LED strip makers expand decorative lighting selection

An Expert's View about Lighting in China

Last updated: 27 Jun 2012

Line targets indoor and outdoor installations dominated by neon and incandescent types. Automotive use is also pursued.
Widening application drives R&D and production of LED strips in China as suppliers target various indoor and outdoor uses in general, architectural, signage, advertising, ornamental, mood and emergency illumination. They are leveraging the technology's energy-saving and environment-friendly attributes to take advantage of rising demand in these segments and displace conventional neon and incandescent types.

Manufacturers are also eyeing opportunities in the automotive market particularly the captive domestic sector, amid projections of China becoming the world's top carmaker in the next five years. Man Jia Technology Ltd, for instance, began testing its new product that can be installed under or above the headlights or under the track door through a double-sided adhesive tape. The 12V model utilizes side-view LEDs, is flexible and foldable, and has anti-shock properties and low power consumption. Its operating and storage temperatures are 5 to 50 C and -20 to 50 C.

To enhance selections, companies are boosting light intensity and life span. They are adding diodes or turning to high-brightness variants, with the latter enabling 300 to 850 lumens luminous flux. Units that exceed 100,000 hours or 10 years are also among latest releases. Mainstream versions have 50,000hr.

In addition, makers are introducing more color effects. Shenzhen Betop Electronics Co. Ltd has unveiled such products with color-shifting light. The enterprise's BT-1210FX120-12WW model is a double-row unit with 240 3528 SMD diodes per meter. It has a 24VDC operating voltage and 48W power consumption. Buyers can select from different hues.

Besides product-driven efforts, a number of manufacturers are boosting marketing via participation in trade shows to raise revenue. These include the China Sourcing Fair, LED China and Shanghai International Lighting Expo. Foshan NationStar Optoelectronics Co. Ltd, a key local player with tie-ups with Panasonic, LG, Sanyo, TCL, Konka and Skyworth, will attend exhibitions in France, England and Italy.

This year, most suppliers expect to surpass the 20 to 30 percent rise in output achieved in 2010. They are counting on steady orders from major markets Europe and North America and expanding reach in emerging destinations such as South Asia, South Africa and Australia. The local industry also hopes to benefit from the temporary shift in orders from Japan as a result of the earthquake.

Some companies are planning to increase capacity to meet the projected climb in demand. Man Jia added two new production lines in 1H11, while Dongguan Sourcechip Opto-Electrical Tech. Co. Ltd has doubled capability since the second quarter.

The line accounts for 20 to 30 percent of China's total sales for the entire diode segment. The aggregate industry value reached $18.5 billion in 2010, and is expected to post more than 30 percent CAGR in the next five years.

LED strips are pursued by about 100 manufacturers, including local operations and joint ventures. The number will climb as the low technology threshold facilitates entry to the line, even as some players are shifting to high-profit categories such as LED tubes, bulbs and lamps.

The majority of makers are based in the Pearl River and Yangtze River Delta regions. More than 80 percent of them are operating in the first, particularly in Guangdong province's key cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Zhongshan.

Companies export 50 to 60 percent of output to Europe, the US and Asia. OEM and ODM projects account for 10 to 20 percent of orders.

LED strip selection

Products from China suppliers are mainly classified into flexible and rigid based on construction. Depending on the type of LED used, there are DIP and SMD options, the first available in piranha and other forms, and the latter in 3528, 5050 and 335 side-view varieties. The last is widely used in flexible versions.
Further, there are single-color LED strips, which come in red, yellow, green, blue, white or warm white, and RGB and multicolor units. By number of diodes, models with 30 or 60 per half meter are the most popular.

Flexible LED strips dominate output in China. These adopt SMD diodes, flexible PCB substrates and silica gel sleeves. Epoxy material is used for the housing of water-resistant units. The length and the number of LEDs vary depending on buyers' requirements. Typical 30cm-long models have 18 or 24, and 50cm versions 15, 24 or 30. The maximum diode quantity per meter is 120 for single-row configurations, which use relatively low-power 3528 SMD kinds each consuming 0.06W. The substrates come in 5, 8, 10, 12 or 15mm width. Flexible LED strips are widely utilized in logos, interior decoration and home cabinets.

King Star Opto-Electronic Co. Ltd's new model KS.F.F153.XS112.001 flexible LED strip allows color and brightness adjustment. With a controller and an IC, it can change lights from warm white to white and cold white. The water-resistant unit operates on 12VDC and consumes 24 to 36W.

The best-seller at Shenzhen Betop is a series of flexible configurations with side-view 335 SMD diodes mounted on 5mm PCBs. The strips can be installed on vehicles as head, signal or brake lights.

Rigid versions, meanwhile, are used where no bending is required, usually in vehicles and display cabinets. These have aluminum or plastic bases and superflux, high-power, DIP or SMD LEDs. Units employing the last come in 12, 18, 24, 30, 36 or 54-diode models, while it is 18, 24, 36 or 48 for DIP-based counterparts.

Makers in China also offer great wall LED strips, a special type with DIP diodes soldered on the side of the flexible PCB substrate. With three LEDs, these can be cut freely. The bend direction is opposite that of common flexible variants, allowing for a different effect. Based on silica gel or PVC with an IP65 rating, the 12V releases can be used outdoors, rendering them suitable for cars and motorcycles.

There are also versions that produce color effects through a controller, which can operate a 5m LED strip. Man Jia has launched the MJ-QC505QT30-F12W12 model, which has 114 effects. It boasts 30 superbright 5050 SMD diodes and a 120-degree viewing angle. The unit has a life span exceeding 50,000hr, 21W power consumption per meter, -25 to 55 C operating temperature and 0 to 95 percent relative humidity. The typical rating is 12VDC, but 5V versions are also available. Indoor varieties are IP20-rated, and outdoor counterparts IP67. The strip can be cut after every three LEDs, and each segment relinked by soldering or mating connectors.

Makers also provide accessories to offer a one-stop solution. At Shenzhen Betop, these include single-row sockets, connectors and great wall strip holders.

To ensure quality, suppliers use high-precision chip placing, wave soldering, and automatic gluing and light color splitting machines. They conduct repeated testing. Products comply with CE and RoHS guidelines. Some have FCC or ETL approval.

The main inputs in making LED strips are DIP or SMD diodes, PCBs and adhesives. For water-resistant variants, there are glue and silica gel.
Some high-end models use LED chips, controllers and amplifiers. The first is usually sourced from Taiwan suppliers, including Epistar, Genesis Photonics, Opto Tech, Arima and Formosa Epitaxy. For adhesives, many mainland China companies turn to 3M for its pressure-sensitive kinds.

The other inputs come from mainland vendors or are made in-house by some makers. FR-4 material is preferred for PCBs, with some enterprises offering them in white, gold, brown and black to match installation requirements.

Although the cost of some materials increased by 5 to10 percent, product prices have remained generally stable, with slight fluctuation if any. Several enterprises predict a 5 percent decrease in the months ahead due to fierce competition. The downward trend could persist as LED strip adoption progresses.

Read the full report on LED Strips at our import export business. Globalsources is a leading B2B marketplace and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines and trade shows. 

Posted: 21 September 2011, last updated 27 June 2012

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