Industrial Lighting 101: Impact of dust and dirt on thermal management

Industrial Lighting 101: Impact of dust and dirt on thermal management

Heat is the killer of all things electronic. LED fixtures are no different. Fixtures need to be designed with superior thermal management in mind. This includes preventing dust and dirt from building up and trapping the heat inside the fixture. A dusty, dirty layer of insulation will lead to overheating and early failure.

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In industrial environments, dust and dirt ends up building up on light fixtures, creating an insulating layer that deters heat dissipation. This leads to overheating, which significantly accelerates light output degradation and causes early failure of the electronics inside the fixture, such as the LED driver and control systems. Manufacturers of LED high bay fixtures don’t always consider the potentially dirty applications in which these type of fixtures will be installed. This causes poor initial thermal management and even worse thermal management over time.

Industrial facilities are typically not air-conditioned, and even in those that are, the units are placed well below ceiling height – where the fixtures are installed – so the A/C does very little to lower the ambient temperature around them. To make matters worse, dust and dirt will build up over the fixture, creating a layer of insulation that traps more heat inside the fixture.

Since heat is the killer of all things electronic, industrial LED high bays must be designed with a superior thermal management and the ability to withstand potentially dirty environments – yet most are not.

Since 2008, Flex Lighting Solutions is the pioneer of designing industrial LED high bays with a superior thermal management. Dust and dirt have negligible impact with our fixture design because most dust will pass harmlessly though the spacing between the LED modules and the driver compartment. Our LED fixtures are specifically designed to withstand dust, dirt and the extreme ambient temperatures of industrial facilities.

There are two popular designs when it comes to LED high bays, linear and round.

  • Linear LED high bays are typically made of flat sheet metal with an extremely poor thermal management. Dirt and dust builds up over the flat sheet metal, creating a blanket of insulation that prevents heat dissipation, leading the LEDs and electronics to overheat.
  • Round LED high bays, often called UFOs for the resemblance in shape, are typically equipped with heat sinks with vertical fins but have no space between the fins. This makes the heat sink become a “dust collector”, impairing the heat dissipation properties of the heat sink.

Flex Lighting Solutions LED high bays are specifically tested in conditions simulating hot and dirty environments to ensure they will last. One of the many ways we test our LED fixtures is by packing the LED driver compartment and the vertical fins full of dust and dirt. At the same time, we run them in a “boiling pot/torture chamber” under ambient temperatures equal to the maximum ambient fixture rating of the fixture to truly test that it will not only survive but thrive in the worst case conditions (which are not all that unusual).

Over time, people are concerned with dust getting in the fins – which will happen. Our LED high bay design provides ample separation between the LED modules so there’s almost no heat transfer between these fins because there is no air flow. Dust will gather in between these fins but it doesn’t gather on the sides. They are still able to dissipate the heat to the nearby air which warms as it rises, pulling up the cooler air from underneath and maintaining the convective cooling.