LED lighting has had a significant impact on an incredible range of products.
They’re in your television. They make up your computer monitor. They’re used in home and commercial lighting. They’re used in flashlights and other portable lights. They’re used inside and outside automobiles.
However, they’re not as advanced as they could be. 3D printing is helping push LED lighting technology into the future. In fact, the world’s thinnest ever LEDs were recently produced using 3D printing.
The Problem with Conventional Lighting
What if lights could be printed flat, like a sheet of paper? What if those flat lights could share the incredible lifespan and energy friendly nature of LEDs?
Now, what if those flat, paper-like lights could be installed pretty much anywhere, on any surface, without the need for significant modification, lots of new hardware, or the need for lots of space to accommodate fixtures, bulbs and the aforementioned hardware?
Well, if one research team has its way, that’s exactly what’s coming down the pipe. The new lights are based on LED technology, but are printed using a 3D printer and are paper-thin.
Not Quite Ready for Primetime
While the team in question (Rohinni) has developed a working prototype dubbed LightPaper, it’s not quite ready for mass production.
LightPaper promises to be the world’s thinnest LED light, and it will eventually be able to be installed pretty much anywhere. It really only needs a tiny bit of power, and it produces a surprising amount of illumination.
Not Your Conventional Printer Material
We’ve gotten used to 3D printers using plastic, metal and other materials. Even human cells are now pretty standard. The material of choice here is none of those – the team is using a unique mixture of ink and miniature LEDs.
That is fed into a 3D printer, and then extruded according to a custom design developed for the application at hand (it can be printed in whatever size and configuration is needed, thanks to the customizability of 3D printing technology).
The lights themselves are roughly the size of a red blood cell, and they’re randomly distributed through the print material.
The printed lighting circuit is then sandwiched between two layers of other material and is ready for use. Currently, the company isn’t looking to get into the HDTV business, or even into computers or other consumer electronics.
Their single largest bent is the automotive market, with an offshoot into branding and logo displays (imagine an illuminated logo the size of a storefront, but weighing mere ounces).
In the automotive world, they’re looking at making new taillights and other exterior and interior lighting out of LightPaper.
There are still some hurdles to overcome here. The random dispersal of diodes in the print medium means that light isn’t emitted uniformly from the finished product (it shimmers, instead), but the bugs are being worked out.
While it’s not quite ready for the spotlight, the company does expect it to go live sometime in the middle of 2015. So, manufacturers, automakers and businesses looking into innovative branding solutions, keep your eyes open.