The Versatility of LEDs behind Their Popularity|
There should no longer be any doubt about the rising dominance of LEDs in the lighting industry today. With no end in sight to rising energy costs and everyone from corporate heads to the public consumer looking to trim energy use and thus expense, the efficiency of LEDs is simply too promising to ignore. Certainly LEDs are still more expensive to purchase than incandescent bulbs initially, but considered in the long view this initial expense is misleading, with LEDs ending up being much more cost effective in the long run. With LEDs using less energy, producing more light, and lasting up to twenty times longer than traditional light bulbs, there is simply no longer any reason to continue using the outdated and obsolete incandescent light bulb.
Part of the popularity of LEDs can be attributed to their extreme versatility as well as extreme efficiency. Although they use only a quarter as much energy to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent light bulb, this is not the bottom line for the LEDs potential. Because of their small size, low power requirements and the ability to produce LEDs in specific colors without the need for lenses or special coatings, LEDs are finding use in applications that have little to do with actual general purpose lighting and are becoming a favorite in niche’ specific lighting applications as well. In addition to being more efficient, durable and long lasting, LEDs respond quickly to applied current and are an “instant on” light source. This means that LEDs are well suited to applications where precise control and fast response are critical, such as vehicle brake lights, signage and displays, and even industrial applications like machine visioning systems.
Other specific applications demonstrate the versatility of the LED by combining and utilizing all of their traits to produce a light source that fulfills several roles, all while still outperforming traditional incandescent in every normal aspect of general illumination use. One example is marine lighting where illumination serves several critical functions besides simple general illumination. Marine craft like boats, barges and military ships use lighting for everything from general purpose lighting to communication and identification. Even the everyday boater is presented with instances where lighting plays a significant role in the safe operation of their watercraft. In commercial marine applications, lighting can act to inform other nearby boats of a ship’s current activities. A commercial ship trawling for example shows a green light over white while a fishing ship shows red over white, each of which indicates to other boats that they should keep well clear. There are several such variations on this lighting premise and each communicates to nearby boats the ships' status. Traditionally, in order to create such colored lighting combinations it was necessary to have several different colored lights configured for specific operations and operate them independently. With LEDs it is now possible to incorporate two, three or even four colors into one light, cause a light to dim, brighten or even flash at a specific rate, and control the lights operation electronically.
A Larson Electronics LEDLB-24SD-C LED Light Emitter for example can not only serve as a colored indicator or status light, but be connected to an external controller that allows the unit to be dimmed or flashed at specific rates as the operator desires. White versions of these LED emitters demonstrate even more versatility as they can be mounted high on masts or canopy’s for use as all around area lights with high power and effectiveness, then electronically commanded to dim for use as anchor lights or strobe in emergency situations. Rather than require a specific unit for each function and thus several separate fixtures along with all the associated wiring and hardware, LEDs allow a single unit to fill several functions while still outperforming the incandescent in each function.
In military and official applications LEDs are quickly replacing mechanically operated incandescent light bars as the lighting of choice. Traditional overhead and warning light bars have previously used a stationary incandescent bulb around which a reflector was rotated to produce the typical strobing flash effect associated with law enforcement vehicles. Although effective, such light bars consumed a great deal of power and were bulky and heavy. LEDs, however, can be electronically controlled to produce a precisely defined strobing flash at any desired rate and in any color needed without the need for mechanical reflector apparatus or colored lenses. The small size of the LEDs and the lack of mechanical moving parts greatly reduces the size of these units as well as the amount of power they consume while producing stronger and more effective signaling light.
In military applications the above remains true, however, there are even more applications where LEDs are being incorporated with great success. Made famous in movies, night vision technology at its highest and most effective levels remains almost entirely the domain of the military. Although older night vision technology is indeed available to the public, the best and most powerful equipment remains reserved solely for military use. Even then best night vision equipment is limited though and in many instances a covert light source in the form of infrared light is required. Although invisible to the naked eye, infrared light acts as visible light when paired with night vision technology, allowing military units to effectively illuminate targets and objects without being observed. LEDs expand on this ability by providing lighting equipment capable of producing light in both the visible and infrared range, allowing military vehicles and personnel to carry a single visible and IR light source rather than several.
These are only a small fraction of the ways in which LEDs are being applied to applications traditionally the realm of the incandescent light bulb. Suffice it to say, LEDs are finding their way into our televisions, computers, phones and even the tableside lamps in our homes, all with great success. As LEDs continue to improve technologically and become more affordable, expect them to become the dominant form of lighting everywhere. In fact, current legislation is dictating an absolute end to production of the incandescent light bulb within the next ten years, so it is not so much a matter of if LEDs become dominant anymore and only a matter of when.