GrowFlux was invited to present at Indoor Ag-Con Asia in Singapore January 15-16. CEO Eric Eisele will be presenting on the future of industrial IoT in indoor farms and plant response sensing and control.
Nate Lipton of Growers House recently tested our FluxScale Top Light and produced this video to share his thoughts.
GrowFlux's FluxScale series fixtures are capable of delivering broad spectrum PAR containing a very high proportion of blue light, which is used to deliver Finishing light treatments in the 12-96 hours prior to harvest. Finishing Light Formulas boost terpene and resin content in crops by triggering protective mechanisms within the flowers.
Unlike other LED fixtures on the market, FluxScale is capable of delivering this spectrum at full intensity exceeding 800 μmol/m2/s, allowing a finishing treatment without stunting plant growth. Other LED fixtures only deliver a similar spectrum at low intensity, resulting in diminished growth and shade avoidance responses.
The GrowFlux Cloud Platform includes several pre-configured Finishing Light Formulas containing spectrum settings and lighting schedules shown to enhance terpene and resin content. Check out our whitepaper for more information:
Selecting an LED grow light can be a daunting exercise, considering the number of options and the fact that manufacturers do not market their specifications in a uniform way (this should be changing soon with the horticulture lighting label program). We put together this simple guide to arm our customers with the hard questions next time they encounter someone marketing "The Most Advanced Grow Light".
Any reputable LED grow light manufacturer should be able to provide a third party certified test result indicating the efficiency in photonic units (PPF, in micromoles per watt or μmol/W). In our experience, even well established LED lighting manufacturers have been using false numbers as recently as Summer 2018. We expect this behavior will come to an end when the horticulture lighting label is finalized.
Any LED grow light manufacturer claiming to have an optimal spectrum is misleading its customers. This is because plants will respond to many spectrums quite well, while no one spectrum is perfectly suited to all stages of plant growth and all cultivars. GrowFlux products are capable of millions of broad and narrow spectrum profiles without sacrificing output, allowing cultivators to develop tailored spectrums for their unique conditions, cultivars, and desired outcomes.
Any modern LED lighting fixture should have a power factor of at least 0.90, which will be required by the Design Lights Consortium as they release their final policy. All GrowFlux products feature active power factor correction typically exceeding 0.95.
Any quality horticulture lighting product should be listed for wet locations, otherwise fixtures will not stand up to greenhouse conditions or sanitizing agents used indoors. GrowFlux lighting products are Listed for Wet Locations, and are able to withstand a high power jet of water from any direction.
Active cooled fixtures are able to operate at cooler temperatures and across a wider operating temperature range compared to passively cooled fixtures. If you are considering a passively cooled fixture, look closely at the operating temperature range and ask the manufacturer whether the fixture will perform in stagnant air conditions, which can easily occur (especially when mounted to a rack). Finally, high operating temperatures limits LED life, so be sure to ask for the expected 90% or 70% lifetime for a passively cooled fixture. All GrowFlux products are guaranteed for 90% output at 50,000 hours.
If you are considering a fan cooled lighting product, ask the manufacturer the Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF) for the fans, and what happens in the event of a fan failure. GrowFlux uses waterproof IP68 fans with an MTBF of 100,000 hours. In the event of a fan failure, fans are user replaceable in minutes and are covered by our 5 year Limited Warranty.
Even today's worst performing LED grow lights should be able to hit 70% output at 50,000 hours. GrowFlux products are guaranteed for 90% output at 50,000 hours. If your manufacturer can't provide their TM-21 Energy Star calculations, stay far away.
PAR uniformity on the canopy is nearly as important as energy efficiency. Look for PAR maps which indicate the mounting height and PAR levels over an area representative of your intended application. GrowFlux offers PAR maps which show the expected PAR levels for a variety of cultivation situations and mounting heights.
Tunable fixtures offer the ability to tailor the light spectrum to the stage of growth or specific outcomes. If you are looking at tunable fixtures, be sure to understand how tuning the spectrum affects the output of the fixture. Most tunable LED fixtures only emit one spectrum setting at full power; any modified spectrum from the full power setting reduces overall PAR output of the fixture. GrowFlux offers the industry's only LED fixtures with an extended tunable range, allowing cultivators to deliver millions of spectrum settings at full output.
Certifications & Labeling
In North America, LED horticultural lighting products should be certified to UL1598, a safety standard for commercial lighting products. Products that do not comply with UL1598 are not eligible for energy rebates or Design Lights Consortium approval.
In the near future, an industry standard Horticulture Lighting Label will be formalized. This lighting label will require third party lab reported total PPF as measured by an integrating sphere as well as a PAR map showing PPFD. Once this standard is released, do not consider purchasing an LED product which does not comply with the label - manufacturers who do not comply with the labeling requirements likely have performance issues to hide. Follow our blog for updates on the Horticulture Lighting Label.
Wireless & control
If you are considering a lighting solution with control capability, make sure you consider how much time and expense is involved in networking fixtures. We have encountered wireless grow lights that take several minutes to an hour to configure - for each fixture. We have also encountered connected lights which require data cables and additional external controllers which add to the cost and installation time of the solution. Finally, be sure to find out if the control solution requires a separate license fee or setup charge.
GrowFlux products are networked by our own high reliability AetherMesh wireless technology, capable of networking sensors and fixtures 500+ feet through multiple walls indoors. Our control software is included for no additional cost. Check out our other blog posts on how our wireless technology saves time, money, and headaches.
When planning a large scale Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facility such as a hybrid lit greenhouse or indoor cultivation space, network resilience, network set up time, and installation cost are important factors to consider in selecting a horticultural lighting solution. Some lighting solutions on the market require zone controllers and data cables, which adds labor and cost to the installation process. Most wireless lighting control solutions require a multi step network setup process for each fixture, which adds up to a significant amount of time for facilities requiring hundreds or thousands of fixtures.
For wireless control solutions, network resilience is an important factor to consider for large scale facilities. Unreliable lighting network connectivity can grind a large facility to a halt, sucking up time and resources to troubleshoot network issues all while the lighting solution is not performing as designed.
Only GrowFlux offers AetherMesh wireless controls on all of its products. AetherMesh was designed specifically for large scale CEA facilities and solves the issues discussed above:
AetherMesh communicates on Sub 1-GHz frequencies and utilizes a high efficiency, high gain antenna, ensuring that wireless signals easily penetrate through dense buildings, multiple walls, concrete, and warehouses containing dense arrays of shelving.
Line of sight range of 1+ mile (1.6+ km) is possible between AetherMesh devices; indoor range through walls is typically upwards of 500ft (150+ m).
AetherMesh wireless mesh links self heal. If a device has trouble routing a message through one route, the mesh automatically finds another path through which to route messages. All network nodes maintain multiple network paths through which to route messages, choosing the most power and traffic efficient route in real time.
AetherMesh splits the 902-928 MHz band into 50 channels; the network automatically channel hops communication across these channels to avoid interference.
When we communicate lighting settings to a zone of fixtures, we send up to 90 days of scheduled control. This ensures that fixtures know exactly what they should be doing in the event of communication failure. Fixtures immediately get back to the correct scheduled control after any power failures.
Network setup time:
GrowFlux products incorporating AetherMesh wireless control set up rapidly out of the box - simply power on the device for the first time within 10 feet of your Access Point, and the device will securely join and remember the network within 30 seconds. AetherMesh network setup does not involve passwords, codes, IP address, or any other complicated network setup steps.
Connecting hundreds or thousands of fixtures happens as fast as the units are unpacked. Unpacking and initial power on occurs near an Access Point prior to hanging the fixture in the grow space.
Zone definition is entirely software based with our browser based interface - zones are not defined through network settings.
One Access Point can support networks upwards of 1000 devices, significantly reducing cost
Zone definition is entirely software based, so hardware zone controllers are eliminated.
Every fixture on the network operates as a full power wireless mesh node (battery powered sensors perform limited extension of the mesh network to conserve battery life). This means repeaters and additional gateways are not required for large networks.
Since GrowFlux products are fully wireless, the installation labor and cost associated with data cables and controllers is eliminated.
Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD) is an important factor to consider when determining how an LED grow light will perform in a cultivation facility. Several factors play into PPFD, including the design of the fixture array, fixture height above the canopy, intensity of the fixture, and most importantly, the angular distribution of light exiting the fixture - which largely defines the 'uniformity' of the fixture.
Coefficient of Utilization (CU) is a measure of how much light exiting the fixture will fall on a canopy area of a certain size; CU is an important factor to consider in designing an energy efficient Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facility. CU is expressed as a ratio of the total light emitted by the fixture to the light that falls on an area of canopy of a defined size. It is important to note that the light that does not fall on the canopy directly under the fixture may either be wasted (to walls or floor), or may fall on canopy area adjacent to the fixture, depending on the design of the facility.
The only accurate way to determine CU is by simulation, since each measurement technique previously discussed is not without its limitations. When we designed our RAY Reflectors, we simulated the entire fixture in a ray tracing simulation tool which uses Monte Carlo calculation methods and ray data from LED manufacturers to calculate the light output of a 3D model of FluxScale 600TL, accounting for all of the materials in the product, each LED, operating and drive conditions, and geometry of the fixture.
Calculating CU from a simulation is simple; first calculate the entire light output of the fixture, then measure the output incident on various sized planes at different distances from the fixture. The ratio of these values is representative of the percentage of light that hits a plane of a certain size at a certain distance. As you will see, increasing the distance of the plane from the fixture results in a lower coefficient. Shown below are CU values for FluxScale 600TL on a 5x5 foot plane at three distances. Adding our FluxScale Reflector significantly increases the CU.
It is important to understand that the light that does not fall on the canopy directly under the fixture is not always wasted. With efficient CEA facility design practices, this light can be reflected off highly reflective walls or will fall on canopy area adjacent to the fixture, depending on the design of the lighting array.
|1ft distance||2ft distance||3ft distance|
|FluxScale (no reflector)||0.89||0.68||0.47|
|FluxScale with RAY Reflector||0.99||0.82||0.60|
This table might be easier to understand visually:
We are obsessed with energy efficiency and reliability at GrowFlux. When our engineers set out to squeeze every last bit of efficiency out of our FluxScale LED fixtures, they took a very close look at the cooling fans.
FluxScale uses two high performance IP68 waterproof ball bearing fans to provide cooling to the 318 tunable LEDs, allowing these devices to efficiently convert electricity to photons. FluxScale automatically adjusts the speed of these fans in real time based on an array of temperature sensors placed among the LEDs. The fans are hosted on a user serviceable fan tray which interfaces to the cooling fins within the fixture - the aerodynamics of these assemblies has a significant impact on fan performance. Minor design adjustments can result in enhanced airflow, allowing FluxScale to operate the fans at lower speeds, improving the energy efficiency and reliability.
Assessing these design features can be done with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation tools, however nothing compares to real world measurements on physical hardware. GrowFlux worked with engineers from ebm-papst, a world leader in cooling fans and motors, to optimize the performance of the the removable fan assembly and cooling fins.
The first step in assessing the cooling performance of the fans within FluxScale is to instrument the fixture with temperature sensors attached to various components inside the fixture; lasers are directed at the fan blades to allow optical tachometers to measure actual fan speed.
In addition to these instruments, every FluxScale fixture is able to internally measure 9 temperature points across the LED array as well as real time fan speed - in normal operation these measurements are reported to the GrowFlux Cloud Control solution for quality assurance within our PrecisionPAR management service.
ebm-papst engineers then attached FluxScale to a calibrated wind tunnel. The wind tunnel is designed according to AMCA210, a standard which establishes laboratory methods to assess the aerodynamic performance of fans. The principle of the chamber is to measure the differential pressure through an array of nozzles. The differential pressure, along with the geometry of the nozzles, is used to calculate a volumetric flow rate of the air moving through FluxScale. An auxiliary blower on the chamber is used to remove any pressure drop caused by the air flow chamber. This assures that FluxScale is being measured at its true operating conditions. Input power, current draw and fan speed are all recorded during the measurement. Subtle design changes were made to the FluxScale fan assembly to fully optimize performance.
The detailed analysis of fan selection, fan speed, and design for optimal airflow using these tools is a small part of the work GrowFlux has done to ensure optimal cooling of its LEDs. Effective cooling of LED emitters improves energy efficiency and longevity, allowing our customers to save more energy for a longer period of time.
Samtec, a world leader in high reliability connectors for industrial electronics, recently featured our FluxScale fixture on their blog. We use Samtec connectors for one of the most critical electrical connections in FluxScale - the Engine Control Module, which hosts a powerful ARM Cortex M3 processor and has 40 high speed digital and analog connections to the underlying LED engine.
When we designed FluxScale, we had to address the design challenge of reliably interfacing a complex multi layer processor module to our high power LED engines while withstanding heat and vibration for upwards of ten years. We selected a particular Samtec connector which offers vibration resistant electrical contacts and a locking connection in a compact footprint. As an added bonus, the connector mates with a tactile and audible click when installing the Engine Control Module, which helps us eliminate quality issues during production. Selecting quality suppliers such as Samtec is an important component of our own commitment to reliability and quality.
GrowFlux isn't the first LED manufacturer to tout LED technology to stalwart growers who have stuck with high pressure sodium (HPS) lights over the years. The most common reasons for not adopting LED we hear from growers are:
- I'm waiting for the next generation of LED products to come out
- There are too many outlandish claims made by LED manufacturers and not enough standardization
- The spectrum isn't "right"
- The efficiency claims aren't valid
- I need the radiated heat for my crops in the shoulder seasons
We understand the concerns these growers have, and want to present an honest picture of our products so these customers can make the best decisions for their own situation. We hope to show that our FluxScale 600 top light is the industry's best HPS replacement fixture, but we want our customers to make this decision for themselves. Lets go into some detail:
Yes it is true, LED horticultural lights DO have a different spectrum compared to HPS lights, which are commonly used for flowering due to the high levels of red light. HPS lights also cover nearly the entire PAR spectrum, while many red/blue LED lights are missing PAR spectrum in the middle of the PAR range.
With GrowFlux tunable broad spectrum technology, growers can choose the spectrum that works for their unique situation while covering the entire PAR range from 400-700nm. In fact, we have developed light formulas which mimic the HPS spectrum nearly identically. While our spectrum is not an exact fit to the HPS spectral curve, the key aspect to our spectrum match is that the proportion of light in each spectrum band is very similar to HPS. This results in predictable flowering results for customers whom are accustomed to HPS fixtures.
Having covered the spectral differences between HPS and GrowFlux LED products, there are a few other elements to touch on related to flowering. Since HPS lights are not tunable, precise manipulations to flowering spectrum are not possible. In addition, GrowFlux lighting products incorporate far red LEDs, allowing growers to further manipulate phytochrome response in short day flowering plants.
Efficiency & maintenance
The most efficient HPS light on the market produces 2.2umol / watt with a brand new bulb. There, we said it - HPS lights are pretty efficient. Not all LED manufacturers want their prospective customers aware of this fact because many have trouble passing even 2.0 umol / watt efficiency. Keep in mind though that this efficiency figure is with a brand new bulb, and as that bulb progresses through its useful lifespan, the efficiency drops far below 2.0 umol / watt. With high efficiency bulb prices ranging from $70-90 each, and approximately annual bulb changes, the maintenance costs add up with HPS lights.
Differences in light penetration
We have heard concerns over light penetration into the canopy with LED products from some growers. Since there is a lot of variation in LED fixture optics across manufacturers at the moment, this is not a surprise. We can speak to this specifically as it relates to GrowFlux products; our FluxScale 600AC version 2.0 fixture contains 318 LEDs with an approximate 130 degree beam pattern in a tight array (with outstanding thermal performance).
This LED array packs a serious penetrative punch directly below the fixture (the light from approximately 0-30 degrees from fixture center) . At high angles (between 60-90 degrees from the fixture center), we direct this light around this central hotspot on the canopy with our high efficiency FluxScale reflectors, resulting in highly uniform light. Our reflectors happen to be made of the same Alanod 9033AG material many HPS reflectors use.
Heat & heat stress
Finally we have heard a lot about heating greenhouses with HPS lights - that the radiated heat from HPS lights is a side benefit to growers in cold regions such as Canada, the Northern US, Scandinavia, and the UK. While heating greenhouses with HPS lights might be a simple solution, we would like to point out that the efficiency is relatively poor from a lifecycle point of view, and this can cost growers a lot of money over time.
We recently tested our AetherMesh IoT wireless modules for compliance with US, EU, and Canadian wireless regulations! Compliance with these regulations ensures that our wireless tech won't emit electromagnetic radiation and radio frequency radiation which might interfere with other equipment and communications. Thanks to the hard work of our engineers, our AetherMesh module passed all of the required tests on the first attempt!
Equipment designed for challenging environments such as greenhouses and indoor farms face the constant threat of dirt and moisture ingress due to exposure to humidity and wet conditions caused by maintenance, rain, and irrigation. Horticultural lighting products in particular can be negatively impacted by ingress of moisture and dirt which severely impact the performance and longevity of the product. In many cases, ingress of dirt and moisture happens despite the equipment manufacturers best intentions- such as sealing an equipment enclosure with air and water tight seals and implementing IP 5x or 6x ingress protection. So what goes wrong here?
Ingress happens when atmospheric pressure changes act on a sealed equipment enclosure. As the pressure changes, a small amount of positive or negative pressure develops inside the enclosure. These atmospheric pressure changes can cause a daily shift in the differential pressure between the enclosure and its environment. When negative pressure develops inside the enclosure – due to increasing atmospheric pressure – a small vacuum is formed inside the enclosure. Over time, the daily shifts in atmospheric pressure also cause wear and tear on enclosure seals. If a seal becomes compromised at any point due to stress, vacuum pressure inside the enclosure will draw moisture and dirt into the enclosure.
Standardized tests for ingress protection can be performed informally by the manufacturer or can be performed by a certified third party lab. We should note here that these tests are typically done once, in absence of cyclic changes in atmospheric pressure and normal wear and tear. Further, these tests typically won’t catch ingress of water vapor, which can later condense into liquid water, causing condensation and damage. Water vapor can also penetrate joints, seals, and materials much more effectively than liquid water since it lacks the surface tension of liquid water.
Based on our experience working with horticultural equipment and lighting, GrowFlux believes the best design practice for ingress protection is to consider the challenges presented by changing atmospheric pressure, wear and tear, material performance over time, and water vapor ingress. In designing its horticultural lighting product line, GrowFlux has employed several design features to boost our ingress protection:
Pressure equalized enclosures
Mitigating differential pressure in an enclosure is easily achieved by designing in a specialized vent which allows only a small amount of air to pass while blocking moisture and liquid water. Not everyone in the industry is doing this as it increases cost and assembly complexity, however in our experience protective vents pay for themselves. The protective vents we install in every product with a hollow enclosure incorporate PTFE fabric at the core, passing only the amount of air necessary to remove pressure from sealing gaskets. These vents are also commonly installed in high quality LED street lights.
Fully potted power supply
Our FluxScale Series fixtures use the Meanwell HLG driver, which offers the highest efficiency of any 300-600W driver we have seen on the market. This driver is also fully potted (or filled) with thermally conductive, high temperature silicone which protects the electronics inside the driver from water, dust, and moisture while also dissipating the small amount of heat created by the driver – resulting in its high efficiency. These drivers were originally developed for stadium lighting applications, and are well suited to challenging agricultural use.
Gasket material selection
Gaskets, O-rings, and other compressible seals can be made of a wide variety of materials. Proper material selection and extensive design for manufacturing is critical to maintaining ingress protection in a seal; designers must consider manufactured part tolerances, material properties at operating temperature, degradation mechanisms in the seal materials, and the sealing material's ability to resist permanently compressing over time (called compression set resistance), among other factors.
GrowFlux encases LEDs in our FluxScale product in extruded T60603 aluminum and anti-reflective coated glass for optimal protection from the elements. We use an engineered silicone foam which is die cut into several custom sealing gaskets; these materials maintain their mechanical properties at high temperatures and compression force for very long periods of time. Wear and tear due to differential pressure in the enclosure is mitigated with the protective vents mentioned previously.
Potted fans & sealed connectors
The GrowFlux FluxScale 600AC is a fan cooled horticultural lighting product; compared to passively cooled fixtures, lights with fans exhibit better heat dissipation, resulting in higher efficiency, smaller size, and a lighter weight fixture. To ensure that our fans are reliable in wet, humid, and condensing environments, GrowFlux directs its manufacturers to apply a a potting compound to the entirety of the fan drive circuit, rotor and winding, and internal electrical connections, protecting these sensitive components from corrosion and moisture. And since our fans are user-serviceable (in the very rare event we experience a fan failure during the 10+ year design lifetime of FluxScale), we use sealing connectors inside FluxScale to connect our fans.
Rated liquid tight cable fittings
GrowFlux installs high quality liquid tight cord grips in its LED engines, control modules, and fixture housings to protect cables and to further prevent ingress of moisture, water and dust. FluxScale fixtures specified for wet locations feature a waterproof twist lock power connector and heavy duty UV resistant cable designed specifically for FluxScale. We even have this cable and connector made in Chicago by the legendary industrial cable maker Switchcraft!
The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) published the first of three standards for the horticulture lighting industry on August 8, 2017, bringing much needed codification to horticulture lighting technology. ANSI/ASABE Standard S640 titled "Quantities and Units of Electromagnetic Radiation for Plants (Photosynthetic Organisms)" establishes quantities and units used to describe light in relation to plants. Standards are important to the industry because they help everyone get on the same page with regard to the language used to describe the technology, the units of measure for lighting, metrics used to market products, and methods of bench-marking performance.
The first of three standards, ANSI/ASABE S640, covers units of measure used to describe horticulture lighting. We took a look a the standard and summarized some key points:
1. PAR (photosynthetic active radiation) is a unit of measure of radiation relevant to plant growth, falls in the wavelength range of 400-700nm, and is expressed in two terms:
- PPF - Photosynthetic Photon Flux - PAR emitted by a source, measured in units of micromoles
- PPFD - Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density - PAR that falls on a unit of surface area
2. There are several ways to describe the wavelength portion of a PAR measure; these include Photosynthetic (400-700nm), UV (100-400nm), Far Red (700-800), and spectral (100-800nm). This results in terms such as Far Red Photon Flux Density, UV Photon Flux Density, or Spectral Photon Flux Density - in addition to Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD).
3. A measure may use two high level types of units to describe radiation: Radiate units (a quantity of energy) or Quantum units (a quantity of photons). This means Photosynthetic Photon Flux and Photosynthetic Radiant Flux both describe the same thing, however the first is expressed in micromoles (or µmol, a quantity of photons) and the latter is expressed in watts (W, a unit of energy).
4. Far red light falls between 700 and 800nm
5. UV light is divided into three bands:
- UVA - 315-400nm
- UVB - 280-315nm
- UVC - 100-280nm
6. There are two distinct ways to plot a PAR spectrum:
- SPD, Spectral Power Distribution, a plot of PAR against wavelength, expressed in the units of radiant watts
- SQD, Spectral Quantum Distribution, a plot of PAR against wavelength, expressed in the units of micromoles
7. Daily Light Interval is a measure of PPFD over a 24 hour period
The standard discusses rationale behind several decisions, and notes that there is currently no accepted interpolation of bands across the PAR spectrum (as is the case with the UV spectrum). We have provided a brief summary of key components of the standard; we suggest readers purchase and read the full standard for a comprehensive overview of the units used to describe PAR.
- The Design Lights Consortium (DLC) will publish draft policy for energy efficiency in horticultural lighting in September 2018. This will create uniform requirements for energy rebates and incentives among utility providers
- ASABE will publish the next horticulture lighting standard some time in 2018
- Horticultural Lighting Metrics, Urban Ag News, blog post by Ian Ashdown, P. Eng., FIES
- ASABE Publishes First of Three Horticultural LED Lighting Standards, ASABE News