By: Pasi Vahimaa, Kuldeep Vali and Richard van de Vrie.
About 20% of our global energy consumption concerns lighting. As citizens of planet Earth, we know that we have to take care and find solutions to preserve our global resources. Energy waste and light pollution are major issues today and researchers warned us that the increased use of lighting has a major impact on the life of all living creatures. This pollution is not only obscuring our view of the wonderful night sky but it is also a waste of energy, resources and money. It ensures disturbing effects on animals and a potential risk factor for diseases. Organisations like UNESCO and SPIE appointed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies, IYL 2015. It attempts to create awareness and focusses on major lighting industry challenges such as light pollution and the availability of artificial lighting in Third World countries.
Light distribution, a matter of optics
We all have seen those beautiful pictures from the space satellites that show the western world glowing. Bright areas can be seen in those locations were people are living. But have you ever thought that all light seen from space means wasted light?
Look at our lighting fixtures. We see that greenhouses are lighting up the sky, that half of the street lighting shines into our bedrooms, we accept a round light distribution on a square painting. How difficult is it to nicely accentuate an object properly? This is all about the optics used in the lighting fixtures and lamps!
In many buildings, plants, streets and houses we have lighting problems. Often there is too much or not enough lighting. When we are able to control the light output and tailor this output to applications or projects, we save a lot of energy and resources. By customizing optics, the light pollution will decrease rapidly.
Lighting industries’ drive for standards
To manage the light output, different lenses and reflectors are used by companies in the lighting industry. A lens is necessary to distribute the light from a light source to the required place. The mass fabrication processes for making lenses require expensive molds and volume orders for lenses. It is simply not affordable to make custom optics for a project or application. The consequence is that lighting manufacturers are in a split position. Investments in molds and optics-inventories are huge but LED light sources improve so fast that lighting collections need regular updates. This causes high financial write-offs and stacks of wasted lenses, moulds and other components. Therefore, manufacturers often use more affordable standard available lenses with the consequence that we cannot control our lighting, waste energy and pollute light.
Now the Global Lighting Association is pushing standardization and founded the Zhaga Consortium, a consortium of Lighting Industry companies trying to develop specifications that enable the interchangeability of LED light sources made by different manufacturers from around the world. This is a noble initiative to increase the adoption of the energy saving LED light sources, but it is quite difficult to align globally over 5000 lighting manufacturing companies for standardization while they must compete in a fast changing environment!
Reduction of light pollution: a designers perspective
Lighting Designers are more aware of the issues regarding light pollution and are keen to find ways to reduce the pollution. However, when designing lightning they face problems with standard optics or solutions. Kuldeep Vali, a well-known industry veteran states : “Lighting Designers are already playing a big role in reducing Light Pollution by carefully designing lighting schemes tailor-made for spaces and its users. A standard luminaire with standard optics in the market is not always an answer for some out-of-box application ideas and tailor-made human-centric solutions with LEDs. In such cases, Lighting Designers design custom-made luminaries to use light beam and energy in the most optimum way for the target application. Such custom solutions have lacked the flexibility of customizing the LED optics as this has been impossible with conventional moulding process. But Printoptical Technologies has made this possible: ‘a total design freedom for lighting designers to control and blend the light for their tailor-made human-centric LED solutions with minimal light pollution.”
By incorporating new manufacturing methods, like 3D printing, customization of light will become the standard in the years to come.
21st century digital manufacturing
By going directly from a CAD file to finished components on a 24/7 base, the traditional manufacturing methods will be replaced in the digital era. Various different types of 3D printers make functional parts in metal, plastic and even electronics on-demand. In the past years the 3D printing industry improved fast in precision, speed and quality output. While at the beginning 3D printing was more meant for prototyping we now face an increased number of printing platforms designed for manufacturing. Instead of warehouses full of components we are going to use computers to store and adapt inventories of components. Additive manufacturing offers the industry virtually unlimited opportunities in the plastic, metal, electronics and optics and photonics markets. 3D printing will provide the state-of-the-art future generation products throughout different industries.
Interchangeable lenses to reduce light pollution
Will the 21st Century digital manufacturing revolution help the Lighting Industry to reduce the light pollution? Can such digital manufacturing support Zhaga’s standardization drive for interchangeable LED lighting modules? Or should we make a start to reduce the light pollution with easy interchangeable lenses?
Where traditional molded products cannot keep up with modern requirements, the Dutch company LUXeXceL has created the foundation for a new approach for the design and digital manufacturing of lenses. This new additive manufacturing platform prints affordable secondary LED lenses in days instead of months. It offers lighting manufacturers the possibility to tailor the lens to the project, application or even single product. In this way, the industry can make the lighting fixture in volumes to reduce cost pricing, while being able to customize the light output of those standard fixtures by interchangeable 3D printed LED lenses of which one piece to thousands of pieces can be shipped around the globe in days. This new digital century lighting approach will enable lighting architects to focus on the best tailored light distribution of the fixtures they prescribe in their projects. This new approach will decrease waste of optics components and resources, further reduce the Energy Consumption and avoid unnecessary light pollution!
International year of Light 2015
Let us not underestimate the care our planet needs. And let us help UNESCO and Optics Society in this international year of action to improve the lighting in every lighting design!
In a community where product designers, optical specialists, lighting industry, optical software tool developers and lighting users are collaborating, we definitively can make a difference and improve our lighting everywhere.
In this way, we can not only contribute to the reduction of light pollution this year, but also for years to come!
Pasi Vahimaa is a professor at the University of Eastern Finland. He received his MSc in 1994 and PhD in 1996, both in Department of Physics in University of Joensuu. He has been a research fellow and senior assistant in University of Joensuu and Research manager in Heptagon Oy before becoming a professor in theoretical optics in 2007. He has published over 70 articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and over 50 other publications. He is member of Finnish Optical Society. His teaching experience includes Thermodynamics, Quantum mechanics, Quantum physics, Physical optics, and Solid state physics.
Kuldeep Vali is the founder and managing director of Light Union Ltd. He has 19 years of international experience in the lighting industry covering Lighting Design, Sales, Marketing & Leadership roles in Asia, Middle East & Europe.
Richard van de Vrie is Founder of LUXeXceL and has more than 25 years experience in the lighting industry. He was previously the CEO of Lighting Partner BV and a vice president of Sylvania Lighting and Lighting Science Group, both listed on international stock markets. In 2009, he founded the LUXeXceL Group focused on the 3D-printing of optics for LED lighting-and dedicated to improve the quality of lighting by tailoring the light output per project or application.