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Key Benefits of Next-Gen UV-LED Tech

Fri, 04/16/2010 - 8:33am
Richard Halliday, Director of Sales and Marketing, Lumex

Richard HallidayDespite the potential hazards of ultraviolet light which are evident in everyday life, such as sunburn, the UV spectrum is proving to have many beneficial effects in a multitude of areas. Not unlike how standard, visible LEDs have impacted today’s marketplace, the advancement of UV LEDs is offering a wide range of advantages to a diverse number of applications.

Recent technological advancements are moving the UV LED market segment into a whole new level of product innovation and performance. Design engineers are taking note as emerging UV LED technologies generate significant cost, energy, and space savings compared to alternate technologies.

Five key benefits of the latest generation of UV LED technology demonstrate why the market is expected to grow in the next five years. 

Figure 1. Next generation UV LED technology such as QuasarBrite UV LEDs from Lumex provide long life span, tight beam angle, uniform beam pattern, enhanced durability and up to 50% cost savings.Wide Range of Applications
The UV spectrum encompasses all wavelengths between 100 nm and 400 nm in length and is commonly broken down into three distinct subfields: 

• UV-A: 315-400 nm (also known as long wave UV), 
• UV-B: 280-315 nm (also known as medium wave UV), and 
• UV-C: 100-280 nm (also known as short wave UV).

Dental curing instruments and counterfeit detection applications were early adopters of UV LED technology- but performance, cost and durability benefits combined with recent enhancements in life span are causing UV LEDs to be integrated into a rapidly growing number of applications. Today, UV LED applications include:

230-400 nm: optical sensors and instrumentation
230-280 nm: UV ID verification, barcodes
240-280 nm: sterilization of surface areas and water
250-405 nm: forensic and bodily fluid detection and analysis
270-300 nm: protein analysis, drug discovery
300-320 nm: medical light therapy
300-365 nm: polymer and ink printing
375-395 nm: counterfeit detection
390-410 nm: superficial/cosmetic sterilization

Figure 2. UV LED technology is well suited for a wide variety of medical device applications

Environmental Impact - Lower Energy Consumption, Reduced Waste and No Hazardous Materials
UV LEDs provide several significant environmental benefits compared to alternative technologies. UV LEDs have up to 70 percent lower energy consumption compared to compact florescent (CCFL) lamps. Additionally, UV LEDs are RoHS compliant and do not contain the toxic mercury often found in CCFL technology.

UV LEDs are also much smaller in size and more durable than CCFLs. UV LEDs are more resistant to vibration and impact, resulting in less product breakage and reduced waste and maintenance expense.

Figure 3. UV LED technology has several forensic applications including fingerprinting and bodily fluid detection and analysis.Enhanced Life span
Over the last 10 years, UV LED technology has been challenged by insufficient life spans. Despite their many benefits, adoption of UV LED technology was significantly slowed because UV rays easily broke down the LED epoxy, degrading the life span of UV LEDs to less than 5,000 hours.

The next generation of UV LED technology featured “hardened” or “UV resistant” epoxy packages that provided life spans of up to 10,000 life hours – still not nearly enough for most applications. This still insufficient life span was further complicated by the fact that epoxy break down is erratic and not graceful or linear, resulting in poor performance even before the life span was completely exhausted.

In the last several months, new technology has emerged that has solved this engineering challenge. For example, in Lumex´s new QuasarBrite UV LED technology, the epoxy lenses were replaced with a robust TO-46 package with glass lens allowing the technology to last at least 10 times longer, providing a life span of more than 50,000 hours.

With this major engineering challenge resolved along with issues related to die stabilization at specific wavelengths, UV LED technology has become an attractive option for a growing number of applications.

The next major challenge for UV LED technology will come in the area of efficiency. For many applications such as medical light therapy, water sterilization and polymer curing at less than 365 nm, the output power of UV LEDs is only five to eight percent of input power. At 385 nm and above, the efficiency improves, but only to about 15 percent. As emerging technology addresses these efficiency challenges, even more applications will begin to adopt UV LEDs.

Performance
UV LEDs also provide significant performance benefits compared to alternative technologies. UV LEDs can provide tight beam angle and uniform beam patterns. Because of the challenges in optical efficiency inherent to UV LEDs, most design engineers are looking for a specific beam angle that maximizes the output over the targeted area. With ordinary UV lamps, the engineer has to rely on flooding the area with enough light to try and achieve the right combination of uniformity and intensity. With UV LEDs, the lensing allows for a much tighter emission angle, allowing the majority of the UV LEDs output to be focused directly where it is required.

To match this performance, alternate technologies would require secondary lenses with additional cost and space requirements.

The combination of tight beam angle and uniform beam patterns without the need for a secondary lens, reduced energy consumption and enhanced durability allows UV LEDs to provide desirable cost savings compared to CCFL technology.

Cost-Effective Application Specific Options
it is often far more practical from both a cost and performance perspective to create UV LED solutions specifically designed for a particular application than it is to adopt standard technology to specific applications. In many cases, UV LEDs are used in an array where beam pattern and optical intensity consistency are critical across the entire array. By having a UV LED supplier provide a full integrated array specifically for the application, the overall BOM can be reduced, the number of suppliers can be reduced and the array can be tested for the specific application before it is released to the design engineer. This reduces cost in the engineering and procurement departments by reducing transactions, providing a highly efficient solution that is tailored to match the demands of the end application.

Be sure to look for a UV LED supplier who can provide cost-effective custom UV LED solutions specifically designed for your application needs. For example, a supplier partner who has decades of experience with PCB design, custom optics, ray tracing and molding will be able to offer a host of options for the most cost effective and targeted solution.

In conclusion, recent technical enhancements to UV LED technology have resolved issues with die stabilization and greatly expanded life span – up to 50,000 life hours. These developments combined with their enhanced durability, lack of hazardous materials, reduced energy consumption, compact size, quality performance, cost savings and cost-effective custom options, are making UV LEDs an attractive alternative for a rapidly growing list of markets, industries and applications.

In the months and years ahead further enhancements will be made –  especially in the area of efficiency – causing UV LED adoption to grow even faster.

Author Bio
Richard Halliday is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Lumex. He has been in the electronics industry for over 12 years working with design engineers on customized solutions from the PCB level up to finished goods solutions.

Lumex Contact Information
For additional information or engineering assistance:

In North America and Europe, contact Lumex’s Sales Department, 290 E. Helen Rd., Palatine, IL 60067 USA. Phone: 1-800-278-5666. FAX: 1-847-359-8904. E-mail: lmxsales@lumex.com Web: www.lumex.com.

In Asia, contact Lumex's Asian Pacific Headquarters at 3F, No. 972, Sec. 4, Chung Hsing Rd., Chu Dung, Hsin Chu County, Taiwan, ROC. Phone: +886-3-582-1124. FAX: +886-3-582-1154. Web (in Chinese): www.lumex.com.tw

About Lumex
For 30 years Lumex has been a global leader in the optoelectronics industry, with the broadest range of high efficiency, high performance LEDs and LCDs in the industry.  With thousands of standard products and a focus on semi-custom and custom designs, Lumex is a valuable resource for quality and innovation.  Lumex's optical range encompasses a wide spectrum including UV, visible and infrared wavelengths. Lumex's team of Technical Design Specialists are experts in collaboratively developing effective, smart solutions from the most complex design dilemmas.

Lumex has a global footprint with the worldwide headquarters outside Chicago and the Asian headquarters in Taiwan. With manufacturing capabilities in the United States, China, Taiwan and Thailand, Lumex is able to support over 23 end markets with more than 80,000 customers both directly and through our distribution channel partners. Over the last 30 years, the name Lumex has become synonymous with quality and performance around the world.

About ITW Photonics Group
The ITW Photonics Group was created to bring together and build on the technical expertise of  individual companies that specialize in photonics technology and span the full spectrum of wavelengths.  The group consists of: 

• Lumex - LED and LCD technology 
• Cal Sensors - IR Detector and Emitter technology 
• Opto Diode Corp - LED, Silicon Photodiodes and Electro-Optical Assembly technology

The synergy of these three industry front-runners provides an unsurpassed range of photonic capabilities within a broad spectrum of markets, including medical, military and industrial controls.  The ITW Photonics Group provides integrated solutions that encompass the technology and experience from all three business units, offering design engineers higher performance with greater feature enhancements.

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