LED Technology

New report outlines thermal challenges in the LED industry


ew research from Future Facilities – maker of the 6SigmaET thermal simulation software – has revealed the top challenges and trends in

the LED industry for 2020.

Conducted as a roundtable discussion, the research brings together company founders and senior product directors from brands including Signify, Optimal Thermal Solutions, Thal Technologies and 6SigmaET. According to these industry experts, the key trends shaping the LED industry in 2020 centre around the need to incorporate LEDs into increasingly compact designs that must be turned around in record time. These trends are driving a number of new thermal design priorities, with the most commonly identified including greater customisation due to LEDs entering increasingly niche markets, improved reliability in a wide variety of climates and environments, thanks to new IoT applications and the need for faster thermal simulation tools that provide a higher rate of product optimisation – maximising the efficiency and flexibility of LEDs.

The LED industry: 2020 trends LED usage is becoming increasingly common – they’re energy efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly. In the next few years alone, the global market for LEDs is forecast to be worth over $50 billion. But for all their undoubted benefits, the rise of LEDs still presents challenges for designers – with thermal considerations a key concern.

28 May 2020 Shrinking space

Electronic devices are becoming more compact – in both consumer and industrial applications. As a result, designers are adopting innovative techniques in order to integrate LEDs into all form factors of light bulbs; including spotlights, strip lighting and LED fi laments. To create smaller, lighter and thinner LED devices, a growing number of engineers are starting to specify LEDs as ‘chip-scale packages’ (CSP). CSPs allow an architecture with virtually no package beyond the p and n contacts that are metallised in the back-end manufacturing process – greatly reducing surface area. Simply put, CSPs can be grouped very close together, creating clusters of extremely power-dense modules within these compact designs. A consequence of increased power is increased temperature. Such close groupings of high-powered LEDs will inevitably generate a large amount of heat – a watt of power can be produced from an area of LEDs as small as 1mm2.

Decreased design time Business moves fast these days. LED manufacturers and device designers are working to increasingly condensed timescales, with turnaround time for an entire design project sometimes clocking in at as little as two weeks. The pressure to get to market as quickly as possible means designers often can’t evaluate how components work in tandem as carefully as they’d like, according to our panel. But to ensure LED products do not overheat, components must be meticulously trialled and tested.

Components in Electronics

Sub-optimal designs can lead to product failures, poor light output or long-term reliability issues. It’s vital that time is factored into the initial design processes to adequately account for possible thermal complications.

The IoT and expanding use cases Because of their fl exibility and energy effi ciency, LEDs are now being incorporated into a wide range of products – from ‘smart’ home lighting to car headlamps and beyond. This is great news for end-users. However, LED designers rarely know which application their product will be used in. The rise of the IoT means LEDs can fi nd themselves encountering a variety of different climates and environments, making it virtually impossible to predict the thermal forces the design will have to withstand. Our panel noted that this situation is further complicated by the fact that, though conventional lighting solutions have a maximum fi lament temperature of around 3,000°C, whereas for junction temperatures, LEDs need to be closer to 100°C to achieve their desired lifetime. This means there’s a greatly reduced margin for error when designing LED products.

LEDs: Priorities for 2020 With the industry looking to incorporate LEDs into an expanding range of products, coupled with increasingly compact designs that must be turned around in record time, expectations are shifting. In order to keep up with this rapid pace of change, here are the top priorities identifi ed by our expert panel for the year ahead.

“In 2020, I believe we’re going to see a rise in customisation and LEDs entering increasingly niche markets. But it’s crucial we look at these specialised applications from a thermal point of view,” says Ad Musters, Thal Technologies. “The benefi t of the IoT is that we can combine experimental testing with simulation tools, so we can really get a good idea of how our LED products work in reality. This is something to take advantage of moving forward,” says Norbert Engelberts. “From my team’s perspective, in 2020 we will look to provide insights at a faster rate and optimise our products as effi ciently as possible. Deploying new working methods and tools is an essential part of this process – with simulation a high priority,” says Genevieve Martin, Signify.

Thermal simulation and LEDs Clearly, implementation of LED technology will only continue to increase in the coming years – they have numerous advantages over conventional, legacy lighting solutions. So, given the increasing ubiquity of LEDs in our personal and working lives, how can designers and engineers overcome the challenges our experts identifi ed in this report? A common theme that all of our panel touched upon was the need for comprehensive thermal simulation of LED products. With LED devices in high altitudes, extreme heat and cold, or even permanently submerged underwater, accurately predicting heat dissipation is more vital than ever. Thermal simulation gives you a unique visual representation of the temperature and airfl ow inside equipment. This allows engineers to make better decisions when it comes to offsetting heat, and helps them to design cooling systems that balance performance and cost. Commenting on these fi ndings, Chris Aldham, product manager at Future Facilities, says, “Working with such small components means today’s thermal simulation platforms must offer an exceptional level of accuracy to prevent overheating and produce reliable end products. For LED devices, everything depends on temperature, but temperature depends on everything else. It’s so interlinked that it’s impossible to look at it in isolation; the entire design process matters. As such, thermal management is vital to ensure that every element of a design is optimised.” thermal-focus-leds

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