The lighting sector has long been a key area of development potential and commercial focus for Lucite International’s (LI) downstream businesses. Over time, we’ve seen some significant changes in the nature of technical developments in lighting, which have given us regular opportunities to re-evaluate our own offer for the sector. While any change brings its challenges, it can also present an exciting prospect for us to grow. Garry Phillipson, Lucite® Polymer Technical Service, based in Wilton, UK, was inspired to write this illuminating article after a visit to LuxLive, London’s premier annual lighting exhibition.

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The illuminations industry encompasses a broad cross-section of individual applications and wider industries where PMMA moldings and extrusions are used. These include automotive, signage, office lighting profiles, indoor fluorescent lighting covers, industrial high intensity discharge lamps, street lighting and other commercial lighting. A major change that has impacted all of these is the move towards LEDs as a primary light source for designers and luminaire manufacturers.

LED lighting technology has developed rapidly over the past decade. Innovation continues at unprecedented levels of speed and ingenuity, which means material producers looking to supply polymers for use with LEDs must be agile to react to current needs while looking creatively to the future to try to anticipate what qualities and characteristics will be needed next. One of the key drivers for LED improvement (other than lumen output, longevity and consistency) has been in heat reduction. Traditionally, lighting of any source with high heat generation would be associated with the use of a high heat resistance polymer, eg. polycarbonate (PC), for the manufacture of the optics lens. The requirement for a higher heat resistance polymer is borne out of performance necessity rather than desirability since PC has inferior optical properties in comparison with PMMA. It also has very poor weatherability and exhibits rapid yellowing even with relatively low levels of UV exposure.

However, two factors are now turning the tide in favor of PMMA as the primary material of choice for designing lighting optics. First, the rapid acceleration of heat removal technology – as presented recently by cutting-edge designers using thick section molding PMMA at LuxLive. Second, the superior optical performance of PMMA compared to any other clear plastic material. This new movement to ‘cooler’ lens optics in some areas removes the prime reason for choosing PC, and paves the way for PMMA – with its superior optical quality – to capture market share.

Focusing on the aspect of best-in-class transparency, LI is able to offer extremely high purity PMMA bead materials, which provide maximum theoretical light output. These materials have been shown by independent optics manufacturers to surpass the optical purity of standard PMMA grade compounds, thereby positioning them as the ideal material solution for the LED lighting market. Indeed, some of these products are already used extensively by our customers in the medical diagnostic industry, where ultra-low contamination, consistency, and excellent light transmission are not only desirable, but also absolutely crucial.

The LED lighting industry will continue to innovate and improve. As it does so, LI will continue to respond and anticipate with efficient new materials and ideas shaped for the future. All of this is totally consistent with the Company’s KAITEKI principles and its goal of helping to make the world lighter, brighter everywhere!