Categories Product

The New Look of Flexible Touch Products – What's Coming

A wave of innovation in personal electronics is breaking. What’s helping drive these changes are several factors including incredibly small, highly integrated and far easier to program microcontrollers and flexible displays and touchscreens combined with silver nanowire-based technology, which no longer has to be flat. Rigid and flat are out. Flexibility is in. Such displays are here and being applied to products that will make today’s tablet computers appear as dated as desktops and push portable computing into entirely new sectors.

It’s no secret that wearable electronics are an exploding consumer category. Designers once struggled to make hard, flat products like notebooks and tablets survive frequent use. But now wearable products are an entirely new game. The good news is that touchscreen flexibility, a rather desirable feature for things attached to humans, is being significantly enabled by a leap forward in materials for touch-enabled products.

Flexibility = Wearability
In addition to providing enhanced portability, flexible electronics and touch interfaces also provide greater survivability and allow virtually unlimited design creativity. Flexible touch displays help enable flexible ergonomics, which can better withstand the harsh portable environment. Imagine unbreakable phone screens that flex instead of shattering when dropped. Consider a folding or roll-up a seven-inch tablet that slips into your pocket. How about a display that wraps around your arm, or even a huge public display wrapping around a pillar or a building like neon lighting does? We are driving toward products like these and they’re creating increasing demand for flexible, bendable and even rollable touch screens.

Some of these possibilities include but aren’t limited to curved-shaped smartphones, flexible tablets, as well as wearable smart bracelets and watches. Such products are particularly enabled by flexible touchscreen interfaces. Most importantly there is zero-downside in moving to flexible touch interfaces using silver nanowires versus rigid ones based on indium tin oxide (ITO), the traditional conductive material in flat touchscreens.

More Innovation, Lower Cost
Overall, silver nanowire-based touchscreens range from slightly less to significantly lower cost than equivalent ITO film-based solutions. The manufacturing/patterning processes don’t use chemicals; there aren’t waste disposal problems so it’s a greener way of making new touchscreens. Specifying silver nanowire-based touch technology doesn’t have a downside. Overall, its costs range from slightly less to significantly less than the cost of equivalent ITO, film-based solutions. Its advantages are numerous. The material is cost-effectively accelerating the transition to flexible and wearable devices and products we used to only imagine.

Enhancing the User Experience
As expectations for low-cost, high-performance products grow, so does demand for higher quality touch screens. Meeting today’s advanced standards means touch screens must be thin, light, visible in various ambient light conditions, highly responsive and of course low-cost. Fast responding transparent touchscreens are essential to the desired user experience. This result can only be achieved with highly transparent conductors not visible to the eye. An essential enabler of these important benefits is silver nanowire conductor technology.

For emerging touchscreen applications, including large-area touchscreens, as well as miniature, flexible wearable displays, silver nanowires offer a significant advantage, both in cost and performance. The material is already being used in several consumer products. Roll-to-roll processed silver nanowire transparent conductors are the clear choice for new production facilities needing high throughput and easy processing. They’re also on target for CE OEMs needing a thin, light, flexible material delivering high performance for their next killer product.

And for designers looking for creative possibilities, ask your suppliers about single-layer touchscreens and the higher conductivity, lower power consuming, silver nanowire-based solutions that are ready for wearable, flexible devices.

Categories Lighting

Evolution of Flexibility in Lighting

In the early years of solid-state lighting, manufacturers focused on ensuring LED luminaires and sources were first and foremost good illuminators. Manufacturers focused on efficacy, reliability, color and luminance. These early LED solutions were designed to behave and look like the traditional products they were replacing. As LED lighting matures, the focus is shifting toward designs that leverage the extraordinary flexibility of the LED. 

LEDs are semiconductor light sources that can be controlled like any other electronic components. The ability to control the LEDs, coupled with their inherently small size, opens the door to endless flexibility in lighting designs and features. For example, the lighting industry has seen an abundance of products with new dimensions of control such as intensity and color tuning.

While important, changing the hue and color temperature of lighting are not the only desired features to control. A critical dimension of light output control is the spatial distribution. Where the lighting is aimed, the beam shape, angles, and distribution are critical parameters.

What architects and designers really want is the ability to put bright white light exactly where they want it to create a perfect design. What owners really want is the flexibility to easily change that distribution as space needs change.

In multifunctional and reconfigurable spaces—such as retail shops, entertainment, hospitality, meeting rooms, museums, galleries and residential spaces—focal points and tasks can change frequently, so flexibility in the light distribution is valuable. A growing number of spaces are joining this category, such as modern classrooms and offices.

Even with the most advanced LED solutions, it was relatively difficult to change the pattern of light. For example, in a retail shop a typical solution is to use track lighting to complement the general lighting. This requires the addition of an accent lighting layer with appropriate luminaires. Each time the space changes, the track lighting must be re-aimed. The typical approach is to do this on a ladder, though some manufacturers offer motorized luminaires. This is labor intensive and expensive.

Using aimable lighting, we can direct the light where we want it, but the beam angle is fixed. Since objects and tasks not only change in terms of location but size and shape, the ability to adjust the light pattern becomes important. The industry responded with adjustable optics. This allows designers and owners to adjust the beam spread within a defined range, again using a ladder to individually access each luminaire

OSRAM SYLVANIA talked to designers, architects, retailers and specifiers about the flexibility they need to easily control lighting.  We attempted to address these different needs in a single LED innovation.

This new luminaire is extremely flexible.  Light intensity, beam shape and angle can be simply and easily controlled remotely using a wireless Android app.  The app allows the user to take a picture of the space using a wireless camera and then touch the image on the screen to aim light. Lighting conditions can be tuned and transformed instantaneously without the use of a ladder.

The recessed luminaire, called OmniPoint, consists of an array of LEDs that are focused through an aperture about the size of a five-inch downlight. Each LED is individually controllable enabling a virtually unlimited number of light patterns. The luminaire can provide ambient and accent lighting at the same time, which can be directed almost anywhere in the space in real time.  This flexibility may reduce the overall number of luminaires that are needed in the space resulting in a clean ceiling look.

This LED innovation is the result of natural evolution marrying new technology with longstanding professional lighting needs. At the recent LIGHTFAIR International 2015, it was recognized with an Innovation Award for the Most Innovative Product of the Year and also won the Innovation Award in the Recessed Downlights category. You can see it in action here.

Smart, connected LED lighting solutions that allow us to easily adjust parameters such as intensity, color temperature, hue, beam shape, angle, and distribution are rapidly emerging. These solutions are redefining how we think about, design, specify and use lighting everywhere.

Categories Lighting

Increasing LED Lighting Applications with Heatable Glass Lenses

In my last article, I reviewed examples and case studies on how glass (as luminaire lens material) can be successfully employed in various LED lighting applications to both optimize lighting efficiency and economic paybacks (ROI, TCO, etc.) in standard operating environments (i.e., temperatures > 32°F and 0°C).  In this article, the final entry in this series, I’m going to discuss ways in which a fabricated conductive/heatable glass lens can enable LED lighting to be effectively used in extreme environmental conditions that, to this point, have represented a hurdle towards wider market adoption.

LEDs offer high levels of flexibility and customization (output levels, color temperature, etc.) for lighting applications and, as such, have been and will continue to be adopted in almost every lighting market segment (as shown in the following diagram from the McKinsey Global Lighting Report of 2012).


As you can see, most areas in lighting are quickly migrating towards LED technology.  However, three segments seem to be lagging slightly behind:  Office, industrial and outdoor.  For office lighting, this can be rationalized by the still highly competitive position (in price and energy efficiency) of fluorescent (linear and compact) technology for this market.  For industrial and outdoor, though, there is a different roadblock stagnating LED adoption and that is simply the environmental conditions where these lighting applications operate.  In industrial and outdoor lighting applications, luminaires are seeing extreme weather conditions ranging from extreme hot to extreme cold (i.e., temperatures < 32°F and 0°C) with rain, snow, ice and hail exposure. These conditions, as you will see, prove to be an inherent problem for LED-based lighting.

In traditional outdoor lighting technology like Incandescent and  High-Intensity Discharge (HID) high levels of Infrared (IR) energy (see spectrum below) or “heat” are generated by the light source itself.


Diagram courtesy of Guardian Industries

With this IR heat comes higher energy consumption and lower levels of efficiency/efficacy, which has allowed LEDs to become a more-attractive technology long-term.  However, the absence of this IR heat generation from LED lighting vs. Incandescent and HID technology (as shown in the following output spectra) makes it difficult to use LEDs in lighting applications where it is necessary to remove snow and ice from the lens surface – such as outdoor and industrial.


Diagram courtesy of Guardian Industries Corp.

As you can see, the LED output is highest in the visible range and low in the Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) ranges of the spectrum.  This means great visible light quality and low levels of UV damage and heat being generated which is good in terms of safety and efficiency.  However, this is bad news when you need that IR energy to remove snow and ice from your luminaire, which is “built into” HID light sources.  This issue has limited the market space potential for LED lighting in outdoor and industrial lighting applications.

LED luminaire OEMs have a number of ways to resolve this problem including:

  • Redirect heat from the heat sink into a cavity in the area between the light source and lens;
  • Integrated a conductive laminate interlayer (tungsten “wiggle wire”) on the lens;
  • Integrate a conductive coating on to the lens surface itself.

Let’s now assess each of these options. The redirection of the heat from the heat sink into the optical cavity is an easy fix but compromises the lifetime of the LEDs junction (one of its major commercial advantages).  Integrating a laminated conductive interlayer is another easy fix but increases luminaire cost and weight and compromises optical integrity and clarity.  Putting the heat directly where it needs to go, on the lens, clearly makes the most sense for LED lighting applications.

Now the question is on the lens material itself to use to accomplish this.

  • Plastics (PMMA Acrylic, Polycarbonate, etc.) are commonly used in LED luminaires but have limited ability to conduct heat or survive long-time exposure to it without degradation.
  • Glass is a proven material in this regard with its ability to be thermally stable > 1,100 °F and 600 °C.

By using a Transparent Conductive Oxide (TCO) coating on glass, we can provide a highly transparent yet conductive (15 – 20 ? /square) lens surface to create heat but still maintain high levels of optical efficiency (> 85 percent) with long-term thermal stability (because the coating itself has seen stable > 1,100°F and > 600°C in the tempering process).  The electrical interconnection can then be easily made through silk-screening buss bars with a conductive paint (such as Ag) onto the surface which are fired into the TCO coating during the tempering process.  By adding an Anti-Reflective (AR) coating, which has been covered in my earlier articles, you can raise the efficiency to > 90 percent.  The following diagram shows the configuration of such a fabricated monolithic heatable glass lens component.


Diagram courtesy of Guardian Industries Corp.

This monolithic heatable glass configuration would provide the following optical performance vs. traditional TCO technologies (Pyrolitic Fluorine Doped Tin Oxide) allowing for > 90 percent optical efficiency in the visible to be met with a single monolithic 5 mm glass lens while providing a conductive surface to heat the glass up to > 200°F (100°C) in temperatures down to -67°F (-55°C).


Diagram courtesy of Guardian Industries

In terms of heating the glass with this TCO coating, the following parameters and options are available for consideration and customizable during the luminaire design stage:

  • Input Power/Supply Voltage up to 100 V AC/DC
  • Operating Power Density range of 0.1 to 9 W/in² which, in consideration, with the following other attributes will determine the maximum surface temperature and heating ramp rate:
    • Input Power/Supply Voltage
    • Surface Area and Shape (rectangle, square, circle, etc.)
    • Terminals (Buss Bar) Size and Distance/Location
  • Electrical and Mechanical Interconnects
    • Terminal/Wires
    • Toggle Pins
  • Manual or Automatic Heating
    • Manual:  Simple ON/OFF control
    • Automatic: Thermocoupler with Feedback Loop

Last, because this heatable glass lens is tempered glass, it enjoys all the historical benefits associated with glass lenses that I mentioned in my first article including mechanical durability, chemical durability, environmental durability, and strength/impact resistance while providing the heating function.

In summary, we can form the following key takeaways about the use of a heatable glass lens to optimize optical efficiency for LED lighting in applications in extreme cold environments:

  • It further opens up the available market space for LED lighting into segments like Industrial and Outdoor where extreme environments requiring the melting of snow and ice prevented implementation and adoption;
  • It allows heat, to be focused on the lens area itself which reduces the risk to the lifetime of the LED light source itself;
  • It can heat the lens and, with the addition of an AR coating, can still reach > 90 percent optical efficiency; and
  • It offers a high-level of design flexibility and customization in terms of performance (optical and heating temperature and ramp rate) as well and serviceability (mechanical and electrical interconnections).

This is my final installment for the series on using glass in LED lighting and I’m confident that you will now look at glass in lighting a bit differently now than before. I hope that you will consider using glass as a lens material in LED lighting applications where you need to increase performance and differentiate your luminaires for competitive advantage.