Categories Product

Fundamentals of the IoT: What is Driving Next-Generation Products?

The early adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) is proof that a completely connected universe will be a reality in the not so distant future. Soon enough, our garage door opener will communicate with the lights inside our homes and our coffee makers will be linked to our iPhone alarms. Everything will be controlled from the devices in our pockets and the wearables on our wrists. 

In general, as consumers, we focus mainly on the end product – the benefits or entertainment it delivers, what is different, how it has improved, or how it makes our lives easier. We rarely stop to think about what is actually enabling these advancements.

A recent Deloitte Global and US Council on Competitiveness study identifies 10 of the most promising innovations and why they are important. Among them are IoT, predictive analytics, smart factories, and high-performance computing. What may surprise most consumers is that advanced materials also ranked high on the list.  The importance of advanced materials is common knowledge among the leading companies that develop and manufacture next generation products.  In fact, advancements in materials technology have been the genesis for all of the computing devices that have become critical to our daily lives.  Developing the next generation of advanced materials starts at the molecular/atomic scale where properties can be amplified and fine-tuned. The most powerful of these advanced materials are referred to as nanomaterials.  These nanomaterials can be used to deliver applications ranging from revolutionary drug delivery to dramatically more efficient lighting to mobile devices that help to manage our world.  The cumulative effect of advanced materials innovation has been to deliver a vast array of transformational products that continue to improve the human experience. 

How are the leading manufacturers across numerous industries leveraging these advanced materials to deliver breakthroughs in medicine, lighting, cars and iPads? How are they constantly improving on these innovations? And how do they fit into the IoT landscape?

Simply answered, they partner with the leading companies that are delivering the biggest advancements in nanomaterial technology, making the largest investments in materials R&D, and finding ways to deliver solutions at commercial scale.  The leading electronics manufacturers (Apple, LG, Samsung, etc.) are fiercely competing to deliver faster processors, brighter lights, thinner devices and more flexible screens that their customers are continually demanding.  Advanced materials manufacturers enable these companies to create revolutionary products at an ever-accelerating pace, while at the same time reducing costs, time to market, and their environmental footprint.

What makes one type of material better than the other? It’s all about the process.  Advanced materials manufacturers need to perfect their processes in order to provide the control and flexibility demanded by their customers. In applications such as lighting, for instance, they need products that deliver more light output, with near perfect transparency, that have a long life time. Our company, Pixelligent, has found a way to create such an environment through delivering next generation, nanotechnology-based solutions at commercial pricing and scale. Our “secret sauce” – the PixClearProcess – ensures that consumer products that incorporate our technology are higher quality and more efficient. What was once a distant nanotechnology future is now a reality: a set of highly valuable advanced materials that can be delivered in meaningful volumes with the right value proposition to the commercial marketplace.

Almost every chemical and manufacturing company you can name is using advanced materials to drive their products forward and offer more innovative options to their customers. Today, three of the five largest global chemical companies are working with Pixelligent, and several of the top 50 advanced materials companies are our customers.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, which takes a deeper look at how advanced materials and nanotechnology is driving innovation and efficiency in the lighting industry.

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 Product

Product Warranty and the LED Driver Topology Choice

Does the choice of the LED driver affect Product Warranty? The driver is the electronics used to convert the AC input voltage to the DC voltage used by the LEDs and while there is no substitute for testing the actual driver failure rate in the application environment, there is a method to predict the driver topology choice impact between three versus five even up to 10-year warranties. Mean Time to Failure (MTTF) will be the method to analyze the reliability of a non-repairable device like an A19 bulb which is discarded upon failure. Knowing the MTTF helps a manufacturer decide a warranty period. The MTTF number calculated or measured along with the customer usage of the LED light per year factors into the warranty period. A failure defined in this blog is when the driver has stopped working. The other components in the LED light, optics, LEDs, connectors, wires, etc., are not considered, but play just as important role in the warranty calculation. A failure could include color shift or lumen depreciation, but is not accounted for in this blog.

There are several methods used to predict MTTF and one starting method is the summed failure rate. It calculates the failure rate of the driver as the sum of the failure rates of its components. This summed failure rate is then inverted to give the product’s MTBF or MTTF and is originally based on MIL-HDBK-217F. The method of choice for LED drivers reliability prediction is Siemens SN29500. This approach uses summed failure rates. The based failure rates are based on much newer data than those found in MIL-HDBK-271F.


Figure 1. Primary-Side Regulated LED Driver with Power Factor Correction

A common LED driver used in replacement bulbs is the primary side regulated (PSR) flyback topology with power factor correction. A typical example driver is the FL7733A as shown in Figure 1.

The advantage of this PSR topology is it provides isolation for the lowest BOM and does not require a secondary feedback loop to regulate the output current in the LED string – it eliminates the use of an opto-isolater, reference, additional resistors and capacitors which contribute to the failure rate of the led driver. The PSR technique can achieve constant current accuracy <±3 percent.  PSR controllers also include power factor (PF) correction achieving >0.9 PF and <10 percent Total Harmonic Distortion over universal operating input voltages from 90 VAC to 277 VAC. Including PF correction also eliminates components needed for products that need a PF >0.9. Integrating the start-up circuit also reduces component count leading to a lower failure rate.

Now let’s consider the total number of expected failures for a PSR flyback led driver over a three year warranty. A FIT rate of 227.1 has been calculated for a PSR flyback topology.[1]  Assume the manufacturer will sell 100,000 led bulbs.

Assume 100 hours POH/month. In one month,

# of fails = # of units x failure rate x hours/mn
=100,000 x 0.0000002271 x 100
=2.271 fails/mn

In three years,

# of fails = 36 months x 2.271 fails/mn
= 81.76 fails

The predicted number of failures out of the total sold of 100,000 led bulbs in three years is 82 bulbs. For five years the estimated failed bulbs is 136, still a low number of failures so extending the warranty period to 10 years would predict 272 failed bulbs as potential replacement costs. Life testing should be done to correlate the results.

The LED driver topology does have a factor in the success of a warranty period. The key is to select a topology that has the lowest BOM count will still resulting in the performance targets of the LED bulb.

A comment on testing for MTTF, in theory the total operating time for a driver population must be known to calculate an MTTF. But, this is an unrealistic expectation since the warranty has to be set before all products have been accounted for so life testing is used to estimate MTTF. A life test in which 20 or more units are run to accumulate total operating time can take a long while.[2]