The Next Time You’re Told That An LED Light Fixture Is “Made In The USA”, Consider This….
Do you know what it means when businesses say their LEDs are made in the USA? Spoiler: it’s not what you think.
Don’t get us wrong, the idea of buying products that are “made in the USA” wasn’t just born out of generalized patriotism – it’s good for our economy, and it helps keep our local businesses alive. What can be better than that?
We have a beef, though, with companies that use the “made in the USA” label to mislead customers into buying their LED products. Unfortunately, unscrupulous companies often try to disguise foreign-made products as American-made ones by only including a fraction of their parts from domestic sources. This is referred to as ‘country of origin’ labeling, and it’s not always legitimate – or legal.
When it comes to lighting technology, specifically, chances are good that expressly made, non-qualified claims like “made in the USA” are misleading. The FTC doesn’t evaluate “made in the USA” claims before they are asserted, but if reported, the FTC can certainly fine and even freeze a company from doing business if it’s labeling is misleading. That’s why education and transparency are of the utmost importance to our business, and we want to lift the veil on a sensitive subject.
Let’s take a look at how this well-intended label became so missed, why LED chips are sourced abroad, and what the future holds for the domestic production and innovation of LEDs in any capacity.
What are LED chips?
LED chips, also known as LED chips or LED dies, are small semiconductor devices. Made from materials like gallium arsenide and silicon, LED chips emit light when an electric current is applied to them. With low energy usage, a longer lifespan, and quicker switching capabilities, LED chips have since been used for various applications.
While LED chips are prevalent today, the process of creating and refining the technology has spanned over one hundred years.
The invention of LED technology
From as early as 1907, inventors like Henry Joseph Round and Oleg Vladimirovich Losev studied and theorized the electroluminescent principle. However, limited progress was made until the potential technology got the attention of heavy tech giants in the 1960s, like General Electric and Texas Instruments, who invented and patented the first light-emitting diodes. Over a decade later, in 1976, Thomas P. Pearsall successfully advanced the tech for fiber optics in telecommunications, developing the world’s first high-brightness, light-emitting diode.
Pearsall’s technology is now the basis for light-emitting diodes produced in multi-color LED applications. Still, the journey to bringing this tech to market has been costly and time-consuming.
Early advancements in diodes could only be produced in high-end labs; the cost of production was exceptionally high, and the speed at which they could be developed was too low for mass production. This pushed development abroad, where the cost of labor and less expensive, more readily available raw materials were more prevalent.
Modern advancements in LED technology
Today, there are four different kinds of LED chip technology:
- LED COB (chip on board)
- LED DIP (dual in-line package)
- LED SMD (surface-mounted diode)
- mLED (MicroLED)
LED chips are now an essential component of LED light bulbs and other LED lighting products. Beyond commercial and residential lighting, however, you can find LED chips in applications around automobiles, cell phones, appliances, and computer displays.
Chip on board LEDs are the latest advancement in LED lighting and are used mostly in hand-held tech devices like cell phones and cameras. It has lower cost of production, and yet offers an extremely high amount of lumens compared to it’s energy output: more than 120 lumens per watt. It’s also extremely durable and able to dissipate heat efficiently, making it a long-lasting solution.
Dual in-line package LEDs have a low luminous efficiency, making them a great fit for indicator lights on electronics. They typically come as a single diode in a durable plastic case that comes in multiple colors. The case itself has two metal connector pins that stick out of the bottom – making it look like a thumb tack on steroids.
Surface-mounted diode LEDs are much smaller in size than dual in-line package LEDs and are considered an advancement over DIPs, featuring three didoes on one single chip. SMDs can display up to 16 million colors, plus white through a combination of red, green, and blue (RDB). These high-performing LED chips can generate unidirectional light – compared to DIPs that can only produce 160 degrees. As such, they are a great fit for high bay lights, LED strips, and downlights.
Last but not least, MicroLEDs are the smallest in size and offer the best energy efficiency, contrast, brightness, and latency. This tech uses microscopic LEDs to self-illuminate and define the pixels. You’ll find MicroLED chips in flat-panel televisions, watches, and even AR glasses and automotive displays. mLEDs are considered the next-generation of generation technology and it will interesting to see what new applications of use emerge in the next decade.
Now that we’ve provided some cliff notes on the backstory of LEDs and how they came to be, we can provide some context about why LED chips aren’t made in the USA.
Why aren't LED chips made in the USA?
Despite their widespread use and the many benefits of LED lighting technology, the vast majority of LED chips are manufactured in Asia, particularly in China, Taiwan, and South Korea.
There are a few reasons for this:
- lower cost of labor
- access to raw materials only available in Asia
- access to proprietary, patented technology
The cost of labor is much lower in Asia, making it more economical to manufacture LED chips there. In addition, many of the raw materials used to make LED chips are only available to be sourced from Asia, further reducing production costs.
Another factor is the availability of advanced manufacturing equipment and technology. Many of the leading manufacturers of LED chips are based in Asia, and they have invested heavily in state-of-the-art equipment and research and development. As a result, they are able to produce high-quality LED chips efficiently and at a lower cost than would be possible in the United States.
Lastly, with the high demand and ongoing advancements in LED chip technology, LED light manufacturers in the US must source LED chips from overseas to get the most out of their products. Sourcing can be a tricky process as LED dies (the physical component of LED chips) can vary greatly in size, shape, and power output depending on where they’re sourced from. However, a reputable, established LED lighting company will have existing relationships with reliable sources abroad to source materials for their custom and mass-produced products.
What will the USA's role be in the future for LED production?
Despite the fact that LED chips are not made in the United States, the country is still a major player in the LED lighting industry.
There are many American companies that design, develop, and sell innovative LED lighting products, and who simply rely on imported LED chips. Keep in mind, being able to import the LED chip itself helps American companies remain competitively priced for patented technology that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
So, the next time you buy an LED product from an American company that claims it was “made in the USA”, give the vendor a chance to explain why they claim the product is made in the States. It’s certainly possible to find products with some components that are made domestically, but just know that the parts that are “made in USA” will likely have nothing to do with the LED chip itself.
Doing your research can help you make sure your hard-earned money is going to support a company whose values and standards align with yours! After all, you still have a chance to support an American-based company and team, even if a few of the parts that go into the product can’t be made domestically.