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High Temperature LED Fixtures Engineering: the Science
It’s important to understand that high temperatures tend to shorten the life of electronic products. There is a certain threshold that when crossed, will be detrimental to electronic components.
For the most part, standard LED lighting products are reliable up to 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Most applications, like warehouses, schools, and gymnasiums, never come close to encountering these temperatures.a
But for industrial applications, operating temperatures can exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit regularly. Even worse, heat rises, and lights used in these applications are typically installed at the highest points in an enclosed area. This only exasperates the problem. Temperatures on the ground floor will be cooler than temperatures at fixture mounting heights.
Fortunately, there are LED lighting products that are designed to operate in temperatures above 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but they are not “off-the-shelf products”.
The Basics of LED Lighting and Operating Temperatures
An LED Light Fixture is comprised of LED diodes, an electronics board that holds the diodes, an LED driver that powers the LEDs, and a heat sink. Most fixtures you see on the market today combine the heat sink into a fixture’s housing. In other words, the housing is the heat sink. The heat sink helps keep the diodes and driver cool during operation.
Most standard fixtures, that work up to 130 degreets Fahrenheit, are designed by engineers to maximize efficiencies of design to keep costs down. They calculate the number of LEDs needed to run near full capacity to produce light within specific operating temperatures. In other words, some manufacturers will drive the components to 90-95% capacity. If you add additional heat, these components will degrade quickly.
Think of this another way. Let’s say you had to drive at 100 mph every day. You purchase an economy subcompact car and drive it at 100 mph. Maybe it’s capable of a top speed of 110 mph. This means you can drive it at 100 mph. But you are using 95% of its capacity to do this.
Or maybe you buy a sports car that is designed with a top end of 190 mph. It can also drive at 100 mph but is only using about half of its capacity.
So how do you build an LED Light that can handle high temperatures? You design it like a sports car.
Adding Additional Capacity to LED Lights for Hot Temperatures
Like the sports car analogy above, the same can be done with LED Lighting. You can add more components, and drive them less hard, to build in the capacity to handle hot temperatures. You can do this in three ways. It’s up to the engineers to decide which options to use in to achieve this goal.
Use a Bigger Heat Sink.
Adding more heat sink capacity is one way of doing this. By itself, it may not be a reasonable stand-alone option. The fixtures will become heavier and bulkier and make them more difficult to install. Additionally, engineers could add a separate heat sink around the driver to aid in keeping it cool.
Create More Physical Distance Between the Driver and the LEDs.
This will prevent the lights from sharing heat. A lot of fixtures mount drivers right above the LEDs. The LEDs radiate their heat onto the driver, thus adding to the driver’s heat issues.
Add More LEDs – and Drive Them at Far Less than Max Capacity
At the end of the day, an LED Fixture must produce light. If you reduce the amount of light each LED produces, you have a deficit. To make up for the deficit, you can add more LEDs. An LED running at half capacity is running a lot cooler than ones running at or near full capacity.
This means, that if you had a hot environment, you are not going to overextend the LEDs.
Run the Driver at Less than Full Capacity.
If you have a 100-watt LED Fixture, it would make sense to drive the fixture with a 100-Watt LED driver. If you want to engineer a hot temperature fixture, you will use a 150-Watt or 200-Watt LED Driver and dial them down to only produce 100 Watts. The means that the drivers will not be stressed.
Running at less than full capacity provides enough capacity to not overextend themselves in hot ambient temperatures.
Why are High-temperature LED Fixtures More Expensive?
Adding more components just adds to the cost of the fixture. If the fixture has 2X the LED diodes or uses a 200-Watt LED Driver instead of a 100-Watt LED Driver, that adds to the cost. Building additional heat sinks for the driver or making a larger heat sink or fixture housing all add to the costs.
Are you looking for High-Temperature LED Fixtures? Click here to check out all the High Temp Lights we have.
What About Low-temperature LED Lights?
The interesting fact about high-temperature lights is they also work really well in extremely cold temperatures, well beyond the limits of normal LED Fixtures.
About the Author
Dwayne Kula is President of LED Lighting Supply. On any given day, Dwayne is writing content for the site and helps manage the marketing initiatives that are on-going. He has a Software Engineering degree and still dabbles in writing software for the company as needed. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, working out, playing the occasional game of golf and exploring New England.