LED lighting systems are moving from niche applications to general purpose light fixtures, displacing CFL bulbs the same way CFL bulbs replaced incandescent a decade ago.
While LED bulbs last longer, there’s a critical component to them that drives how long an LED light will last, and that’s the heat sink. While active cooling – where airflow is moved past the assembly to take waste heat away is best – heat sinks radiate heat from the light assembly into the ambient air, or into a part of the light fixture. Heat sink inefficiency is the number one killer of LED light installations, as the waste heat slowly cooks the integrated circuitry that makes the light work at all.
Heat sinks rely on good thermal conductivity. A good heat sink arrangement has a metal conduction plate with thermal grease, and it maximizes the amount of contact between the back of the LED light source and the thermal conductor. Things to watch out for are small contact plates, or LEDs that mount too close to plastic, or that have an enclosed air gap. Both of the latter cases will result in insulation rather than dissipation, and shorten the life of the LED light.
On larger LED bulbs, and their installations, you’ll see decorative fins of metal, usually a copper or aluminum alloy. These are meant to maximize surface area for airflow to pull heat away from the assembly, and they’re both functional and decorative – they give a sleek, “Flash Gordon” art deco look to the fixture.
Contact heatsink manufacturers, Getec Industrial, for more information about their turnkey heatsinks for LEDs.