Burn out: Weak links affect HB-LED lifetime

High-brightness LEDs for solid-state lighting can last 50,000 hours or more, but the components surrounding them generate heat that can cause early failures. The early failures can be seen on many LED products, especially the cheap ones. Lighting products have historically been reliable, but as electronics-rich CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) began to replace incandescent bulbs, consumers began seeing the products’ early failures. And the same is expected to happen with many LED designs.

Product lifetime and product reliability are different things. Lifetime refers to the length of time an end user can expect a product to work. Reliability refers to how many products per thousand a user can expect to fail in normal use during their expected lifetime. LED component manufacturers often quote lifetimes of 50,000 hours or more for the LED itself, LED because the lighting unit comprises of also many other parts (LED driver/power supply), the actual lifetime of the unit can easily be considerably shorter than the lifetime of the LED itself.

Burn out: Weak links affect HB-LED lifetime article tells that proper selection of capacitors and other components, along with thermal management, can help you save your LED lighting product from an early demise.


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  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    What Happened to the 100,000-Hour LED Bulbs?

    Early adopters of LED lighting will remember 50,000 hour or even 100,000 hour lifetime ratings printed on the box. But during a recent trip to the hardware store the longest advertised lifetime I found was 25,000 hours. Others claimed only 7,500 or 15,000 hours. And yes, these are brand-name bulbs from Cree and GE.

    So, what happened to those 100,000 hour residential LED bulbs? Were the initial estimates just over-optimistic? Was it all marketing hype? Or, did we not know enough about LED aging to predict the true useful life of a bulb?

    Any discussion of light bulb lifetime would be incomplete without mention of the Phoebus cartel, an international organization formed in 1924 by the world’s leading light bulb manufacturers to manipulate the bulb market.

    The cartel enforced production quotas and bulb lifetimes with a system of monetary fines, backed by the power of GE’s patent portfolio.

    Measuring Lifetime of a Bulb

    What exactly does the box mean with this 1,000 hour lifetime? This is the bulb’s Average Rated Life (ARL) — it’s the length of time for 50% of an initial sample of bulbs to fail (abbreviated B50). What “failure” means depends on the type of bulb; we’ll explore this in more depth later on. The definition of B50 reveals a common misinterpretation, namely that a bulb will last for its rated lifetime. In reality, only half of them last that long, although this rating doesn’t tell you anything about the distribution of failures around the median lifetime.

    Since the LED bulbs contain a number of parts, it’s natural to ask which ones might be responsible for failures.

    Interestingly, the LEDs themselves account for only 10% of the failures; driver circuitry, on the other hand, was responsible almost 60% of the time. The remainder of failures were due to housing problems

    Locate the Weakest Link: Component Lifetime

    The lifetime of a bulb (or power supply) can be no longer than the lifetime of any of its components. Among the components found inside the bulbs, two stand out as life-limiters: the semiconductors and the electrolytic capacitors. Both of these components suffer from a failure rate that is a strong function of temperature.

    25,000-hour Cree bulb uses an electrolytic capacitor rated for 130 C as opposed to the 105 C caps in the other two. For similar operating temperatures, this could multiply the expected life of the capacitor by a factor of five. Each of these measures probably contributes to delaying catastrophic failure of the bulb, resulting in the longer rated lifetimes.

    Like the soldiers in Douglas MacArthur’s famous line, old LEDs don’t die, they just fade away. We all know what an incandescent lamp failure looks like: one second it’s burning bright; the next, it’s not

    As it turns out, lumen depreciation happens to incandescent bulbs, too. By the end of their 1,000 hour life, the output has typically dropped 10-15%, but nobody ever notices. With LEDs, the effect is much worse, and the output continues to fall as the device ages.

    Research says that most users won’t notice a gradual 30% drop in light levels; accordingly the industry has defined L70, the time at which the output has dropped to 70% of its initial level, as an endpoint for measuring LED bulb lifetime.

    Color Shift Happens But is Unpredictable

    Making Sense of It All

    I’ve taken a look at some of the technical issues in LED lighting. Of course, there is more to LED bulbs than lifetime — color temperature and color rendering index (CRI) should factor into any purchase decision. There are also a number of larger problems involved, including issues of economics and sustainability.

    Certainly moving away from incandescent bulbs to more efficient lighting makes sense, but maybe we never really needed 100,000 hour bulbs in the first place. The lifetime of even 7,500-hour bulbs is long compared to the rapid pace of advance in lighting technology.

    The oldest surviving incandescent light, known as the Centennial Bulb (click to see a webcam of the lamp), is a dim carbon-filament bulb that’s been burning nearly continuously since 1901 — over 1 million hours. In its current state, it throws off as much light as a modern 4-watt incandescent.


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