New UL Interchangeable Driver Program to Streamline Certification of LED Luminaires

March 14, 2014
With the Type TL program UL reduces the flexibility and sets benchmarks for certain critical safety parameters so two drivers constructed differently but which meet the same benchmarks share enough in common to be considered interchangeable.

As LED lighting has overturned the lighting market with a tsunami of new products, one of the biggest challenges in developing new luminaires has come from the rapid advances in LED driver technologies.

It has become a familiar headache for luminaire designers to see the driver on which they based a new fixture discontinued before the fixture is even put into production. And the headache is costly, because replacing the driver requires resubmitting the fixture for safety and performance testing by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Northbrook, Ill., or one of the other certification organizations.

Underwriters Laboratories this week announced a new program that shows they’ve heard the complaints from lighting manufacturers about UL being a bottleneck in the product introduction cycle and they’re coming up with ways to streamline the process. With the Type TL Program, participating luminaire manufacturers can swap out compatible drivers without having to resubmit the luminaire for the complete testing protocol.

“What we looked to do was reduce the variability and flexibility, and create enough critical safety commonality to where we could allow paths for interchangeability of components without having to retest the new component,” Michael Ritto, UL’s business development manager for lighting components, told Electrical Marketing.

UL’s existing Recognized Components Program allows for considerable flexibility in driver construction and testing protocols, but because of that flexibility a luminaire manufacturer who wants to change drivers has to go back through the certification process. With the Type TL program (the TL stands for “thermally limited,” referring to the program’s key focus on the highest temperature a given driver technology produces) UL reduces the flexibility and sets benchmarks for certain critical safety parameters so two drivers constructed differently but which meet the same benchmarks share enough in common to be considered interchangeable.

Type TL is a voluntary additional marking a luminaire manufacturer can apply for. Under the program, the manufacturer submits each product that uses a Type TL driver for complete safety evaluation and testing the first time around. Once the initial certification is done and the product earns the UL and Type TL marks, the manufacturer then has more flexibility to change drivers without going back through the full evaluation.

Participating in the Type TL program comes at an additional cost, naturally, and Ritto didn’t go into details on how much, but said there’s an intrinsic value to UL’s customers.

“In our conversations with manufacturers, they often tell us that time-to-market is more valuable to them than anything else,” he said. “Whether they’re introducing the latest and greatest, or just a specific product to address a specific need for a customer, streamlining that certification process is more valuable than anything.”

Testing and certification of lighting products overall is an important growth market for UL, Ritto said. He said the proportion of LEDs in the total mix of lighting products UL tests has flipped over the past five years from 20% to 80% of the market.

Most of the technology used in solid-state lighting is based on known principles and testing protocols are well established, but it can be a challenge to stay ahead of the latest developments. “Where manufacturers are pushing the envelope in functions, capabilities, efficiency, size, in some ways that challenges us,” Ritto said. “When you integrate new technology, it keeps us on our toes, determining how do we stay ahead of that, and ahead of where the industry wants to go. That’s where we’re most challenged, but we have a large team of dedicated experts to make sure our requirements are heading in the same direction as the industry.”

UL’s involvement in the lighting industry go well beyond safety certifications. The company does all kinds of performance testing including energy-efficiency testing and certification and electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) testing, and is active in development of all kinds of international lighting standards.