LED is only the 4th lighting technology developed in human history. Well over a century old, lighting has remained largely unchanged but the recent development of LED is set to revolutionize lighting the world over. The potential ahead of LED lighting to deliver real and measurable advantages is limitless. That said the LED industry must focus on addressing a number of technical issues that are interfering with more widespread adoption of LED lighting. And the number one greatest challenge for LEDs is compatibility.

What we’ve seen to date in our current, ongoing preliminary phase of LED adoption is “plug and play” applications — a customer simply installs an LED bulb into an existing fixture. Sometimes that fixture works with the LED bulb’s mechanical, electric, and thermal requirements; sometimes it doesn’t; and sometimes there are mixed results.

This is the case because the entire infrastructure of lighting evolved over several decades based on only two technologies — incandescent and fluorescent. Today, legacy infrastructure — the transformers, fixtures, and control devices already incorporated into built environments—create unique and challenging compatibility interferences with widespread LED adoption.

When looking at the compatibility problem, there are four separate issues to address: electrical compatibility, mechanical compatibility, and thermal compatibility.

Electric compatibility
Common voltages in lighting systems are significantly higher than LED requirements. As a result, the transformer and dimmers often don’t operate consistently, or properly. Frequently this causes the LED to flicker and dim erratically, one lamp powering off before another, or the LED not even powering on at all.

Mechanical compatibility
Problems arise when LEDs do not match the size and dimensions of traditional lamps.  It’s simply a matter of fitting a square into a round hole — the LED does not fix the legacy fixture’s width or height.

Optical compatibility
Something that happens frequently with fixtures is that lighting designers are specifying certain fixtures they are used to working with. When they put an LED ‘plug and play’ retrofit lamp inside a halogen fixture though, the end result is not what they expect or had in mind. This is so because the optics in LEDs are not doing what they need to do and aren’t aligned with that particular fixture. Often times, this combination gives off a terrible glare.

The last is thermal compatibility
Traditional light sources and LEDs operate at dramatically different temperatures. While some halogen lamps operate at 200 degrees Celsius, LED lamps must operate between a specific thermal temperature to ensure long life and safety standards. In much of the legacy fixture infrastructure, there’s no means to dissipate heat in the bulb design. 

LEDs have different technical requirements that frequently don’t mesh with the existing lighting infrastructure. This has caused many difficulties as manufacturers first developed LEDs as replacement sources without always taking into account deeper issues of integration and eventual replacement of infrastructure with systems that are better suited to LEDs.

Realizing the benefits that will be realized by solving compatibility problems, the LED industry, as a whole, needs to guarantee their technology fits legacy lighting infrastructure. Bottom-line, LED lamps need to work on the spectrum of magnetic transformers, in combination with most commonly used leading edge dimmers, and with a large variety of electronic transformers paired with commonly used trailing edge dimmers. Compatibility will remain the number one issue for widespread adoption and I’m extremely confident we’ll be able to overcome the hurdle. It will take testing, hard work and a commitment to cementing LEDs as the latest and greatest of the four lighting technologies to date.

Additionally, closer to the user-level, these issues are beginning to be resolved as manufacturers are working more closely with lighting designers to develop products that can be more easily integrated into fixtures and systems, while also pursuing dramatically new and innovative uses and distributions for LED technology.

It’s more important than ever to look at the bigger picture — across the globe, scientists, designers and manufacturers are responding with new innovations that will result in better and more energy efficient at affordable prices. So that a few bad actors don’t spoil LEDs reputation, it’s time for the entire LED industry to tackle compatibility, together.