Cree takes aim at fluorescent tube market

dranii@newsobserver.comMay 5, 2014 

Cree is launching a generation of LED lights designed to replace fluorescent tubes. It boasts the new lights achieve a new milestone for ease of installation.

"We have a patent-pending circuitry … that we have designed," said Jeff Hungarter, lighting product manager for the Durham-based company. “That’s really what separates us from everyone else that is out there.”

The new Cree LED T8 Lamp, which the company plans to unveil Monday, is compatible with the bulk of the 1.3 billion sockets nationwide that accommodate 4-foot-long T8 fluorescent tubes – more than any other LED replacement, Hungarter said.

Competing LED lights are compatible with rapid-start ballasts – the ballast is what regulates the current – that account for roughly 85 percent of all sockets. But only Cree’s new product, said Hungarter, is compatible with programmed-start ballasts that account for the remaining sockets.

Cree expects broader compatibility to be a crucial advantage because installers often don’t know what kind of ballast they’re dealing with until they get on a ladder, remove the light and open up the ballast cover.

“The beauty of ours is, it doesn’t matter,” Hungarter said. “You can take a fluorescent lamp out and then you put this lamp in, and it just works.”

Cree doesn’t offer 100 percent compatibility, however. Its LEDs aren’t compatible with older magnetic ballasts; nor are any of its competitors’ products, according to Hungarter.

Although Cree’s T8 LEDs cost more than fluorescent tubes, the superior energy efficiency means they can pay for themselves in less than three years – 33 months – when installed at a hospital where they are used 24/7. The payback period for other sites depends on how many hours the lights are turned on each day.

Cree also claims its LEDs provide better-quality light than a fluorescent tube.

On the 100-point-scale color rendering index, or CRI, that measures how well colors are revealed, Cree’s LEDs are rated at 90 compared with between 70 and the low 80s for fluorescent tubes, Hungarter said.

“It makes the space a little bit brighter,” he said. “It makes the colors pop a little bit better.”

Cree, which has more than 2,400 workers in the Triangle and more than 6,500 worldwide, makes LED light bulbs and indoor and outdoor light fixtures as well as components that other companies use in LED lights. Its LEDs also illuminate mobile phones, televisions, electric signs and car dashboards.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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