How new lighting technologies will impact businesses and save money Featured

8:00pm EDT May 31, 2012
How new lighting technologies will impact businesses and save money

Innovations in lighting technology are set to reshape the way offices and factories are lit in just a few years. While one innovation promises to deliver exciting possibilities that previously couldn’t be realized in video projection and custom fixtures, another will provide greater efficiency in lighting that can lower a company’s carbon footprint.

“This will be the future,” says Bryan Burkhart, principal lighting designer for Alfa Tech. “It will be everywhere — homes, businesses, institutions — and it will replace what we’re currently using in fluorescent and incandescent.”

He says LEDs are here to stay. They’ve been accepted in half the time it took for the general industry to accept compact fluorescent lights and they’ll only get more efficient.

Smart Business spoke with Burkhart about emerging lighting technologies and how they might affect business operations in the near future.

What new lighting technologies are you seeing?

Optical Waveguide Technology (OWT) uses new Light-Emitting Diode (LED) technology and channels the light through extrusions — formed polymers — to distribute a defined light stream. The materials used can be very thin and clear, much like a sheet of glass. They can direct the light anywhere you want and there’s very little light wasted in areas that you don’t want it. The fixtures will eventually be economical to produce because they’ll use less material and will be thinner and more elegant, providing uniform light without revealing the source.

Also available are Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED), in which the OLED is created by placing thin films of carbon-based materials between two conductors and applying a current, making the entire material luminous. The material becomes the light fixture, and it can be folded, twisted and formed any way you want. Theoretically, you could coat a ceiling or wall with it and have a continuous path that would serve as a video screen or light source. It’s also thin enough that it could be incorporated in clothing.

What are the applications of these technologies?

For Optical Waveguide Technology, you can have a range of fixtures mounted on the ceiling, wall, or used at the desk level as task lights. They’re so thin and low profile that they can be incorporated into all types of office furniture providing uniform light while reducing surface brightness, such as on a desk. Businesses can reduce their energy footprint because they can produce more light using fewer watts and direct it to where it is needed.

In manufacturing, current LEDs are blindingly bright light sources used in high-bay applications that are blasting a tremendous amount of light down in order to equal the traditional high-intensity discharge lamps that produce white light. With Optical Waveguide Technology, you can provide precise illumination on machine rows for someone to do very fine work.

OLEDs have greater application potential across numerous industries because of the huge push for monitors to be thinner. In one to two years, there could be a switchover in televisions and monitors because OLEDs provide richer colors, truer black displays and are incredibly thin.

In vehicle manufacturing, this technology can be utilized in heads-up displays or mounted in door panels. Light fixtures can also be blended into the manufacturing equipment, so no matter how complicated or tiny that space is you could have a light fixture that can illuminate that area. It also gives you the ability to create custom fixtures using any color that can be built in any space. Companies could do anything from a simple luminous panel to hooking into a sequencer that can transform a lighting fixture into a video screen. OLED applications will predominantly be in the video market, but will have a place in custom lighting fixtures as well.

What is the return on investment?

In a typical fluorescent fixture environment that replaces its T8 lamps with LED fixtures with a control system, the return on investment is anywhere between five and 10 years. With Optical Waveguide Technology, you’re probably going to be looking at returns on investment of three to four years.

For OLEDs, there’s going to be no return on investment in the beginning. It’s going to be the ‘wow’ factor of being the first person to own a television that blends right into the wall. They’re not very efficient when it comes to thermal conductivity — 100 percent of the energy isn’t being generated into light. However, its benefit is that it can be used in very flexible materials.

How does the cost of replacement and repair play out against the energy savings over time?

Right now, if an LED burns out in a fixture, you’re pretty much buying a whole new one. With Optical Waveguide Technology, you will swap out a modular LED source that snaps into place. It will be very economical. Currently, it takes an electrician to change an LED board or array because if one burns out, they’re likely disconnecting a part or all of the board. But eventually, with the new technology, anyone could do it.

What other benefits might a company gain by using this new technology?

OWT fixtures are more efficient, generate less heat and increase the amount of light cast, which translates into a smaller carbon footprint. You’re seeing more projects in more cities that have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements, and this technology could translate to gaining additional LEED points.

Are these technologies available now?

OLEDs are being implemented in lighting fixtures right now, and I believe they could be used for television products in the second half of this year, but the latter will be prohibitively expensive. OWT is about nine months away. If you have a project that’s nine to 12 months out, you could utilize this technology.

Bryan Burkhart is principal lighting designer for Alfa Tech. Reach him at (408) 487-1317 or bryan.burkhart@atce.com.

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