Without a doubt in my mind, the future for the lighting industry will be heavily based on roll-to-roll electronics assembly processes. The use of individually assembled printed circuit boards makes little sense for many lighting applications, such as many common linear or planar architectural lighting applications (see my previous posts on flex tape, conductive ink, embedded lighting, etc.). And with the extremely high efficacy being realized with LED components, the fundamental need for heat sinks largely disappears, eliminating the need for design tricks like thermal via’s or creating any sort of complicated thermal pathways. The electrical traces themselves are often enough to suitably cool small mid-power LED packages. Plus PCB’s are costly to design, manufacture, assemble and dispose of — creating both initial high costs and long term ecological impacts. This technological transition will open up creative new possibilities for fixture designs.
A great example of the current state of roll-to-roll production processes is Bosch’s Rexroth group. Rexroth is a manufacture of factory automation equipment; their site has a great section on roll-to-roll plastic electronics assembly technologies. It is fascinating to look through the process – it gets my imagination running on what the future of light engines will look like.
Here is their PDF brochure for posterity: Bosch Rexroth_R999000288_PE_2013_12_AE_media