LED Lighting To Finally Become Cost Effective

LED Lighting

10 years ago, LED Lighting was set to revolutionise the general illumination market. LEDs, also known as Light Emitting Diodes, had already taken over are the role as indicator panel illuminators and user interfaces on industrial, commercial and consumer products. All the trend lines indicated that they would eclipse the incandescent light globe for cost per watt within a decade.

So what went wrong?

Purple LED Diffused

LED Lighting – Purple LED Diffused

More power without more light

As the technology was scaled up, the power levels rose and the expected requirements of more heatsinking were being dealt with and all seemed on track for LEDs to take over the world of lighting. But then a snag was hit. The technology got to a point where the efficiency dropped off as more current flowed through the diode. Companies like CREE, LumiLEDs and OSRAM pursued different and moderately successful strategies to try and overcome these limitations but the pace of progress slowed dramatically.

All of this points to a technical barrier we still don’t fully understand but are chipping away at.


Same light less cost

The other issue is the cost per watt in terms of the manufacturing cost of LEDs. The manufacturing process typically uses Sapphire or Silicon Carbide substrated which makes LEDs more expensive to manufacture than conventional semiconductors. There are several ways to improve this and they are all being pursued in parallel.

The first is the move toward organic semiconductors as covered in my recent post on Printed Electronics I looked at much lower cost techniques for making semiconductors and organic LEDs are one of the possible end products from these techniques. The CSIRO are world leaders in these technologies and are actively pursuing research into flexible electronics including organic displays and lighting. Here the challenge is creating a robust manufacturing technique that produces high volume, low cost lighting. The efficiency may not be as high but the cost per watt is much lower. Organic Semiconductors and organic LEDs will continue to be part of the solution. You can read about their efforts in CSIRO Flexible Electronics.

CSIRO Flexible Electronics

CSIRO Flexible Electronics

The second move is toward reducing the costs of conventional LED manufacture by eliminating the more costly steps of the process. A recent breakthrough was announced by Bridgelux and reportied in IEEE Spectrum will permit the manufacture of LEDs on silicon substrates. In Silicon Is Key to Quest for $5 LED Lightbulb the breakthrough is described and the promise is good. This also does not address the efficiency problem but again reduces the cost per watt.

Bridgelux Silicon Substrate LED

Bridgelux Silicon Substrate LED

Efficiency is the final frontier

The final chapter is yet to be written because the breakthrough we have all hoped for has not yet arrived. In the meantime the problem is being tackled from many sides and advances are being made on multiple technical fronts. LED lighting is an important part of the strategy to reduce our Carbon Footprint.


Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. For more information go to his LinkedIn profile at Ray Keefe. This post is Copyright © 2011 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

The Future of Low Cost Electronics Manufacture

High End Electronics

In the early days Electronics was hand wired on a chassis. Some high end valve amplifiers still do this. Check out:


Hayden Valve Guitar Amplifiers


Guitar Player reviews 6 hand wired valve amplifiers


Gibson valve amplifiers


Fender Vibro-King Custom


Torres amplifiers – build it yourself


Marshall Hand Wired Series


But of course this isn’t very compact. For those who didn’t know, I am a guitarist and use a Carvin MTS3212 Master Tube Series tube amplifier which I still enjoy very much. So when compact isn’t a priority and cost isn’t as important as the sound, then you go for this sort of amplifier. This is another example of the trade-offs we discussed in the Project Priorities Perspective where it’s about Performance and Cost is the lowest priority.



Low Cost Electronics Manufacture

For Low Cost Electronics Manufacture however, there are other factors that come into play. You want quality and you want it in a timely manner but the cost has to be low so that you have a decent profit margin. So hand wiring is out because that is expensive.


Very well designed Printed Circuit Board PCB can produce excellent results and with the move to Surface Mount Technology SMT and the Surface Mount Device SMD the Component Loading Cost is also reduced as components are put in place by machines and there are no leads or tails to trim after soldering. So this really helps with Electronics Manufacturing Cost and for at least the next little while will remain the way to go.


Another strategy for reducing cost is to use a modern Integrated Circuit IC because you can fit more functions into a more complex device and although it sometimes costs more for that individual device, you can reduce cost by removing other devices, reducing size and reducing loading and handling costs.


Reducing size reduces cost because you get more Printed Circuit Boards on a Panel and the cost of a panel in general is roughly the same ragardless of how many PCBs there are on it.



Emerging Electronics Technologies

But the future is approaching and there are some very interesting developments under way. These involve Organic Semiconductors and Printable Electronic Circuits. Check out the following links:


printable electronics – a game changer


printable electronics on the rise


printable electronics to surprass $7 billion in 2010


Organic Semiconductors


Organic Semiconductors in a spin


I was particularly interested in the idea that the number 1 piece of equipment purchased by universities and Research and Development corporations conducting Electronics Research would be an inkjet printer! And did you notice the convergence between these 2 Low Cost Electronics Technologies?


We are in for interesting times indeed when you can design your circuit and then prototype it on your printer.


Ray Keefe has been developing high quality and market leading electronics products in Australia for nearly 30 years. For more information go to his LinkedIn profile. This post is Copyright © Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.