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Troy Company Bringing LED Office Lighting To Mass Market

TROY -- LED lighting is about to hit the mainstream.

Toggled, the LED lighting subsidiary of Altair Engineering, is manufacturing LED-powered lighting tubes that are a direct, easy replacement for the two- and four-foot-long flourescent tubes in use in businesses around the world.

And now, Toggled is preparing to install new equipment that will allow it to build a million of the lighting tubes a year.

The tubes will retail between $45 and $55 each, depending on configuration and the size of the order, Toggled president David Simon said.

"The nice part about that price point, even though it is high compared to a flourescent tube at the local Home Depot, is that in commercial lighting applications, where you are running the lights half time or more, the payback is under two years, and in some cases under a year, from energy and maintenance savings," Simon said.

The bulbs come in several temperatures, the term used in lighting to describe how warm or cool a bulb's light is. They include 3,500, 4,000 and 5,000 degrees Kelvin. The 3,500 model is the closest to the warm light of an incandescent bulb, about 2,700 degrees; the 4,000 is close to traditional flourescent light, while the 5,000 is close to natural midday daylight.

Toggled currently has about 10 employees, though it shares dozens of other engineering and design employees with Altair.

Its manufacturing center has two production lines. One glues and wires LEDs to a flexible plastic strip. The other line glues and wires together the electronic components that run the LED lamp on a flexible plastic strip of identical size. Included are electronics to smooth out power input and light output.

Marrying the two strips together is currently a manual process. The third line will automate that process, giving Toggled its million-tube-a-year manufacturing capacity.

The two strips are then packaged in a tube the same size as a flouresecent light bulb that contains a diffuser to "spread out" the highly directional light of the LEDs along the strip.

Altair got into the LED light bulb business in a roundabout way, according to Simon and Michael Kidder, senior vice president of marketing.

"We do a lot of consulting in commercial transit, and one of the highest maintenance items on a bus is replacing flourescent tubes," Kidder siad. "They don't like vibration and they don't like cold, so they wear out quickly in transit applications, and people will not get on a dark bus. So we looked at LEDs. Initially they weren't feasible, but we did the research and filed the patents, and then costs came down."

Simon said that when Altair first started looking at LED replacement lights, LEDs were "marginally more cost effective than candlelight." But the improvement in LED efficiency, consistency and cost started rising rapidly in the 2000s, he said. "Like all hockey stick curves, it's not always obvious you're on one in the beginning, but by the early 2000s it became obvious."

To boost sales, Toggled now has partnerships with Michigan's two largest commerical lighting companies -- Lighting Supply Co. and Standard/Madison Electric.

Kidder and Simon both also said that they believe Michigan can become a major center of LED light manufacturing.

"If there's one thing Michigan knows how to do it's automate production," Kidder said. And Simon said that Michigan also "does supply chain and logistics really well," another key to a product like the LED light bulb, which marries together different kinds of electronics from many different sources.

Toggled is a co-founder of the Michigan Solid State Lighting Association, which aims to build the solid-state lighting industry in the state.

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