September 21st, 2017

Multi-Layered Stacks: The Big Opportunity in Automotive LED Lighting

The automotive world is the latest place where LED lighting is making big inroads.  Savvy flexible material converters like Action are finding ways to help auto manufacturers take advantage of the LED lights in amazing new ways.

In these times of hyper-fast innovation, LED lighting is making a big impact in the auto industry.  Beyond headlights and taillights, LED lights are making their way onto dashboards, rear view mirrors, and anywhere and everywhere auto manufacturers can find a use for them.

LED Taillight

Making those challenges a reality has been the charge of Action.  They embraced the rapidly changing world of LED lighting a few years back, understanding that big things were coming for LEDs and the auto world.

What’s amazing about Action’s financial and strategic commitment in LEDs was they didn’t just chase a hot new product. They helped develop it themselves.

What is LED Lighting?

The term LED stands for “Light Emitting Diode” a two-lead semiconductor light source. LEDs create light by electroluminescence in a semiconductor material.  Electroluminescence is the phenomenon of a material emitting light when an electric current or an electric field passes through it. (Source: Edison Tech Center)

This video gives an in-depth explanation of how an LED light works.

 

Why is LED Lighting Making Such a Big Impact in the Automotive Industry?

LED lighting has grown by leaps and bounds as the technology has rapidly improved over the years.  These particularly become useful to the automotive industry, and for good reason.

According to ThinkProgress, the best LED bulbs:

  • Cut electricity use by 85 percent compared to incandescent light bulbs and 40 percent compared to fluorescent (with increases on the way).
  • Can last for up to 5 years of nonstop use or a few decades if used just a few hours a day.
  • Provide superior light quality.

As Autos Cheat Sheet notes, these little diodes illuminate quickly, are virtually heat-free, last long, and are nearly indestructible.  It’s easy to see the enthusiasm behind LEDs for automakers, especially as their cost drops.

“In the next 2-5 years, everything on a vehicle will use LED lighting, both internal and external,” said Scott Anderson of Action.  This is what piqued the interest of Action, and prompted them to make a move into the supply chain via innovation and one very smart investment.

The Light Bulb Goes Off: Seeing an Opportunity

Action is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Founded in 1983, it’s a flexible materials converting company that serves a diverse range of industries, but focuses on automotive. They’re not afraid to push the envelope on innovation, and several years ago, they sensed an opportunity with LED lighting.

LEDs are now used in interior mirrors to display things like a compass or a back-up mirror.  The LEDs are laminated onto the mirror, using a protective film that diffuses light and heat.

They didn't want to laminate on the floor.

According to Anderson, China produces roughly 90% of the LED lights.  However, the application of the lights provided Action with an opportunity. Knowing that their automotive partners didn’t want to laminate the film on their production floor, they set about finding a way to do it for them.

Multi-Layered Stack = Multiple Challenges

To create a mirror with an LED light within it requires a multi-layered stack.  Action needed to bond the LED module to the glass mirror and include the light diffusion film in between. This posed multiple challenges for the team.

“We had to seal out light, moisture, and contamination,” said Action Engineering Manager Jeff Snedeker.  “There are extremely tight tolerances.  And with the small LED, there were small areas to cut out. Everything had to line up right.”

Mirror with LED light.

The components had to be particulate-free; no one could handle them.  Action uses a Delta ModTech Crusader converting press to stack the adhesive diffuser with a foam component for shock absorption.  Then all the materials are die cut to size and shipped to the automotive manufacturer.

It’s All in the Island Placement Feature

The key is the cut that isolates the LED component.  Even though a fair amount of the components are small – about the size of a quarter – it’s still cost-prohibitive to put down a full layer on the stack.

Both diffusion and brightness enhancing films are highly engineered.  Diffusion films are made up of polycarbonate and can be from 1 mil to 10 mil-thick.  The heat management films may have specific ingredients in the film to gather and disperse heat.

The key is the cut.

“Everything is getting smaller and more powerful,” Anderson said.  “And as a result, more expensive.”  Action knew that scrap in this case would make the project cost-prohibitive, but they also knew they didn’t have many options with most converting machinery.

“Traditional rotary converting equipment couldn’t make that cut,” Snedeker said.  “You’d have to cover the whole part.”  Action utilizes Delta ModTech’s patented Island Placement module to make and place the small die cut diffuser onto the larger layered part, thereby reducing scrap.

Take a look at this video to see Action’s multi-layered manufacturing techniques:


Collaborating From the Get-Go

“The end product produced today is amazing, “ said Anderson. “But getting from A to B took a significant investment on Action’s part, and a leap of faith.”

First, the idea of a laminated stack didn’t even exist until Action approached its automotive partners and suggested the possibility.  “We came to the table with our customer base, and shared the idea that we would make the stack here.  We wanted to give them the option,” Anderson said.

Collaboration is key.

The automotive companies agreed to the idea in principle, but Action had to execute.  They teamed with Delta ModTech to investigate the multi-layered stack option.  It was a true collaboration, according to Anderson.

“Delta knew what their machine could do, and our expertise is in adhesive and film converting,” he explained.  “We talked to the customer, got the best case scenario, and then worked with Delta.”

Build It and They Will Come

The investment in the Delta ModTech machine was a significant one, especially since Action did not have full capacity to justify the purchase.  They were banking on a “build it and they will come” model.  

Scott Anderson quote.

Action’s risk tolerance extended beyond simply dollars.  They had to send their own engineers to Delta to learn the operational aspects of the machine, and to determine if the stackable product could truly be produced.

“We really started from scratch,” Snedeker said.  “It’s been quite a learning curve.”

“The Next Ten Years Will Be Very Interesting.”

The innovation that Action has pioneered is opening eyes across many different industries.  They’re prompting a shift from a paradigm where components are cut separately overseas because of cheap labor, and then assembled here in a sophisticated package.

“When it comes to the adhesive, we are producing a highly functional, high-tolerance part,” Anderson said.

Producing a highly functional, high-tolerance part.

And where will this lead?  “There seems to be ample opportunity, with products like mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as electric cars,” said Snedeker.  “Everything will need circuit boards, and the question of heat dispersion and light enhancement will need to be answered over and over again.”

“We started with one customer committed to this process. More are coming. I think we are moving in the right direction,” Anderson said.  “The next ten years will be very interesting.”

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