A Zondits Interview: Mastering the Big Ass Light Difference

Valerie Eacret and Todd Winner for Zondits, September 1, 2015. Image credit: Big Ass Light

Zondits spoke with Big Ass Light’s Anthony Pistilli, who came to Big Ass Solutions as an engineering manager and now leads the engineering team that developed the award-winning Big Ass Light LED fixture for industrial facilities and garages. Before joining Big Ass Solutions, he was the vice president of engineering at a telecom startup.

Your lights have a much longer lifetime than most LEDs. What technical features set apart your product that allows it to last 150,000 hours?

To start, we are very careful in our selection of LEDs and make our selection based on performance and life expectancy, calculated by industry standard LM80 reports. The LM80 report predicts life based on driving the LEDs at a current of 1 ampere. Based on the 1A current report, the TM21 calculator predicts a life of 150,000 hours, but we use a lower drive current. In our design, we drive the LEDs at 0.525A – well below the 1A that is used in the LM80 report, so we actually expect our LED life to far exceed 150,000 hours. I’d say 150,000 hours is a conservative estimate.

Also, as part of the LM80 report, the LED temperature is factored in. The lower the LED temperature, the longer the life, or L70 rating. To achieve lower LED temperatures, our fixtures use extruded, anodized aluminum with serrated thermal fins. The whole fixture is essentially a big heat sink. This provides excellent thermal cooling performance, which in turn drives our long life. One final note: Even after 150,000 hours, the LEDs won’t burn out. The rated life is not the total life of the LED, but rather the point at which the light output diminishes to 70% of the initial output.

How does the lumen/watt rating of Big Ass Lights compare to the rest of the market?

Well, the LED industry never stays still for long, and published data on lumens per watt gets outdated quickly, so it’s hard to tell. We simply design lights to be the absolute best that they possibly can be. At the time of their introduction, we were at the top of the market in terms of lumens per watt, and our lights are now 10% to 20% better than they were then. New, better chips and components are constantly being released, and we are updating the lights constantly with the best technology available.

The Big Ass High Bay LED from Big Ass Light solves common lighting problems in industrial and commercial spaces.

Are there any other features that differentiate these LEDs from others on the market?

If we’re talking strictly about our LED chips, all the top players in the industry are very similar. Again, when superior chips are introduced, we incorporate those into our product – and the industry is constantly evolving. What differentiates us is not so much the chips, but the way we’ve engineered the driver and the thermal management to ensure that both the reliability and the durability of our products are exceptional. Durability comes into play because not only is the extruded aluminum housing a superior heat sink, but it makes our fixture the most durable on the market. I like to joke that you can use our lights as a ramp if you like to work on your car. You can literally park a car on it.

What is the payback on a typical retrofit?

As you might guess, the answer is “it depends.” All of these things will play in to your calculation:

  • Energy savings – This depends on what was installed before you purchased a Big Ass Light. The payback will be shorter for metal halides or incandescents than with high-performance fluorescent technology. Additionally, occupancy sensors will give you more energy savings through run-time reduction than you get by just a simple one-for-one fixture replacement. This is a savings that you couldn’t get with some fluorescent lighting, as that technology can fail quickly with frequent cycling.
  • Lumen loss measurements – Light produced by LEDs is directional, meaning it goes in one direction rather than in 360 degrees like traditional bulbs, and our fixture is superior at getting light where our customers need it. Our fixture has protective lenses that also help shape the beam of light. You can easily swap lenses to maximize light output – you can have a narrower beam in a warehouse aisle, or a wide, soft beam for a big, open area. In addition, the lens is very easy to remove and clean, thus restoring the initial light output, which would otherwise be lost due to dust and dirt accumulation.
  • Ease of maintenance – This is the factor I think is most important in the ROI. The removable lens is very easy to clean or reconfigure for a different light distribution. In the rare event that the drivers need attention, they are very easy to replace through an easy access panel in the bottom. They’re so easy to work on that you could replace the LED strip if you chose to.
  • Productivity increases – If you’re lighting a manufacturing area, for example, the improvement in light quality can translate into the most significant money savings that result from installing Big Ass Lights, when you consider the improvements in productivity and/or the reduction in downtime due to safety issues. For example, at an auto-body shop that installed our lights, they found they no longer had to pull cars outside to inspect paint jobs or take pictures for the insurance company. They now get all the light they need from our LEDs, which saved a huge amount of time and improved their productivity.

When you take all of these factors into account, the payback can range from months to years.

Big Ass Light installed 48 LED fixtures at M3 Production’s facility in Bellefontaine, Ohio.
Big Ass Light installed 48 LED fixtures at M3 Production’s facility in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

Your 7-year warranty is impressive. Can you discuss why it’s longer than other products?

Warranties are interesting in that they give the implied impression of quality. Some companies do a statistical analysis to determine what warranty would be most economically advantageous based on failure rate and the number of claims submitted when a product fails. Those warranties are false indicators of quality. We over-design our products with the intention that you will never use your warranty. We build solid fixtures with surge protection to safeguard the electric circuitry and do continuous improvement. If a fixture has a problem, my team immediately engineers fixes to prevent the same problem in the future.

We also reverse-engineered the driver we purchased from our supplier and recommended changes to improve the life of the driver by 3 years. Now, that driver will last over 10 years operating 24/7 in an unconditioned warehouse in Arizona, which is the hottest place I could dream up for the simulation. We have done extensive reliability analysis to ensure that we can stand behind our warranty so that customers will never have to rely on it. 

Playing devil’s advocate: Your analysis shows a much longer life than 7 years based on the improved drivers. Why not extend the warranty to more than 7 years?

We’re working on that. With the improved, longer life of our drivers, we are looking into extending our warranty beyond 7 years. We are looking at market trends to assess the value proposition to our customers.

Are most of your customers purchasing these lights for a small, residential garage or are they generally installing in commercial buildings?

Our commercial and industrial high-bay and low-bay fixtures make up the biggest chunk of our sales, although that’s likely because we came out with that product a few years before the Garage Light. But more and more customers are buying Big Ass Light LEDs for the garage because the lights can act as a ramp if you like to work on your car. Plus, if you turn it on, it doubles as a task light – joking, again.

Do you find that your customers are typically most interested in the energy savings of this light or the non-energy benefits (reduced maintenance, improved light quality, the mount which makes more installation locations possible than typical fixtures)?

I can speak for our commercial and industrial customers. From what I’ve seen, the customers are well informed when it comes to lighting technology and they look at total cost of ownership. Our customers understand how important thermal effects are. When they look at the fixture, they immediately notice the serrated fins and are thus confident that the thermal management engineered into the light will make it last longer than other products they’ve seen. Next, they often notice how easy it is to maintain with the removable lenses and maintenance access bay and comment that they haven’t seen anything this easy to work on. They look at how simple it is to replace the driver because they know that in many cases that will be the Achilles heel of the fixture, given the long life of the LEDs. So they are really buying the light for the total value proposition and the reputation Big Ass Fans has when it comes to customer service. Our customers deal directly with us for immediate response, rather than distributors who make the process complicated.

Do you have plans for adding addressable controls into your products so that each light can be controlled individually?

We are currently looking into incorporating those into the lights. Control systems are one of the next big areas Big Ass Solutions is going into. We’ve already pioneered a lot on that front with our fans.