Applications of LED fall into four major categories:
• Visual signal application where the light goes more or less directly from the LED to the human eye, to convey a message or meaning.
• Illumination where LED light is reflected from object to give visual response of these objects.
• Generate light for measuring and interacting with processes that do not involve the human visual system.
• Narrow band light sensors where the LED is operated in a reverse-bias mode and is responsive to incident light instead of emitting light.
The low energy consumption, low maintenance and small size of modern LEDs has led to applications as status indicators and displays on a variety of equipment and installations.
• Large area LED displays are used as stadium displays and as dynamic decorative displays.
• Thin, lightweight message displays are used at airports and railway stations, and as destination displays for trains, buses, trams, and ferries.
• The single color light is well suited for traffic lights and signals, exit signs, emergency vehicle lighting, ships' lanterns and LED-based Christmas lights.
• Red or yellow LEDs are used in indicator and alphanumeric displays in environments where night vision must be retained: aircraft cockpits, submarine and ship bridges, astronomy observatories, and in the field, e.g. night time animal watching and military field use.
With the development of high efficiency and high power LEDs it has become possible to incorporate LEDs in lighting and illumination. Replacement light bulbs have been made as well as dedicated fixtures and LED lamps. LEDs have been used for lighting of streets and of parking garages. In 2007, the Italian village Torraca was the first place to convert its entire illumination system to LEDs.
They are also used in architectural lighting where color changing is used. The mechanical robustness and long lifetime is used in automotive lighting on cars, motorcycles and on bicycle lights.
The aviation lighting changes more and more to LEDs. Airbus has used LED lighting in their Airbus A320 Enhanced since 2007, and Boeing plans its use in the 787. LEDs are also being used now in airport and heliport lighting. LED airport fixtures currently include medium intensity runway lights, runway centerline lights and obstruction lighting.
The lack of IR/heat radiation makes LEDs ideal for stage lights using banks of RGB LEDs that can easily change color and decrease heating from traditional stage lighting, as well as medical lighting where IR-radiation can be harmful.
Since LEDs are small, durable and require little power they are used in hand held devices such as flashlights. LED strobe lights or camera flashes operate at a safe, low voltage. This is particularly applicable to cameras on mobile phones, where space is at a premium and bulky voltage-increasing circuitry is undesirable. LEDs are used for infrared illumination in night vision applications including security cameras. A ring of LEDs around a video camera, aimed forward into a retro reflective background, allows chroma keying in video productions.
LEDs are used for decorative lighting as well. Uses include but are not limited to indoor/outdoor decor, limousines, cargo trailers, conversion vans, cruise ships, RVs, boats, automobiles, and utility trucks. Decorative LED lighting can also come in the form of lighted company signage and step and aisle lighting in theaters and auditoriums.
LEDs are being used increasingly commonly for aquarium lighting. Particular for reef aquariums, LED lights provide an efficient light source with less heat output to help maintain optimal aquarium temperatures. LED-based aquarium fixtures also have the advantage of being manually adjustable to produce a specific color-spectrum for ideal coloration of corals, fish, and invertebrates.
Light can be used to transmit broadband data, which is already implemented in IrDA standards using infrared LEDs. Because LEDs can cycle on and off millions of times per second, they can, in effect, become wireless routers for data transport. Lasers can also be modulated in this manner.
Efficient lighting is needed for sustainable architecture. A 13 watt LED lamp produces 450 to 650 lumens, which is equivalent to a standard 40 watt incandescent bulb. A standard 40 W incandescent bulb has an expected lifespan of 1,000 hours while an LED can continue to operate with reduced efficiency for more than 50,000 hours, 50 times longer than the incandescent bulb.
Environmentally friendly options
A single kilowatt-hour of electricity will generate 1.34 pounds (610 g) of CO2 emissions. Assuming the average light bulb is on for 10 hours a day, a single 40-watt incandescent bulb will generate 196 pounds (89 kg) of CO2 every year. The 13-watt LED equivalent will only be responsible for 63 pounds (29 kg) of CO2 over the same time span. A building’s carbon footprint from lighting can be reduced by 68% by exchanging all incandescent bulbs for new LEDs in warm climates. In cold climates, the energy saving may be lower, since more heating would be needed to compensate for the lower temperature.
LEDs are also non-toxic unlike the more popular energy efficient bulb option: the compact fluorescent a.k.a. CFL which contains traces of harmful mercury. While the amount of mercury in a CFL is small, introducing less into the environment is preferable.
LED light bulbs could be a cost-effective option for lighting a home or office space because of their very long lifetimes. Consumer use of LEDs as a replacement for conventional lighting system is currently hampered by the high cost and low efficiency of available products. 2009 DOE testing results showed an average efficacy of 35 lm/W, below that of typical CFLs, and as low as 9 lm/W, worse than standard incandescents. The high initial cost of the commercial LED bulb is due to the expensive sapphire substrate which is key to the production process. The sapphire apparatus must be coupled with a mirror-like collector to reflect light that would otherwise be wasted.
In 2008, a materials science research team at Purdue University succeeded in producing LED bulbs with a substitute for the sapphire components. The team used metal-coated silicon wafers with a built-in reflective layer of zirconium nitride to lessen the overall production cost of the LED. They predict that within a few years, LEDs produced with their revolutionary, new technique will be competitively priced with CFLs. The less expensive LED would not only be the best energy saver, but also a very economical bulb.
Light has many other uses besides for seeing. LEDs are used for some of these applications. The uses fall in three groups:
• sensors and
• light matter interaction.
The light from LEDs can be modulated very quickly so they are used extensively in optical fiber. This include remote controls, such as for TVs and VCRs, where infrared LEDs are often used.
Opto-isolators use an LED combined with a photodiode or phototransistor to provide a signal path with electrical isolation between two circuits. This is especially useful in medical equipment where the signals from a low voltage sensor circuit (usually battery powered) in contact with a living organism must be electrically isolated from any possible electrical failure in a recording or monitoring device operating at potentially dangerous voltages. An optoisolator also allows information to be transferred between circuits not sharing a common ground potential.
Many sensor systems rely on light as the signal source. LEDs are often ideal as a light source due to the requirements of the sensors.
LEDs are used as movement sensors, for example in optical computer mice. The Nintendo Wii's sensor bar uses infrared LEDs. In pulse oximeters for measuring oxygen saturation. Some flatbed scanners use arrays of RGB LEDs rather than the typical cold-cathode fluorescent lamp as the light source. Having independent control of three illuminated colors allows the scanner to calibrate itself for more accurate color balance, and there is no need for warm-up. Furthermore, its sensors only need be monochromatic, since at any one point in time the page being scanned is only lit by a single color of light.
Touch sensing: Since LEDs can also be used as photodiodes, they can be used for both photo emission and detection. This could be used in for example a touch-sensing screen that register reflected light from a finger or stylus.
Many materials and biological systems are sensitive to, or dependent on light. Grow lights use LEDs to increase photosynthesis in plants and bacteria and viruses can be removed from water and other substances using UV LEDs for sterilization. Other uses are as UV curing devices for some ink and coating applications as well as LED printers.
The use of LEDs is particularly interesting to plant cultivators, mainly because it is more energy efficient, less heat is produced (can damage plants close to hot lamps) and can provide the optimum light frequency for plant growth and bloom periods compared to currently used grow lights: HPS (high pressure sodium), MH (metal halide) or CFL/low-energy. It has however not replaced these grow lights due to it having a higher retail price, as mass production and LED kits develop the product will become cheaper.
Light sources for machine vision systems
Machine vision systems often require bright and homogeneous illumination, so features of interest are easier to process.
LEDs are often used to this purpose, and this field of application is likely to remain one of the major application areas until price drops low enough to make signaling and illumination applications more widespread. Barcode scanners are the most common example of machine vision, and many inexpensive ones used red LEDs instead of lasers. LEDs constitute a nearly ideal light source for machine vision systems for several reasons:
1. The size of the illuminated field is usually comparatively small and machine vision systems are often quite expensive, so the cost of the light source is usually a minor concern. However, it might not be easy to replace a broken light source placed within complex machinery, and here the long service life of LEDs is a benefit.
2. LED elements tend to be small and can be placed with high density over flat or even shaped substrates (PCBs etc.) so that bright and homogeneous sources can be designed which direct light from tightly controlled directions on inspected parts. This can often be obtained with small, inexpensive lenses and diffusers, helping to achieve high light densities with control over lighting levels and homogeneity.
3. LED sources can be shaped in several configurations (spot lights for reflective illumination; ring lights for coaxial illumination; back lights for contour illumination; linear assemblies; flat, large format panels; dome sources for diffused, omnidirectional illumination).
4. LEDs can be easily strobed (in the microsecond range and below) and synchronized with imaging. High power LEDs are available allowing well lit images even with very short light pulses. This is often used in order to obtain crisp and sharp “still” images of quickly-moving parts.
5. LEDs come in several different colors and wavelengths, easily allowing to use the best color for each application, where different color may provide better visibility of features of interest. Having a precisely known spectrum allows tightly matched filters to be used to separate informative bandwidth or to reduce disturbing effect of ambient light.
6. LEDs usually operate at comparatively low working temperatures, simplifying heat management and dissipation, therefore allowing plastic lenses, filters and diffusers to be used. Waterproof units can also easily be designed, allowing for use in harsh or wet environments (food, beverage, oil industries).
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