Fibre fights back

Alan Weaver says fibre optics can hold their own in the LED onslaught

There is no doubt that the fibre optic lighting market is shrinking year-on-year as LED products improve and gradually replace fibre in many applications.

This is not always for the right reasons. The market is saturated with news and hype about LEDs and what they can do, and a good deal of that hype is justified. So clients are coming to feel that if it isn’t LED then it’s ‘old hat’; and fibre optic are often rejected for this reason.

Don’t bury fibre yet

But sometimes fibre optic lighting does offer the best lighting solution, so don’t let’s bury fibre too quickly for the following reasons:

  • Easy access for maintenance. The light source – projector or light engine – can be positioned remotely from the light points or light feature, so maintenance is easier.
  • Truly no heat from the light point. Unlike led fittings that will emit heat (from the heat sink) although low levels, there is no UV or IR emitted from the end of the fibre tail. Hence the reason that fibre optics is still preferred when lighting ‘sensitive art object’ in say museums for examples.

Fibre is still king in museums

  • Decorative Lighting. Sparkle ceilings/Floors where even an array of single 0.75mm Polymer fibre end lit points can create a starry sky effect from a single projector or a bespoke chandelier effect again using single or groups of fibre.

A single light engine can create a sparkle ceiling

Neither of these effects are as easy to create by using led’s where both the size of the light source and/or maintenance can be an issue especially with regards to a chandelier application.

  • Size and Adaptability. End fittings are small (no heat to dissipate as with led fittings via a heat sink) so the light fitting is less noticeable.
  • Safety. In a water feature, only light being transmitted within the fibre optic cable with all the electrical equipment (projector/light engine) located safely outside the wet zone. There will not be any safety issues in terms of mixing water with electricity.

Water and fibre mix happily

Counting the cost

Regarding pricing issues then the cost of a fibre optic system can depend on a number of factors – e.g. type of projector/light engine (a TH projector will be lower in cost than a Metal Halide version), fibre tail size (the greater the active diameter the more light is transmitted) and length and type of end fitting (if used) – so it’s very difficult to generally give a direct price comparison between either using fibre optics or led’s as each particular project is different.

Ease of installation

However ease of installation (in favour of LEDs) affecting the installation costs has been one other factor in influencing the move towards led’s being used more often even if the led option is not the best solution.

This also removes the ‘poor installation factor’ where many a fibre optic project has been spoilt by bad installation practice.

Hence the reasons for many fibre optic companies to now offer an installed price to counter this further move towards LEDs.

Finally with the availability of higher output LEDs we have seen over the past few years the introduction of LEDs as the light source within a projector/light engine — so maybe now we have the best of both worlds!

Alan Weaver is the sales director of Crescent Lighting.

Time to think different

Designers of lighting controls would do well to take some posthumous advice from Steve Jobs, the man who helped make technology easier for everyone to use

François Seguineau

Chief operating officer, Toshiba Lighting Systems, Europe