviolet LED Flashlight represent the next wave in portable UV lighting and allow operators in the field to take full advantage of UV applications. Field personnel can identify insignia, locate covert markers, perform investigations in remote areas and more without requiring all of the extra equipment and effort involved in supplying the required UV lighting. The UV light from LEDs is proving particularly effective due to its clean and unfiltered production. Since an LED designed to produce UV light does so only in the UV spectrum, there is no filter that can reduce total UV production needed. Additionally, none of the energy used by the LED is wasted producing light in the wrong end of the light spectrum, so all of the energy is used producing UV light, resulting in higher and more intense UV light output.
These benefits are of course spilling over into the industrial and commercial sectors as well. Leaders in manufacturing and development industries have been quick to realize the improved cost efficiency of LEDs and incorporate them into their operations. Equipment once costing thousands of dollars and requiring frequent maintenance is being replaced by equipment that while costing somewhat more initially, requires little to no maintenance and will last for up to 10 years of continuous use. Workers are no longer relegated to operating large and hot UV equipment during quality inspection procedures and are now utilizing compact and cool running portable units. Automated systems are being simplified and reduced in size as well as super efficient LED lighting replaces the traditional fluorescent and HID systems previously used. The result has been increased productivity, lower operating costs and reductions in down time as servicing and maintenance intervals are slashed.
As LEDs continue to increase in power and efficiency, their use in all industries is only expected to increase. UV applications will continue to grow as well and eventually, LEDs will become the dominant source of UV lighting as traditional forms of lighting are no longer justified by their cost and application effectiveness.