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issue: March 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Electronics Report
True White LED Panels

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New white LED fiber optic panels are said to offer a true white backlight and long- life attributes for membrane switch applications.

UniGlo® technology from Lumitex uses optical fiber mounted on a back reflector to create lighting panels as thin as 0.013 inches (0.33 mm). When combined with white LEDs, the company says the panels provide true white backlighting, not the "bluish-white" glow found in competitive products.

Newly designed white LEDs have been incorporated into Lumitex's patented UniGlo® Optima™ optical fiber panels, providing backlighting that is reportedly two-and-a-half times brighter than previous generations.

According to the Strongsville, Ohio, U.S.-based company, the panels provide brightness up to 75 Ft-L, while offering extreme thinness and excellent uniformity. The key is in the company's UniGlo technology, a proprietary abrasion process that is said to cause plastic optical fiber panels to glow uniformly.

"The technology uses optical fiber mounted on a back reflector to create lighting panels as thin as 0.013 inches or 0.33 mm," explains Frank Byers, membrane switch product manager. "Our proprietary, computer-controlled etching process ensures uniform light distribution. Typically, one layer of fiber is used in conjunction with a back reflector and, if desired, a double-sided adhesive can be mounted on the top or bottom. If additional brightness is required, then additional layers can be added or the panels can be lit from both sides."

The fibers, he says, are composed of plastic that makes them virtually indestructible. At the same time, the panels have been designed for flexibility and can be placed between an elastomeric keypad or overlay and a non-tactile or tactile dome membrane switch. "When the elastomeric keypad or overlay is depressed, the panel flexes, enabling easy actuation of the switch," notes Byers. "They add only 0.2 ounces to 0.8 ounces of tactile pressure to the switch assembly, depending on the type of dome being actuated."

The panels also require no inverter and are said to generate no heat or electromagnetic interference (EMI). "Discrete LED placement would have heat output on a panel," explains Byers. "However, our technology allows the light to travel from one or both ends of the fiber, leaving the heat generation at the entry point and not on the panel."

The manufacturing versatility of the panels—die cutting, color changes, individual segment lighting, different shapes and sizes, quick and cost-effective prototyping—also allows them to be customized for various membrane switch backlighting applications. These include remote controls, medical instrumentation, communications equipment, and industrial process control. Power consumption is typically 3.6 V, 20 mA to 30 mA, with an operating temperature range of -40 degrees celcius to +85 degrees celcius.


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