Spring Green: Investing in LEDs

Reading like Abe Lincoln in front of an oil lamp wasn’t working so well.

Have you noticed the invasion of LEDs everywhere? They’re popping up faster than green in springtime. If you were to invest in LED-producing companies right now, it might make for a secure growth area, though I share this from my own experience rather than trying to fashion your personal investment decision-making.

With me it started with the ice storm of 2008 in New Hampshire. Survival was difficult with all electricity down due to trees falling on wires throughout our area. For one week, we thought like a community under attack. I could cook on a gas stove and sleep in my down sleeping bag in front of the gas fireplace, and shower until the remaining supply of hot water ran out. I could always get to work, because plows and sand trucks were used to ice on the roads; it was New Hampshire, after all. The one thing that I couldn’t do well was read after working hours, a necessity when the sun goes down early in winter. I stopped at L.L. Bean’s store in Nashua, one of the few that had an independent generator, and told them about the problem. Reading like Abe Lincoln in front of an oil lamp wasn’t working so well.

“Here’s the answer, lady—a small LED headlamp with lights so bright that you can read, even for a long time, since it requires so little battery power. You can use it for walking at night or reading after dark or even touring caves, should you go spelunking.”

No fear of that. Then, later during the year, I bought an LED flashlight, a car with LED headlights, and many more devices. Though this segment of electronics was slow to develop, it is now ready to be used in a variety of ways.

LEDs don’t wear out quickly. Many of the LEDs made in the 1970s are still in service, though typical lifetimes range from 25,000-100,000 hours with heat and current settings extending or quelling the time.

But why should you care? Apparently some manufacturers have picked up on the capabilities of LED. For example, Roland DGA Corp. introduced the 64-in. LEJ-640 UV-LED inkjet printer at this year’s ISA as an addition to its VersaUV line. The LEJ-640 prints CMYK+W and clear gloss on a variety of flexible and rigid media signage, displays, window graphics, packaging prototypes, interior décor, and more.

“Innovative UV-LED lamps cure UV inks instantly, allowing users to finish graphics immediately without the delays associated with drying time,” says Tetsunori Niyama, Roland’s product manager.

And then there’s EFI’s VUTEk GS3250LX, a printer that was introduced at Connect, EFI’s 12th annual users’ conference, which was held at the Wynn during ISA. The VUTEk GS3250LX incorporates LED curing technology featuring instant on/off and, as EFI reports, less maintenance for increased uptime to produce more profitable jobs.

UK-based Integration Technology says its LEDZero Solidcure, a UV-LED curing system introduced just this May, has a compact footprint, is lightweight, and can be used for applications in a range of markets. Standard wavelengths include 385 and 395 nm; alternatives include 365, 375, and 405 nm by special order. Standard array length is 80 mm, and the array can be scaled in 7-mm increments to a maximum length of more than 1000 mm to suit individual applications. According to Integration Technology, high output power is maintained by the use of precise liquid cooling.

UV LED curing is not the largest use for LEDs. TV applications are forecast to dominate LED through 2013, accounting for nearly 50% of the total LED backlight market demand. According to DisplaySearch’s Quarterly LED Supply/Demand Market Forecast Report, LED lighting will capture the lead by 2014, just as demand for LEDs in LCD TV backlights falls.

“The Market for LED backlights continues to grow as manufacturers leverage the technology for large display applications like notebooks, monitors, and TVs,” says Leo Liu, senior analyst at DisplaySearch. “In addition, there are a growing number of emerging applications for LEDs, such as lighting, signal, and automotive applications.”

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