Suppliers of flexible LED strips in China are directing product upgrade initiatives toward enhancing the luminous power, extending service life and improving water resistance. These are expected to complement the line’s advantages in energy efficiency and installation adaptability, and help companies achieve greater penetration of the general, decorative, advertising and outdoor lighting sector.
Makers aim to surpass 750 to 900 lumens luminous flux and IP65 rating. For the life span, they are setting their sights on exceeding 30,000 to 50,000hr. They will use high-end LED chips from foreign providers such as Cree, PU adhesive, and epoxy resin and full sleeves to achieve these objectives.
Companies such as Shenzhen Shennan have developed white and RGB flexible LED strips with 900 to 1,170 lumens and 50,000 to 80,000hr. These have an IP67 or IP68 rating. Neon-LED International (Hong Kong) Ltd plans to introduce IP67 or IP68-rated units. Its current selection meets IP65 requirements.
To simplify circuits and therefore reduce space and bring down costs, makers are exploring solutions developed by Shanghai Double Microelectronics. The latter’s D7001 is used by Shenzhen LEDlighting in its water-resistant flexible LED strip integrating 5050 RGB diodes and supporting various lighting effects.
The D7001 has 32 pins, and a chip with 24 output channels on a 5x5mm QFN package. It can control illumination, including cascading, color-changing, chasing, flashing and diffusing modes. Besides the LED chip, the solution uses two resistors and one capacitor to drive eight RGB LEDs.
The D7002, meanwhile, features an 8-pin SOP.
China companies also continue to highlight customization, deriving 30 to 80 percent of sales from this business.
In addition to R&D activities, makers are strengthening production capability. Most have purchased manufacturing and testing equipment from local companies, which include foreign-owned businesses providing surface-mount and reflow soldering machines. Many suppliers are allocating $150,000 annually for further upgrades. Dongguan Meko is spending $76,000 on an automatic dispenser and a PET high-frequency pressing machine.
Spurring makers’ efforts is high demand, which resulted in annual growth in sales of more than 15 percent in the past one or two years. In terms of export revenue, the majority saw an increase exceeding 10 percent in 1H12, a trend to persist in 1H13. Neon-LED is anticipating a 15 percent boost in overseas revenue next year. The company ships 80 percent of yield abroad.
Central and local government support, which is facilitated by the inclusion of semiconductor lighting in the 12th Five-Year Plan, is another development catalyst for flexible LED strip manufacturers.
Guangdong province’s Department of Science & Technology, for instance, has enlisted the cooperation of several cities to set up the Green Lighting Example City. The project entails a $230 million investment for the installation of 30 million diode-based lights in indoor public areas throughout the province by 2015, providing a captive market for the line.
There are also complementary endeavors as regards regulation. Since its establishment in 2009, the Shenzhen LED Industry Standard Alliance has issued 17 guidelines. The recent ones on indoor bulbs and pipe lighting cover color temperature, CRI, energy efficiency and testing methods.
This, in turn, encouraged the release of the first LED enterprise criterion on packaging in Foshan, another Guangdong city. The undertaking involved the Institute of Technological Standardization of Foshan, the Lighting Association of Foshan, the Lighting Association of Shunde and major LED makers.
For the overall diode industry, the target is a production value of $76 billion by 2015, which will position China as the world’s third largest maker. In terms of the country’s illumination market, this translates to more than 30 percent share for the semiconductor technology.
China has 200 makers in the line, a number that is anticipated to rise with demand. Over 70 percent of these companies are homegrown operations, and the rest have foreign investment. More than two-thirds of the supplier population operates in Guangdong. The provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu are the other production hubs.
Flexible LED strips
The mainstream selection in China uses 0603, 0805, 1210, 3528 and 5050 SMD LEDs, with products based on the last two dominating output. Units come in lengths of 30 and 50cm, integrating 12 or 24 and 15 or 30 diodes, respectively. These have strip widths of 5, 8, 10, 12 and 15mm.
Flexible LED strips are available in single or RGB, and non- or water-resistant versions. For the last, an IP65 rating is typical. The products operate on 12 or 24V. These conform to CE, TÜV, UL and RoHS guidelines.
Entry-level and midrange models lead the line with a combined output share of 60 percent. The former generally use local LED chips, resin packaging and copper cladding for the flexible PCB. In intermediate versions, the first component is sourced from Taiwan, Japan or Germany.
High-end varieties utilize chips mainly from Cree, and have silicon rubber as packaging material and rolled copper foil for the board. Their manufacture involves automatic spectral color scanners and wave-soldering machines. Upscale products undergo 100 percent IQC and FQC as opposed to random sampling in regular models, ensuring compliance with CE, UL and RoHS standards. The latter step includes up to 12 hours of aging. As a further measure, suppliers employ antistatic packaging for advanced kinds.
The key components and materials in making flexible LED strips are diodes, resistors, capacitors and adhesives. Most companies obtain the first from local providers, although some produce the LEDs in-house to control quality. Aside from Cree, mainland China businesses turn to Taiwan for LED chips, primarily Epistar. A rising number of them are also tapping the domestic supply for cost consideration. The rest of the inputs are sourced from the mainland as well.
The majority of enterprises project prices will continue decreasing in the months ahead at a rate of more than 10 percent. This is because of a similar downward trend in the cost of materials and components, particularly of LED chips.
Taiwan: Water-resistant units mainstream
Flexible LED strips with 3528 and 5050 SMD diodes and IP68 rating dominate the shipments of Taiwan makers. These come mostly in 12 or 24V single- and multicolor models, including yellow, green, white, red, amber, blue, pink and purple. The standard length is 5m, although companies accommodate requests for units as short as 0.5m. Each strip may have up to 240 diodes.
The major applications include indoor and outdoor architectural, decorative and automotive lighting and signage. Suppliers such as Edison Opto Corp. said more bar-type commercial signage will adopt flexible diode strips for their improving performance to price ratio. They also see a potential market in the horticultural sector, particularly for multicolor kinds, citing the product’s adjustable brightness and wavelength as advantages. Edison offers mainly single-color variants with 3528 SMD LEDs for indoor decoration. Its multicolor models integrate 5050 SMD units.
In addition, the line finds use in home appliances. Joytech Products Co. Ltd offers options intended as replacement for T5 tubes in refrigerators. The maker said such varieties commonly utilize cool-white diodes.
Businesses are also eyeing the dynamic lighting sector based on the omnidirectional attribute of flexible LED strips.
Prices of IP66-rated 3528 units without UV protection are above $17. Those without both qualities list between $12 and $15. Water-resistant 5050 versions exceed $25, and regular counterparts range from $20 to $28.
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