What do we need to do to make Solid-State Lighting fun and affordable?

Over the past several years, we have seen significant improvements in the performance, cost, and quality of Solid-State Light (SSL) sources. We can now comfortably say that SSL can meet our lighting needs with respect to light quality and quantity. But for several reasons that I would like to discuss, we have not run to the stores to replace our “bulbs” with LED light sources.

Why has this not happened?

There are two parts to the answer of this question. These two parts are that either the implementation of Solid-State Lighting is too complicated or it is too expensive. Until both of these “challenges” are addressed by the same product, the consumer and the lighting industry will not fully embrace this next generation lighting technology.

If a lighting fixture manufacturer were interested in designing a new fixture that used a Solid-State Light source today, he would need to determine how much light he needed, what CRI he desired, what the beam angles needed to be, how to manage the heat generated, where to get a power supply and if he could pass UL with all of this hardware. Not only is this process a complex one when compared to screwing in a CFL or “light bulb,” but the cost of this hardware would be at least 10 times more expensive than the current approach he is using. Furthermore, the SSL industry is changing so quickly that within a short period of time, the fixture that he just designed would most likely be obsolete and the manufacturer who sold him the components may no longer support the light sources that are in the fixture. This combination of decisions and costs is what we must overcome.

Molex has developed a new product line called the Versatile Light Module or VLM.  The premise behind this product line is that it makes lighting fun, easy to implement and much lower cost. The VLM allows the customer or lighting fixture designer to implement Solid-State Lighting into his products with very simple, cost effective and readily available power sources. In one variation of the product line, a simple “hot spot” can be screwed to a fixture. This hot spot is powered by either a 12V AC or 24V DC power supply. Now a “light disk” can be installed onto the hot spot through a magnetic connection. This eliminates the need for screws, cables, connectors and thermal grease. As soon as the light disk is placed onto the hot spot, the light magically turns on. This is as simple and straightforward a way to change the lighting in our fixture as can be imagined. The light disk can have virtually any type of light source within it. It can be any color you can imagine, it can be a variety of beam angles, CRIs, intensities, etc. and any of these features can be changed within seconds. The hot spot can also be replaced by a rail system where a variety of different light sources are included. This then makes it possible to vary the light type and color along the length of the rail. The rails can be designed to “move” the light around 90 degree bends either in plane or vertically, adding the magic of using light disks to create a unique environment.

The technology behind the VLM product line is called MID or Molded Interconnect Devices. MID technology is the application of circuitry onto three dimensional plastic surfaces. By integrating a light source into a selectively-plated plastic component that includes the drive electronics and a magnetic hold down, we are able to dramatically reduce the complexity and cost of implementing Solid-State Lighting solutions.

Although the first generation of VLM modules are low voltage products, within the next six months, direct line voltage products will become available, further driving down the cost and usability of Solid-State Lighting. All of this is possible through the use of MID technology and how it makes the integration of electronics, optics, and thermal management possible in a very small space.

Stop by the Molex booth #2155 May 17-19 at LightFair 2011 to see a demo of VLM .