Light is crucial in the manufacture of many hardware, sometimes for aesthetics and other times play crucial roles in the functionality of such products. For example, many of these products may contain a user interface that utilizes light signals such as ON/OFF or low battery indicators. This will lead us to the concept of light pipes.
Hearing light pipes for the first time, you may think them strange if you are unfamiliar with them. However, they are pretty standard, especially in industrial machines and domestic appliances containing LEDs serving as control indicators and providing automation of these devices.
So the question now is, what are they, and how to make them? Read on to get a comprehensive understanding of what these optical components entail.
What are Light Pipes?
Light pipes are tubular structures that transmit or distribute light from a light source for illumination purposes or act as optical waveguides. They either diffuse, focus or redirect light – most light pipes offer one or more of these functionalities.
The light pipe tech uses clear plastics as the medium for light transmission. Notably, the light source can be natural, as in sunlight though it’s primarily artificial, typically an LED to a user interface.
Typically these pipes are designed using optical-sensitive plastics such as acrylic, polycarbonate, and other polymers. What’s more, these tubes distribute light with high efficiency with very minimal loss of light concentration, even when transmitting through bends, corners, and tight spaces.
In addition, LED light pipes are in two variants, rigid and flexible – both are pretty efficient for directing light waves with little or no loss in light intensity.
Light Pipes Work Principles
Light transmission through a light pipe is based on total internal reflection. Therefore, the light pipe should be positioned close to the light source – often an LED, on one end of a printed circuit board, PCB. Then, the pipe’s optical-grade component aids in transmitting the optical waves to the desired location – the device’s user interface or front panel.
Indeed, these light tubes carry light waves with high efficiency, up to 90 percent. Notably, the shorter the distance of the pipes to the light source, the greater the light transmission efficiency. The light pipe design and internal spacings, too, may be factors to consider.
The LED or other light source produces a certain amount of heat, which may harm the light pipes if not factored into light piped designs. So, manufacturers need to put that into consideration when designing light pipes and indicate the minimum allowable distance between the light source and pipes.
Light Pipe Design: How to Make a Light Pipe
As earlier mentioned, light pipes occur in two distinct variants – rigid and flexible light pipes. Either light pipe design is compatible with a vast array of mounting options. However, to maximize the performance of these structures, designers need to consider the application before deciding which design to choose.
Rigid Light Pipe Design
As the name suggests, light pipes of this variant are most appropriate for places devoid of bends and corners. Unlike flexible light pipe designs, they are ideal for short distances where light follows the basic principle of traveling along a straight line. However, manufacturers can adjust and combine more than one tube to allow light transmission through tight corners and right angles.
Flexible Light Pipe Design
These light tubes are distinct from their counterparts, consisting of extremely bendable polycarbonate fibers. Since they possess excellent flexibility, lights easily move through bends, corners, and tight spaces with minimal energy loss or leakages. Also, they permit redirecting light rays through longer distances. However, they are a little more expensive.
Considerations for Making a Light Pipe
When planning to introduce light pipes into your design, there are several things to consider.
Firstly, the light pipe must perfectly suit your design to capture enough light from the source with greater control over the amount of light that gets reflected away.
After proper light capturing, the next thing is to ensure that the pipe design correctly directs the light waves. Since light naturally travels in a straight line, it’s up to the pipe to provide the guide for light signals for proper illumination.
When dealing with angled light pipes, you might need to consider other factors for effective light transport. For example, advanced ray tracing can help enhance light transmission with little or no loss.
Here are other vital things to consider when designing a light pipe.
●Where is the light source coming from? The light pipe must be directly linked to the source to capture enough light.
●How far is the emitting source – LED, from the pipe? The closer it is, the farther the light source from the emitting source, and the lesser the transmitting efficiency.
●How much brightness is required? The light intensity requirements, too, are vital in determining the kind of light pipe design. For example, specifications indicating high-intensity lights will need light pipes capable of transmitting light at an extreme efficiency, with minimal loss or leakages.
●What is the path of light transmission? Although light travels in a straight line, light pipes, especially flexible designs, allow the transmission of light waves through bends and tight corners.
●Can the design provide consistent visual performance? It’s always better to utilize light pipe designs that provide consistent, reliable, and uniform light performance. Flexible light pipes prove more efficient, though they are more expensive.
●What are the mounting considerations? Is it a snap-fit, press-fit, or friction?
If you are not sure about these factors, you can consider finding a supplier who is good at optical machining to help you.
Benefits of Light Pipes
In comparison to similar technologies, light pipes come out on top. Its excellent visual performance and other fantastic advantages make it an excellent option for manufacturers. So let’s take a more robust approach to its benefits.
1. High performance
Light pipes, especially those with an LED source, provide uniform, reliable, and consistent illumination with low glare. Notably, the optical components of light pipes diffuse or transport more than 80 percent of the emitted light. Also, the illumination released from these pipes is of a top-notch visual performance which is durable enough to last the life of the device.
2. Improved Flexibility
Light pipes, particularly bendable ones, showcase greater light control and flexibility. These tubes permit the transport of lights through bends and tight corners, even suitable for longer distances. Also, with the right pipe design, proper angle, length, and spacing modifications, designers can obtain precise visual indications with consistent visibility.
3. Easily Customizable Solutions
Depending on your special requirements and need, light pipe designers can easily adapt light stimulations and ray tracing in combo with appropriate software to develop suitable solutions that serve your specifications.
4. Reduced light leakages
Light pipes can produce optimum illumination with little or no loss of the light collected from the source. As light shines through a device, without proper dispersal, it will accumulate. It may result in losses in the form of wasted lights and leakages, which causes poor user experience in the final device. However, using an appropriate light pipe design, and maintaining the minimum allowance between the light source, LED, and the like will prevent light leakages, resulting in optimum illumination.
5. Cost Effective
One critical advantage of light pipes over other alternative technologies is their cost-effectiveness. For example, light pipes can cost up to half the cost of fiber optics yet offer simpler designs suitable for domestic, industrial, and commercial use.
6. Easy Installation
Installation is pretty easy regardless of the kind of light pipe, its specifications, and other details. It requires no technical skill whatsoever. For example, installation may require connecting a press-fit or a snap with a snap-fit light pipe.
Applications of Light Pipes
Due to its excellent light transmission properties and cost-effectiveness, light pipe tech is suitable for use in various markets. Some of the applications of light pipes include the following:
Devices such as computers, cameras, printers, etc., all use light pipes to illuminate the user interface. Notably, either light pipe types are suitable for transmitting the light signals on the screens of these devices.
Generally, the lightning systems for exterior and interior illumination of vehicles utilize light pipe technology. Automobiles possess a couple of components possessing visual indicators. For example, the headlights and tail lights.
Light pipes are suitable for transporting light from surface mount LEDs to the user interface of communication devices. They are visible in emergency-assistance call boxes, network switches on phones and routers, etc.
Rigid and flexible light pipe designs are suitable for manufacturing many medical devices, for example, producing the human-machine interface front panel indicators. In addition, the flexible variants are ideal for illumination purposes during surgeries, especially for tight and extremely small openings.
●Industrial Control Devices
Most industrial machine control systems utilize LEDs to transmit machine status, such as “On and Off” signals and indications for normal and faulty operations. These control panels use light pipes as visual indicators. In addition, they improve the illumination of the light from the LEDs for better visibility so workers can easily interpret the signals without error.
●Security and Safety Control Systems
Most security and surveillance systems in commercial and domestic facilities utilize optical components to detect irregularities, such as in the event of a security breach. These systems use LED light pipes to enhance visual indicators on the control panels. Depending on specifications, they may come in various sizes with subtle differences to better suit the application.
WayKen – Your Optical Parts Expert
At WayKen, we have skilled professionals with vast knowledge in optical and provide the best solutions. Our engineers can manufacture functional and aesthetically pleasing lighting prototypes.
No matter what stage your product’s development is at, we can assist you in designing and fabricating your optical component prototypes, like lamp lenses, light guides, blades, etc.
In addition, besides automotive lighting and other optical services, we are your good choice for all your rapid prototyping needs, including CNC machining, injection molding, 3D printing, and other related technologies. Upload your CAD files to get a quote today!
The light pipe is an important component of the lighting equipment. These tubular structures effectively and efficiently transmit and diffuse light, providing illumination that makes their wide use for various optical applications, ranging from automobiles to the medical and security industries.
What Are Light Pipes Made Of?
A typical light pipe comprises optical-active plastic prototypes, often acrylic or polycarbonate materials. Besides their ability to distribute light, manufacturers and designers prefer either material because they are lightweight yet long-lasting and have optimum optical properties with excellent machining properties. In addition, other light-sensitive and transparent materials like glass, thin filaments, and some polymers too are suitable for creating light pipes.
What Is the Main Use of a Light Pipe?
Light pipes are tubes containing optical components designed to diffuse and create a consistent and uniform light distribution from a particular source. The pipes sometimes act as guides for the optical waves, called light guides or funnels. They transmit light from the source to an area that needs illumination.
What Is the Structure of a Light Pipe?
Light pipes are like the typical PVC pipes, round hollow tubular structures. Unlike water pipes, though, they possess optical features that allow them to distribute and transport light signals through internal reflections. They act like tunnels, offering directions to light waves from the source until where illumination in the presence of visible light.