LED lighting how to

With all the threads lately about LEDs i thought i would share a little about what we have been up to. I will be up front and say that although i know quite a bit about the topic Shawn is the real geek and has been doing all the real techy stuff. One of the cool things we do is buy the LEDs in bulk on SMD reels.

and buy the star board heatsinks in bulk

Soldering SMD components can be difficult and there are many techniques to do so including heat guns and ovens. This type of soldering is called reflow soldering and instead of using typical solder you use solder paste.

You can see just how small the LEDs are below

Here is a pic of the finished LEDs and boards after soldering

And lastly a pic of a finished LED next to a star board

The cost savings of reflow soldering your own LEDs is very significant. We chose to go with Rebel Luxeons for our whites since they have identical specs to CREE XRE whites and the output is almost identical. They are made by Phillips and are far from being “cheap” LEDs. As a matter of fact Vertex uses them in their Illumina fixtures which is one of the best fixtures on the market according to many people and only recently starting using CREE. We have these and CREE whites in fixtures side by side and can not tell the difference. However, for blues we use exclusively CREE. Weve tested other ones inlcluding Prolights and Seouls but Shawn says they arent even close to the CREE royal blues. We use the newer CREE XPE which, ironically, are not only better than the XREs but are cheaper! It costs us less than $1 to make a Rebel Luxeon and less than $2 to make a CREE XPE royal blue. Right now we are right at $250 to build a fixture that covers our 48" frag tank consisting of three 12" x 9" heatsinks, 36 3w LEDs(18 CREE 18 Rebel), and 3 Meanwell dimmable drivers. Shawn even hacked the AI controller(dont aske me how!) so that it controls the modules exactly the same way it would control an AI module. I try to zone him out when he gets all geeky! ;D Anyhow, we have almost all of our tanks converted to LEDs with the exception of the 265g because the T5 bulbs still have life left. Shawn does all the geeky stuff but im the one that does the soldering and when im done ill post some more pics. We are making a 12 LED fixture for the 265g refugium right now.

Very interesting stuff you guys are doing. Can you please posts some pics of the units you are using on the frag tank.

holy crap you guys are awesome!

there is not much to see john but i will post pics soon. All of our LED lights use 12" heatsink modules that we build. Shawn built this “modular” stand thingy majig that holds three identical glasscages rimless frag tanks. The stand thingy has suspension cables that hold three LED modules above each tank and allow them to slide back and forth to position them as needed. Hes working on them now and we should have it done by the end of next week because we are on vacation. I would take more pics but Shawn gets grumpy when i start taking a bunch of pics while hes working >LOL< Once the room is finished ill take a bunch of pics and share them along with more pics of the LED system he built. Ill share pics of a finished module later tonight or tomorrow when i finish soldering it.

FYI the little blobs of solder in the pics is excess paste from the reflow oven that shawn built. He says it doesnt hurt anything but i still like to remove them with my solder gun!

Hey Court-

For the benefit of newbs like me that have never done ANY research on LEDs because if the cost…

What are all the parts for? Specifically starboard and heatsinks???

I’ll ask about par as well since I at least have some idea of a reference point (read “pauls thread on par readings”). Equivalent to the AI fixtures?

Would love to see the finished product. I hope you guys aren’t planning to keep this great DIY to yourselves :slight_smile:

The starboards are a “thermal substrate” which acts as heatsink and mounting point. The starboards with LEDs are then attached to a larger heatsink which dissipates the heat generated by the LEDs.

As far as PAR the numbers would be almost identical to those of the AI fixture if we used the same optics. We dont use optics because our frag tanks are only 8" deep and we get a lot of coverage and more than sufficient PAR without them. If we need more penetration and less coverage we would just add the best optics for the job. We use identical royal blue LEDs as the AI and the whites are the same exact specs as the CREE whites. Our LEDs might not be as pretty as the AI module but we can build an identical 12" LED module using 24 identical CREE LEDs with optics, dimmable drivers, and buy an AI controller all for about 25% the cost of an AI module. Although shawn is making some pretty “fixtures” to house them on a CNC machine he bought which he is obsessed with! ;D

congrats on the progress from ehrn we first talked about them. great going! if you guys can replicate the stuff the ai controller does fantastic. just make programming less 19th century.

Very nice, looking forward to seeing this progress. Hopefully I will get my LED lights done now!

thanks paul. we have actually had the AI controller since last summer and had it mostly functional right away. the part that we had trouble with was getting it to control both colors independently even though we had two drivers. it drove shawn crazy for quite a while trying to figure it out ;D i would try to explain what he did but its greek to me. something about mapping the “pinout” and channels. all i know is he built a new wire that looks like something you would buy and it connects the AI controller to our LED modules and it works just like it would with an AI module. I told him about the new software that you downloaded but he doesnt seem to be too interested. I guess because we only use 2 channels and not 3 so its not as useful for us. He did mention something about AI providing source code to its customers to allow them to modify the code. I think thats what he wants to do but i dont see it happening anytime soon ;D

shawn bought his own CNC machine??? thats amazing. is it a 5 axis machine (meaning is can cut out pretty much any shape) or is it a 3 axis machine meaning it can only cut front to back and left to right? either way…awesome!

i have no idea but i asked him and he says its a three axis with a 6" Z that allows static 4th axis machining? i have no idea what that means. i know he makes all kinds of geeky stuff out of mostly aluminum and plastics and hes been building circuit boards with it but dont ask me how. the stuff looks 3d to me but i dont know what the axis stuff is about. he rambles on and on about it but its all greek to me! lol i dont think he can make anything bigger than a foot or two wide but im not 100% sure. i know he he wants a larger machine with a rotating table or something like that and he says hes going to use the one he has to build it but i dont know where he plans to put it until we move.

hes going to have to explain this stuff himself cause i have no idea how most of the stuff he does works. i just do all the soldering!

quick update. i finished all the soldering and had shawn add some hardware for me. he tapped the heatsink to add some eyebolts in each corner and some wire guides on the side for the leads. he also added a quick disconnect molex connector for connection to the driver. these are the 10K rebels and we are running them on an undersized driver and no optics to reduce the power and add to their life. like the CREEs they are rated for 1A but we are using a 750ma meanwell driver. its not dimmable but thats not important for us for a refugium light.

for those thinking about going to LED and worry about the cost here is an itemize list with costs.

1 750ma Meanwell driver - $18
1 8.46" x 12" Heatsink - $27
12 star boards $8.52
12 3w Rebel Luxeon 10K LEDs - $9.60

Total cost $63.12

To build one using the same CREEs as the AI fixture with 24 LEDs instead of 12 and dimmable drivers for each color would cost about $80 more for roughly $150 compared to $600. It wont be as pretty and you wont have customer service but if you can build one yourself you wont need customer service.

Very cool thread Courtney! and if i had a cnc i’d never leave the house!

Well we might have one for sale if he keeps spending more time with that machine than me! ;D