All too often component manufacturers are the unsung heroes behind a great product. It’s easy to recognize the brand whose name is on the box, but a large part of the work that goes into making a product a reality is often done by a company behind the scenes, one without commercials during sporting events or celebrity endorsements. The same holds true for LED lighting, where the companies that actually make the LEDs — if they aren’t the same ones that makes the lamp — can be the forgotten part of the story.
Bridgelux is a California-based LED manufacturer whose main claim to fame with people outside the lighting industry is the company’s Chairman and former CEO, Bill Watkins, who had a high profile dismissal from the CEO role at Seagate. Bridgelux makes high-quality LED arrays and chips that it sells to lighting manufacturers like Cooper Lighting and Chevron. The latest news to come out of Bridgelux is its Vero line, the design of which marks a notable step forward in LED packaging.
If you’ve played with LEDs at all, you’ll know they come in different varieties than the standard 5mm piece-of-plastic-with-two-wires-sticking-out. One popular style is the star, which places an LED (or LEDs) on a metal-backed, star-shaped PCB. Vero, Bridgelux’s fourth generation LED array, is designed to replace that and larger designs with a package ready for the next generation of LED lighting.
Vero uses sizes that are compatible with industry standards, but features a number of intelligent updates. The most important one is a move from metal-core printed circuit boards (MCPCB) to a body that is primarily plastic. This thermally isolates the solder pads and protects the LED from any heat generated during the process. With this design soldering isn’t even necessary though — each package features a tiny Molex connector, so that a power connection can simply be snapped into place. This makes field upgrades as easy as possible and means there is no fear of faulty joints.
There are less technical upgrades as well. Each Vero chip has a 2D barcode and a serial number printed on it so LEDs can be tracked and managed. Best of all, these are printed on the front so the part does not have to be removed to get this information. This may seem like an obvious design, but previous generations didn’t do it.
LEDs and LED arrays are not typically “smart” products, but Vero was designed to be compatible with the smart lighting offerings that are becoming increasingly common. The package features a health check at the die level which will be able to be used for sensing things like temperature and degradation. Bridgelux does not have any smart lighting partnerships yet, but Vero does seem poised for them.
Vero is sold in just four different sizes, but each is impressively versatile. The product name is determined by the size of the light-emitting surface (LES), leaving us with the Vero 10, Vero 13, Vero 18, and the Vero 29. The versatility comes from the power range and resulting lumens that each is able to handle. The Vero 10, for example, can be driven with anywhere from 115mA to 700mA and can produce from 250 to 2200 lumens. Peak efficiency is at an underdriven 115mA, which puts out 127 lumens-per-watt.
One thing Bridgelux didn’t talk much about when we discussed Vero was how this was all possible. For example, why can these arrays run at 2x their nominal current? Marketing and back-patting aside, much of this seems to come down to smart product design and a generational step forward. The phosphors have gotten better, the package design has improved, thermal management was rethought, and the engineers accounted for a huge range of current. The result was an LED array that belongs in 2013, not just another star-shaped piece of metal with a slightly better LED chip slapped on it.
The Vero lineup will be available in SKUs ranging from 2700K up to 5000K, 80 to 97 CRI, and up to 15,000 lumens. Vero became commercially available yesterday, which means parts will ship to manufacturers and we should see them in action at LightFair next week.