Markt&Technik Article: Cree LED Aims to Conquer the LED MarketFebruary 7, 2023
Cree LED Aims to Conquer the LED Market
Originally published in Markt&Technik, February 2023. Reprinted with permission.
Breaking into new market sectors with a fast-paced release of technical innovations, Cree LED has hit the ground running as a pure-play LED supplier.
Cree LED is well known as a manufacturer of high-power lighting LEDs – where the company has long maintained a global market share of more than 30 percent – and is growing its traction in the mid-power lighting LED market.
With the acquisition of Cree LED by SGH – Smart Global Holdings in March 2021, Cree LED is no longer owned by Wolfspeed (known as Cree, Inc. until 2021) but operates independently as a subsidiary of SGH. This change allows the company to focus solely on the development, manufacture and marketing of only LED components.
“As Cree LED, we can now concentrate all efforts on our target areas and apply our technical expertise, which has grown over 30 years, to a wide range of new developments,” says Stephan Schneider, Vice President of Sales EMEA at Cree LED. “We have never been better positioned than we are today!”
Many key milestones and industry firsts have occurred at Cree LED since it was founded in 1987 (see Figure 1) and continued to lead the market in novel innovative solutions, pioneering and commercializing many LED technologies across lighting, automotive and LED signage applications.
Figure 1. Cree LED’s Timeline of Industry-First Innovations Began in 1989.
“Customers naturally appreciate it when a product becomes more efficient and brighter over time, giving them improved LEDs and offering new design scopes for their luminaire projects,” says Cree LED’s Schneider. “Our manufacturing strategy decisively improves our supply chain, with delivery times shortened in many cases to four weeks.”
Another way that Cree LED is leveraging its manufacturing strategy is to further its reach into the mid-power lighting LED market. But what exactly distinguishes high-power from mid-power LEDs?
“In the past, LEDs above 1-2W were considered high-power,” explains Kai Klimkiewicz, Field Applications Engineer at Cree LED EMEA. “Today, high-power LEDs can go well above 40W and are mainly used in applications with high luminance levels, such as bicycle lights, blue lights for emergency vehicles, stadium lighting and wind turbine lighting.”
“There are several criteria for mid-power LEDs today,” says Klimkiewicz. “They are placed in plastic packages, they don’t have a dome like many high-power types and they often contain multiple die,” he continues. “Since they are mostly used to produce planar light, they operate at relatively low currents. What matters most for mid-power LEDs is high efficiency and a good price-performance ratio.”
In the mid-power LED sector, Klimkiewicz sees significant growth opportunities for Cree LED and believes that with many differentiating factors over competitors in this market, the company can substantially increase market share. These factors include Cree LED’s leading technical knowledge from the high-power LED market which can now be transferred to the mid-power products. As a result, the LEDs achieve leading performance values in terms of color shift, robustness, reliability and efficiency.
Additionally, in 2017, Cree LED created a joint venture with San’an Optoelectronics, the industry’s largest LED die supplier, called Cree Venture LED Company Limited. Through this JV, Cree LED gains access to the high-volume LED manufacturing required to become a major supplier in the mid-power LED market. Cree LED markets these products from Cree Venture as J Series® LEDs. J Series LEDs come with Cree LED’s intellectual property (IP) indemnification from one of the leaders in the LED industry. Top LED suppliers have been very active in protecting their IP over the past few years, so it is important that manufacturers only source their LEDs from suppliers with strong IP positions.
Figure 2. Examples of Cree LED’s J Series® LED product line.
Finally, Cree LED plans to regularly launch new and innovative products, rejecting the notion that the mid-power LED market doesn’t value innovation. “We are investing in the expansion of both our mid-power and high-power portfolios,” says Schneider. “In doing so, we are taking a two-pronged approach,” he explains. “On the one hand, we are a generalist, but at the same time we also act as a specialist in many market sectors.”
The legacy area where Cree LED has become the market leader is high-power LEDs. Applications range from streetlights to lighting for large stores to stadiums. Cree LED also holds a leading position in the field of LEDs for video screens, a market that is growing strongly, especially in the USA and Asia. With the new focus for mid-power LEDs, key markets can be extended, especially for indoor and outdoor lighting as well as for lighting in industrial environments.
Then there are the high-growth specialty markets, which include Cree LED architectural lighting, flashlights and headlamps, transportation, machine vision and horticulture.
“In architecture, for example, we already lead in this space with one of the most extensive color palettes in the industry,” says Klimkiewicz. This is exactly what is in demand in architectural lighting: many different spectrums. Because of the huge selection, a lighting manufacturer has more options in how they can create designs according to the respective building requirements.
The flagship product here are the brand-new XLamp Element G family (XE-G) LEDs. They offer 17 colors as well as the full range of white light from cold to warm. The maximum current with which the LEDs can be operated is 3A, meaning that they can be operated at higher currents than most other LEDs available on the market.
“Overall, XE-G products are very unique on the market and our flagship product for this year,” proclaims Klimkiewicz. “Especially in the higher power range, these LEDs can fully use their advantages and achieve significantly higher luminous fluxes than the predecessor products and products of the competition.”
Compared to the XLamp XQ-E family, XE-Gs deliver up to three times the amount of light at maximum current, and up to nine times the lumen density of the XLamp XP-E2. Unprecedented spectral precision can be achieved via the many color options.
In addition, the XLamp Element G LEDs have a large, isolated thermal pad integrated into the LED’s housing. Through this pad, heat can be dissipated better than in comparable LEDs, which is the reason they can be powered at 3A. Now, for the first time, high-flux color LEDs can be connected directly to the aluminum in the printed circuit board (PCB) for heat dissipation. If users want to further optimize, they can use special PCBs with copper to achieve the highest board density. Despite the asymmetric package, the LEDs can be placed very close together in constellations of four and six, which simplifies the design for users and allows them to achieve very good light bundling.
“This is just one example of how we are not only improving the technical features of the LEDs themselves, but also enabling additional system design benefits,” says Klimkiewicz. “This saves users effort and costs by bringing more functionality to the same area and requiring fewer complex optics.”
In 2019, Cree LED entered the market for LEDs used in the horticulture environment, a market that has very specific requirements. Here, LEDs are used in greenhouses and buildings to accelerate the growth and quality of plants. To do this, different plants require different mixtures of longer and shorter wavelengths, which must be very precisely matched to achieve the optimum growth and flavor in the case of food products. In most cases, the mixture results in a pink light color, which is typical for modern greenhouses. In addition, the LEDs should consume as little energy as possible, because lighting makes up the largest cost factor in horticulture. It all comes down to the optimum lighting recipe in each case, and a lot of research and development is still taking place here. The prerequisite for these applications is technically leading LEDs that are reliable and long-lasting.
Figure 3. Cree LED’s latest horticulture focused LED offering, Photophyll™ Select LEDs.
“So, here we are playing on our favorite fields again,” says Schneider. “The horticulture market is developing quickly, as was clearly seen at GreenTech in Amsterdam last June.” Most importantly, horticulture LED manufacturers are now already ordering LEDs in high volumes. “That wasn’t the case a few years ago,” he says. “And there’s a lot more to come.”
From these examples, it is clear each specific application has its own particular technical requirements. “With its long history as a leader in the high-power LED market, Cree LED has all the prerequisites to carry out additional developments, as we have already proven,” affirms Schneider.
Cree LED is further differentiated from competitors by maintaining a worldwide presence of sales and FAE personnel in Europe, Asia and the USA with on-site service and the technical know-how that has grown over the past 30 years. Klimkiewicz is optimistic about the future of Cree LED as a pure LED manufacturer, and says, “We have never been better positioned in the market than we are today.”
About Cree LED
Cree LED, an SGH company, employs approximately 1,600 people worldwide and reported revenues of $403 million in fiscal year 2022.
On Sept. 2, 2022, Joe Clark was appointed Cree LED’s new president, having spent 21 years with the company in R&D and various leadership roles, including senior vice president and general manager among others. The Cree LED leadership team has a long history with the company. “This ensures continuity, which is particularly important for a high-tech company like Cree LED, because it keeps the technology expertise within the company,” says Stephan Schneider, Vice President of Sales EMEA.
XLamp and J Series are registered trademarks of Cree LED.