LEDs Taking Center Stage in Energy Efficient Lighting


Aluminum die casting and extrusion are seen as offering advantages for the manufacture of heat-dissipating components

By Mark Shortt
Editorial Director, Design-2-Part Magazine

Amid all the talk and anticipation surrounding new, cleaner forms of energy production, it's easy to lose sight of the importance of energy efficiency--making smarter use of existing energy resources. Energy efficient lighting has become a hot topic lately due to advances in solid state lighting products, namely light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that last longer and consume less energy than incandescent lighting. These semiconductor light sources are being used increasingly in street lighting, billboards, perimeter and security lighting, aviation lighting, and automotive lighting, to name a few applications.

One of the up-and-coming makers of LED lighting is Lighting Science Group (LSG), headquartered in Satellite Beach, Florida. Lighting Science Group Corporation (www.lsgc.com) designs, develops, and manufactures LED lighting products that are said to be environmentally friendlier and more energy efficient than traditional lighting products. The company offers retrofit LED lamps in form factors that match the form factor of traditional lamps or bulbs, as well as LED luminaires used in public and private infrastructure for indoor and outdoor applications. One of its recent projects involved replacing lighting fixtures at two separate sites at the Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) California--Port Hueneme and Point Mugu. By replacing the more than a thousand roadway, area, and parking lot lighting fixtures with "ultra-efficient, long-life LED luminaires built in the U.S.A.," the company reportedly shaved nearly $60,000 per year off the base's energy bill.

Pace Industries to Supply Die Castings for Energy Efficient LED Lighting

Lighting Science Group expects to reap big benefits from a manufacturing agreement recently announced with U.S. die caster Pace Industries. The LED lighting manufacturer said in June that Pace Industries' Harrison Division, located in Harrison, Arkansas, will supply Lighting Science Group's Florida manufacturing facility with die cast components for its residential, commercial, and infrastructure lighting products. Lighting Science Group expects the alliance with Pace will increase its manufacturing capacity and efficiency by reducing supply times for critical components of LED products, including its Definity retrofit LED lamps, Traditional series luminaires, C2D Site and Area lighting family, and Prolific series of roadway luminaires.

The partnership comes at a time when Lighting Science Group is experiencing increasing demand for its LED lighting products. In order to meet the higher demand, LSG says that it expects to expand its manufacturing capacity, create "a substantial number of new jobs," and tap Pace Industries for increased supply requirements of die cast components. Ultimately, the company believes its partnership with Pace will increase the number of "high performance, affordably priced, environmentally friendly, long-lasting, and energy-efficient LED lighting products" that it can offer for sale.

"This is a perfect American manufacturing match," said Zach Gibler, chief executive officer of Lighting Science Group, in a statement. "The relationship will not only help increase our manufacturing capacity and efficiency, but it will also provide an opportunity to grow our U.S. workforce and increase sales. This is a win-win-win situation—good for Lighting Science Group, good for Pace Industries, and good for America."

Die casting is a process that allows rapid, cost-effective production of high volumes of parts. Pace Industries (www.paceind.com), reported to be North America's largest custom aluminum die-casting company, provides aluminum, zinc, and magnesium die casting services that are supported by engineering, product design assistance, and prototyping. Formerly known as Leggett & Platt Aluminum Group, Pace operates 14 manufacturing facilities in the United States and Mexico, including nine die-casting divisions, three tool and die shops, and one finishing and painting facility, and employs more than 2,700 associates.

"In an era where many manufacturing jobs are being created overseas, this alliance will assist in creating jobs right here at home," said Pace Industries Chief Executive Officer Scott Bull. "We are very excited to be working with Lighting Science Group in the production of their next generation LED lighting products."

In an interview with D2P Magazine, John Scott Bull, director of marketing and national account manager for Pace Industries, said that the company's size, capabilities, and experience were determining factors in Lighting Science Group's choosing Pace to manufacture its LED lighting components in the United States. "Pace is North America's largest custom aluminum die caster," Bull affirmed. "We have capabilities that range from each of our divisions having different core competencies, to great geographic spread and footprint. We've got 40 years of die casting experience in lighting, so as far as experience goes in North America, we are the authority in die casting for lighting. Of our 10 divisions, eight of them are in the U.S., so we've got a great American presence within the range of capabilities we have."

Pace's Harrison Division is one of the company's seven divisions that provide aluminum die casting, machining, and assembly services. The company also offers these services at its divisions in Loyalhanna, Pa. (Airo Division); North Billerica, Mass. (Cambridge Division); Grafton, Wis.; St. Paul, Minn.; Chihuahua, Mexico; and Saltillo, Mexico. Pace provides magnesium die casting, machining, assembly, and prototyping at its Product Tech Division in Maple Lake, Minnesota. Zinc die casting, along with machining and assembly, is available at Pace's B&C Division (Harrison, Ark.) and at its Cambridge and St. Paul Divisions.

The company expanded its zinc die casting capabilities earlier this year when it acquired the zinc die casting business of Del Mar Industries, an ISO 9001:2000 certified company that operates a 70,000-square-foot facility in Gardena, California. According to Bull, Del Mar's larger die casting machines were "very complementary" to the services offered by Pace at its Harrison, Ark., B&C Division. "At B&C, we had small Techmire machines that made small zinc parts," Bull told D2P Magazine. "The acquisition of Del Mar allowed us to move their machines in house, under our current infrastructure and base, and add traditional-sized die casting machines. We were able to increase the volume that we could do in more traditional zinc castings, up to maybe 500 times, with the zinc machines. So it really was a complementary addition that allowed us to bring on new customers, because they had a great customer base. It just strengthened our operation in Harrison--it added capability, it added to our bottom line, and it added to our customer base."

As a U.S.-based manufacturer with operations in Harrison, Arkansas, Pace offers Lighting Science Group the logistical advantages of being in closer proximity to LSG's Florida assembly plant than offshore competitors. "When you buy something offshore, say, from Asia, you've got three weeks of inventory on a boat, and so your lead time and cash flow changes considerably," says Bull. "We can run a much more lean operation with Just-in-Time inventory, and it really reduces the amount of cash that's tied up. When you've got a product on a boat for three weeks, and then it arrives and you find out that there's a defect in that product, you've got three weeks that you're out. So that shuts down production. In our scenario, we're two days out delivering to LSG. In response to any issues that arise, any design changes, or anything that's needed, we can react very quickly compared to a competitor in Asia."

Its combination of high-quality die casting and strategically located facilities enables Pace to help customers reduce total cost, rather than just the piece price of the part. "That's really the issue when you add up the problems that arise and the costs of a shut-down line, the inventory on the water, and the import costs and fees," says Bull. "You know, we've got customers who are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a week air-freighting parts because they got behind in China. And they're desperate to move stuff back to the U.S., because what they were saving--a few cents on a part--they're now giving up a thousand times over in expedited freight. So as you look at total landed costs, and you add in risk as well, the U.S. is extremely competitive."

Bull says that Pace began manufacturing die cast components for lighting many years ago. Today, the company is producing parts for "many great LED products," he says. "Lighting is a very big market for us," he says. "We started about 40 years ago with high-bay type lighting, architectural lighting, roadway lighting, and these types of things; they're big, thin-wall castings. Today, we see LEDs starting to take center stage. Aluminum disperses the heat very well, so we're building these large castings with giant heat sinks. The die castings are actually starting to look more like engine parts than the old lights that we used to produce. We do anything from interior type designs (LED heat sinks for cam lights) to the roadway lights that you see lighting up a highway."

In addition to producing die cast parts for energy-efficient lighting, Pace manufactures parts for motorcycles, cars, small engines, and gas grills. The company also makes receiver boxes for cable lines and telecommunication lines. "For die casting, in general, our raw material is recyclable aluminum, which is off the secondary market," says Bull. "Ninety-five percent of our raw material is post-consumer recycled material, so as an industry and as a company, we're extremely sustainable."

Bull says the company's people are really its biggest strength. "It's the experience we have, and our ability to help customers reduce costs in many different areas of the manufacturing process, whether it be redesign of a part to reduce the amount of metal used, to reduce its cost, or just to improve logistics or inventory management. Any creative solution that we can come up with to help them--that's what our aim is to do."

LED Light Fixture Takes First Prize at Aluminum Extrusion Design Competition

Another process that's suited for LED light fixtures is aluminum extrusion. At the ET Foundation's 2010 Aluminum Extrusion Design Competition earlier this year, Eric Eisele, a materials engineering graduate student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, won the Grand Prize for his design of an extruded, hanging LED light fixture. It was only the second time in the history of the competition that the Grand Prize was awarded to a student entry (www.etfoundation.org/dc.html). Judges at the competition reportedly found the design to be "a great example of how aluminum extrusions can gain ground in an emerging market."

Eisele designed the fixture to use 6063-T5 aluminum, a material that he said "offers a good balance between ease of extrusion, machinability, and thermal conductivity."  Thermal conductivity is an important property in LED light fixtures, he explained, because they need to "properly dissipate the heat generated by LEDs to ensure high efficiency and long life."  Eisele also outlined, in his entry, the benefits of using extruded aluminum for his LED lighting application. "Integrated designs can include heatsink fins, slots, optical cavities, mounting rails, [screw] bosses--all necessary for LED fixtures," he noted.

"LED lights in commercial and residential space-lighting applications appear to be on the cusp of revolutionizing the whole lighting industry," commented David Asher, a competition judge and the general manager for Bonnell Aluminum in Kentland, Indiana. "These lights offer the potential of dramatic energy savings for equivalent light output. While they are very energy efficient, they are also very sensitive to heat and will suffer significant reduction in useful life if heat can't be effectively dissipated. The concept of using an extruded fixture with integral heat sink, light placement options, and the potential to utilize different types of light diffusers and reflectors would appear to help with the commercialization of LED lighting."

Another competition judge, Craig Werner, owner of Werner Extrusion Solutions, LLC, in Lake Forest, Illinois, added, "There may be some technical challenges yet to overcome, but utilizing the light weight, strength, ability to extrude complex integral profiles, and heat conductivity of aluminum extrusions for this growth product was a great idea."

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