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Bright ideas

Posted on 06/09/2017

Lightweight unbreakable floor tiles are in high demand.

From retail to automotive, DesignLED's bespoke tiles are shedding light in all the right places.

We look at some of the rising stars of innovation who, with KTN’s support, exhibited at this year’s IdTechEx show in Berlin, which showcases the latest in emerging technologies.

DesignLED is a lighting business focusing on flexible, thin and customisable solutions for backlighting, direct illumination and area lighting. We spoke to Innovation Manager Derek Peden about the scale of what’s on offer.  

In terms of your USP, it’s making ultra-thin LED light tiles, and the fact that they’re customisable?

That’s right. Using a patented technique, we embed LEDs within a transparent substrate for optical control and protection.  Our main USP is in providing a completely integrated lighting solution that can control the spatial distribution of light, creating either symmetric or asymmetric beam angles with no secondary optics, giving a customer light where they want it, from flat and even curved surfaces. Our light tiles are highly customisable in size, shape, light output, optics and beam angles, LED selection and colour, input voltage and connectors.

How thin can they be?

This mainly depends on the composition of their components. With some of the LEDs, we achieve a thickness of just under a millimetre. Their thinness really helps with integration into other materials, such as wood veneer, composite materials and fabrics, which is one of their primary applications. Their thin, lightweight structure allows us to achieve fantastic uniformity with a high brightness from LCD screens and large luminous surface light boxes.

How bright are they?

As the LEDs are coupled into our patented optical structure, we can provide a high light output of up to 5,000 lumens per square metre, and of course as we’re using LEDs, we can guarantee low temperatures and a long lifetime. With our customisation service, we have even trialled up to 20,000 lumens per square metre for one customer.

And presumably, there are all kinds of uses for your lights?

The possibilities for our lighting solutions are endless. At the moment our focus is on four market segments: Architectural, Retail, Automotive and Custom Lighting. The advantages of our light tiles in architectural lighting is that all our products can be easily integrated into walls, ceilings and different types of built environment. With the light tiles, you can create large, edge-to-edge, uniform, luminous surfaces that bring spaces and buildings to life.

Lighting is a key element in visual merchandising within the retail space, where the focus is on product presentation and not on the lighting itself: our super-thin shelf lighting products can be integrated into furniture, making it virtually invisible, without glare and without multiple shadows. For the automotive sector, we provide lighting solutions for car interiors, such as illuminated panoramic roof lighting, fascia and dashboard lighting, as well as lighting for footwells and door surrounds.

Then there’s Custom Lighting: customers often come to us with a specific problem that we can help to solve. The customers’ requirements can range from a specific size or shape, LED type or colour to optical configuration.

So aside from their flexibility, what are some of the other advantages of your light tiles?

One of the main advantages of our light tiles is that they offer edge-to-edge uniform backlighting with reduced running costs and power consumption. Our tiles are also protected against dust and moisture, meaning that you can install them almost anywhere. Our light tiles are quick and simple to install, with standard mounting fixing. They’re also very robust: you basically cannot break them. The LEDs are protected, so that even with a staple, nail or screw, drilled or even hit with a hammer, there will be no damage to the tile.

In terms of where you are as a company, how far have you come – you’re already selling to customers?

We’ve recently completed a very large project with a high-profile client, involving 850 square metres of lighting, which had to be achieved in a very short space of time, in challenging circumstances. We worked very closely with our UK-based manufacturing partners, and with the end client, to ensure that the project was delivered on time and successfully. Recently, it’s been obvious that we have moved from being a technology-orientated company, to really looking at how we can help our customers solve real-world problems. This still involves a great amount of innovation, but we have more confidence in working closely with customers to deliver designed applications.

"We've moved from being a technology-orientated company, to really looking at how we can help our customers solve real-world problems."

How has KTN helped you so far?

They’ve been a great support in terms of directing us towards potential partners. We’ve identified a number of innovation programmes where KTN has put us in touch with potential collaboration partners – experts in material processing for example, or in materials themselves. Then, of course, there’s been KTN’s guidance on how to access public funding through Innovate UK. Our attendance at the IDTechEx show also came out of a conversation at a KTN-run event – they saw our potential, and how we fit in with the context of the Expo.

Did anything particular come out of the Berlin event?

We had a tremendous amount of interest on the KTN stand. There were a lot of people there who we already knew, which really helps to underpin those relationships. There were also companies that we’ve been talking to about partnering on projects, and we’re hoping to do some work with the CPI in Durham through Innovate UK.

Finally, where next for DesignLED?

We’re pushing the boundaries in a number of areas, primarily in thin optical light structures that allow ever-increasing uniformity, but also integration into other materials. Our technology is flexible and adaptable, and not just from a mechanical point of view: our tiles are a fantastic platform for integrating other electronics, for example – at the moment, we’re looking at how sensors and IoT infrastructure can be supported and improved by our tiles.

We’re shifting into real world applications, involving high-profile partners both in day-to-day sales, but also in joint development with some pretty big players, who see the value in our patented optical and materials technology. And finally, we’re pushing ahead with our work on advanced printed electronics, advanced micro-optics and roll-to-roll manufacturing to improve our ability to help customers, where no one else can.

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