You’ve heard it before about many other commercial products: “Buy American.” The idea that you should buy American-manufactured goods has a lot of reasoning behind it, from the need to support the U.S. economy to the commitment to quality and customer service that many U.S. companies stand behind. This article will focus on the LED flat panel industry, which has recently been flooded with less expensive yet poorly-made products from overseas manufacturers.
In the case of lighting panels, there are a few specific reasons why you should steer away from overseas-made lighting panels and instead opt for American-made ones. Many of the overseas-made panels are manufactured at a low cost and will break down under stress and overtime. Though it may be tempting to just purchase the most inexpensive thing you can find, a little bit of education on what materials go into these products and how different qualities of lighting panels perform in different types of applications goes a long way in avoiding the headache of dealing with low-quality light fixtures that may cause a headache and more out of your pocket as you replace them over time.
Difference in Manufacturing Processes
If you’ve ever bought an LED lighting panel manufactured overseas, you might have noticed how inconsistent many of these lighting products are. One reason for this is the manufacturing facilities themselves, which don’t adhere to the same cleanliness standards that many U.S. facilities do. These unregulated manufacturing processes often result in panels that are inconsistent in quality and performance. Some other issues that have been reported in these LED lighting panels include hot spots, visual defects, and inconsistent illumination along the panel surface.
Any good LED lighting panel manufacturer has to ensure three things: that their facilities are free from contamination, that their LEDs are precisely aligned on the lighting fixture, and that there is even compression across the entire lighting panel. Unfortunately, many of these processes are done poorly by overseas manufacturers, leading to inconsistent quality. Plus, a good number of these manufacturers also don’t implement quality control testing after manufacturing, meaning that many of these panels have not been tested to see if they work properly before they were sent out to distributors and customers.
U.S. manufacturers, on the other hand, have committed themselves to high-quality manufacturing processes that ensure they deliver the best lights to their customers. For example, Lithonia Lighting® produces its LED flat panels in a clean room environment that eliminates the risk of contamination getting into the panel. They also employ state-of-the-art processes to guarantee that each light they produce is consistent and high-quality, providing the type of powerful, uniform light that is expected in the industry.
It All Comes Down to the Materials
Manufacturing plants overseas tend to use materials like polystyrene to make their LED lighting panels. Polystyrene has an affordable resin per unit weight, making it inexpensive to use (hence inexpensive to purchase), but is known to be rather brittle, making it a material that is considered lower quality. Because these LED bulb plants are using lower-quality materials, many of the fixtures experience a degradation in lighting quality over their lifespan.
The choice of materials also affects color quality, which can be inconsistent across the panel surface or from panel to panel. This translates to the possibility that, when buying a large number of panels from one of these manufacturers, you could potentially have a space lit up with varying amounts of lighting quality and color.
Compare these foreign lights to products from U.S. manufacturers like Lithonia, and you’ll see a big difference in the types of materials used. For one, Lithonia maintains a binning spec of 3 macadam ellipses in every flat panel they produce, which gives their products the consistent color quality that their customers expect. Lithonia also equips their lighting panels with name-brand LED bulbs, which are vastly superior in quality to the no-name LED bulbs that many overseas manufacturers are installing in their flat panel products. U.S. companies test each and every LED bulb to provide superior lumen output throughout the lifespan of the panel.
How Can They Help You?: Customer Service
Another issue with buying your lighting panels from an overseas manufacturer is customer service. Many of these companies do not implement the type of customer service protocols that U.S. companies do. If you buy malfunctioning fixtures from a manufacturer overseas, for example, you may find yourself a little lost when it comes to finding help replacing the fixtures or refunding the money you spent on the flat panels.
Many foreign manufacturers don’t offer warranties, which are often standard on flat panels and other LED lighting products made by U.S. companies. And even if they do, will you be able to get someone on-site to assist you with any repairs or to honor the warranty throughout the problem-solving process?
Since lighting panels are such an important purchase, it’s very important that you get a warranty with any products that you purchase. Buying products from a trusted U.S. manufacturer, one with a promise to replace any malfunctioning products you may have, is vital to your lighting system. The last thing you want to do is worry about customer service issues while your lighting system is lacking some essential elements.
Issues with Flat Panels Made from Polystyrene
As mentioned above, one of the key reasons that many overseas-made panels are low quality is because of materials such as polystyrene. To expand from what we’ve already mentioned (polystyrene’s brittle nature, for example), polystyrene can solid, like with light fixtures, or foam, like styrofoam.
One critical issue with using polystyrene in regards to light fixtures is efficiency. Many people tend to notice that polystyrene panels tend to heat faster (creating “hot spots” and shadows) and yellowing, which causes inconsistent lighting across any room. And because of their output, polystyrene LED flat panels tend to not last as long as one would expect. High-quality manufacturers in the U.S. now use polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) as the main material in the light guides that are used in flat panels. PMMA has a 92% light transmittance, allowing more light to pass through while also requiring less power, meaning you get more lumens per watt.
The Problem of Yellowing Light Panels
One of the biggest problems that have been seen with lighting panels manufactured overseas is yellowing. There are many cases of these once-white panels yellowing over time, causing degradation of the produced light. This makes the lighting in the affected area an unattractive and sickly yellow color, which will not do in many commercial applications such as airports.
Lithonia Lighting is one of the U.S. lighting companies that have committed themselves to providing lighting products that do not yellow over time. While some foreign products made from polystyrene and other inferior materials will start to age and yellow over their lifetime, you can expect that any Lithonia LED flat panels will still provide the same quality light and vibrant atmosphere they did when you purchased them.
Other Issues with Polystyrene
Polystyrene is well documented as being bad for the environment. There are quite a few air pollutants that come from the manufacturing process of polystyrene, including benzene and dioxins. It is also very irritating to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract if you are exposed regularly to it in the manufacturing process. Plus, the compound has been listed in the 2014 National Toxicological Program Report as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.
Polystyrene is also not commonly recyclable, making any lighting product made with it low on the sustainability spectrum. If you’re an environmentally conscious consumer, this makes any products containing polystyrene off-limits.
Most U.S. manufacturers of LED flat panel fixtures do not use polystyrene in their products. This means that their products are only built with the high-quality, strong materials that will stand the test of time. Next time you think of buying a cheap flat panel from an overseas manufacturer, remember that you’re most likely sacrificing quality in the process.
Discover High-Quality Lighting with Shine Retrofits
If you need help with getting your lighting installation finished as soon as possible, Shine Retrofits is here to help you. We have an extensive list of LED flat panels available for you to purchase, as well as a wide variety of retrofit kits, LED bulbs, and LED light fixtures you can install in your home or business. If you have any questions about our catalog or about which lighting product is right for you, our team of lighting experts are standing by to help you. Call 1-800-983-1315 anytime Monday through Friday, from 6am to 6pm Mountain Standard Time, for help getting started with your LED retrofit today. We can’t wait to hear from you!