Q&A: CSA Group looks to streamline product evaluation in North America

Feb. 15, 2022
CSA Group’s Lighting Center of Excellence manager KC FLETCHER talks about the role of testing & certification in the LED and SSL supply chain, as well as how specialty applications require an evolving body of expertise in lab evaluations.

In December 2021, test and certification services provider CSA Group inaugurated a new Lighting Center of Excellence in California to extend its North American services including OSHA NRTL (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory) certification services; energy performance testing, including LM-79; photobiological testing; photometric testing; and acoustic testing, among others. LEDs Magazine recently spoke with center manager KC Fletcher. His career expanded from project management at Orb Optronix (now part of CSA Group) to LM-80 program management at CSA Group before he relocated to Southern California to aid in the design, build, and creation of the new lab facility. A physicist by education, Fletcher also serves as chairman of the Illuminating Engineering Society Testing Procedures Committee (IES TPC). We discussed how lighting test needs have changed in response to emerging applications in lighting and how standards continue to inform services that manufacturers rely upon to bring solid product developments to market — especially in horticulture where the science continues to evolve.

LEDs Magazine: CSA Group’s new Lighting Center of Excellence is open in Irvine, CA, and you’ve been responsible for getting that going. How do you envision the center enhancing the lighting evaluation services that CSA Group offers? Was the California location strategic for specific services or potential customers?

Fletcher: In terms of how I envision it, number one, we’ve consolidated so many capabilities into this lab so we can do the full suite of testing and certification under that roof, whereas perhaps in the past or in other scenarios you would need to go through multiple locations in order to get the full suite. We’ve got all of those capabilities here in this lab along with a really great nucleus of experts that are operating the lab here.

In terms of Southern California specifically, we identify it as being one of the major lighting markets. But the nice thing is that we’re so close to the ports and the freeways that it makes shipping quick and as painless as possible, if you’re not a local manufacturer.

LEDs: So even in these times when many are still citing the supply chain bottlenecks and logistics challenges, you haven’t found any major impact from that?

Fletcher: We felt the impact, but the idea of being here in Southern California is to help minimize [it.] If you’re going to multiple labs to get your performance testing and your safety certifications and other various tests for certain products, just having to wait and ship — or if you want to avoid costly  overnight shipping — you’re just sending [the product] to one location. We’ve got a lab that’s built for throughput. When so many of our customers are having issues with their supply chain, we want to try our best to help out and turn around projects as quickly as possible, helping get them to market quickly.

LEDs: Let’s talk about horticulture. Back in 2017, you co presented during a webcast on horticultural lighting regarding parameters and tools that CSA was relying upon for test and measurement of horticultural fixtures. At the time, you mentioned organizations like the American Society for Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) and the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) working on refining industry standards and certifications for horticultural solid-state lighting. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) also recently released a recommended practice document on horticultural lighting. Can you comment on what’s changed in the knowledge base of test metrics and equipment since you presented in that webcast?

Fletcher: Yes, I’ve remained involved with each one of those bodies mentioned. In 2017, it was kind of like the “Wild West”, and there was a lot of experimentation and learning when it came to how horticultural lighting products should be or shouldn’t be [engineered]. So I wanted to be part of the science behind that, including the education of the industry. I think we have come a long way. It’s just such a booming industry.

LEDs: How do you see that focus on the science influencing what you offer for test services and certifications — what now do you think are the highest priorities in terms of evaluating those products?

Fletcher: I don’t want to say that we were immune to influence, but CSA Group is definitely ahead of the curve. We had the understanding and we developed some very specific pieces of test equipment that were geared for this horticultural industry as the knowledge base evolved. Specifically, near-field testing was something the industry didn’t understand at the time. They’re starting to now. In fact, a test standard should be published soon. In the case of horticultural lighting, you see many applications where the light source is very close to the plants. Probably at this point the least knowledge in the industry is around the geometry and the properties of near-field photometry.

LEDs: Something else that is mentioned in your CSA Group offering is photobiological safety regarding both visible and nonvisible light wavelengths and potential impacts on humans with the horticultural spectra designed for plants in controlled environment agriculture or indoor farming. Can you explain a little bit about the potential risks? Other concerns such as glare that product developers should be aware of with regard to the horticultural environment?

Fletcher: CSA Group has been doing photobiological safety testing for well over a decade now — before the whole horticultural lighting industry boomed and maybe even before LEDs were being adopted. Regarding specific risks, as you know, nonvisible wavelengths are the most dangerous because of the aversion response. You can’t tell that [the eye] is being exposed to that radiation so you don’t look away. Whereas if it was a green light, you may flinch immediately and minimize the exposure to it, reflexively. As horticultural lighting developers are focused on what is best for the plants, that may include some infrared wavelengths and [ultraviolet] wavelengths that cannot be seen. You’re never going to get around the fact that people are going to have to work with these plants and they’ll be exposed to the light.

Early on in the industry, there was a lot of blue and red LED arrays and that’s what was being marketed as horticultural lighting products, and workers were talking about “purple headaches,” right?

LEDs: I haven’t heard that. But I could see why they would.

Fletcher: Yes, if you spend all day under it in that type of environment, it can be an eye strain for sure. You don’t see it so much in general illumination because the efficacy requirements for general illumination products are forcing the manufacturers to tighten up their wavebands. So they’re focusing [design and engineering] obviously on just light the human eye can see. Again, for the horticulture industry and even various agricultural industries… Chickens, for example, can see outside of the human-eye response waveband, and plants can have benefits from those other wavelengths as well. You just have to be careful. If I was talking directly to a product developer, we would say, “Just be aware that you are going to be subject to this [evaluation]. Ultimately, if you find it to be beneficial to include these wavelengths, that might produce a higher risk category for your product.” It’s going to require that workers perhaps wear safety glasses as they work. It’s not an insurmountable challenge, but manufacturers should be aware that they are going to be subject to photobiological safety testing.

LEDs: Is there anything that you see on the horizon coming in terms of trends or emerging needs for test and measurement?

Fletcher: I do think that the photobiological safety is going to start being adopted in other lighting products, including possibly general illumination products. With people spending more time at their computer screens, we’re going to start looking at how the various lighting technologies are really affecting people’s eyes. I think we’ll see more adoption of photobiological safety standards across various lighting applications. As I mentioned, we’re very experienced in that and will be ahead of the curve in that market as well.

LEDs: I was heading into a horticultural direction. But since we are talking about safety standards, how are things shaping up with regard to UV disinfection and standards for test and measurement? I’m hearing a lot of people saying over and over, “What we’re doing right now is adapting test and evaluation methods that were developed for visible light in a space, and we have reasonable confidence that this can be applied if you can convert the measurements” from general illumination practices. What do you think about that?

Fletcher:. I am very aware of the UV germicidal market. It’s an interesting one because we talk about safety testing being separate from performance testing, so we can make sure that the product is electrically safe and that it’s photobiologically safe. But if you’re mischaracterizing the performance of UV sanitation products, it becomes a safety issue. If your assumption is that the product is putting out very specific wavelengths that are designed to kill germs and viruses, but it’s actually not putting out those wavelengths, or it’s not putting them out in the dosage level that you would expect there could be a false sense of security. That’s an interesting one for me because it almost blurs between performance and safety testing in terms of the executions of the tests.

The industry is working on that quickly and there have been a lot of resources put towards [standards development] and making sure that we get it right. But because they are still under development, I can’t really comment specifically about their content.

Get to know our expert

KC FLETCHER is currently manager of the CSA Group Lighting Center of Excellence in Irvine, CA. Fletcher is an industry expert in the characterization of lifetime degradation of LED components and previously served as the LM80 program manager at CSA and later becoming the Operations Manager for the CSA-Seattle facility. He has been involved in the development and implementation of CSA Group’s horticultural gantry system for testing horticultural luminaires and has worked with industry organizations on developing horticultural performance standards. Prior to his time with CSA Group, Fletcher was a project manager for Orb Optronix Inc., specializing in LED product design, prototype validation testing, and custom LED metrology projects.

CARRIE MEADOWS is managing editor of LEDs Magazine, with 20 years’ experience in business-to-business publishing across technology markets including solid-state technology manufacturing, fiberoptic communications, machine vision, lasers and photonics, and LEDs and lighting.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.