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Building LED Lighting: The Technology Behind Rigid Industries

Posted in Features on June 8, 2017
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Photographers: Rigid Industries

Light at night. It’s what we want. It’s what we need. Whether you’re trail riding, on the jobsite, or high-speed haulin’ after dark, quality lighting provides reliable vision and safety. Much of the auxiliary off-road lighting these days is of the light-emitting diode (LED) type. Advances in electronic technology have allowed manufacturers to get tremendous light output from small semiconductor sources without expending huge amounts of battery power.

Rigid Industries, which is located in Gilbert, Arizona, is an industry leader in high-end LED lighting for automotive, marine, and industrial applications. The company has been around for about a decade building and innovating new improvements for their products.

LED technology continues to advance and over the last several years semiconductor LED manufacturers have pushed light output upward from about 100 lumens per watt to 150–180 lumens per watt. Rigid’s earlier legacy products used 3–5-watt LEDs but those are being pushed up to 7-watt LEDs. Unlike lights that use a single bulb source, an LED array of multiple light sources whose beams overlap has no hot spotting or large variations in the illumination over the lighted area. This makes the array spread the available light evenly and can reduce eye fatigue for the driver.

Heat from the LEDs is carried through an aluminum bar on the back of the driver circuit board to the finned housing. LEDs can be subject to overheating, and if operated without a proper heat sink, the light output will degrade. Rigid lights utilize high quality electronic components and have proper thermal regulation to protect them from overheating. For instance, if you cake the housing fins in mud you can inhibit much of the lights’ ability to self-cool. At that point, you’ll want a light with good thermal protection that can shut itself down or reduce power output to prevent it from electrically destroying itself.

Optics are key to both gathering and directing the available light. On many of its lights Rigid uses a Hybrid optic. It’s a patented dual reflector system (egg crate shape on the left) combined with a bonnet lens (right) that fits over the reflector to effectively capture nearly all of the emitted light and focus it forward into a useful light pattern. Rigid also now has its Specter and Hyperspot optics as well.

Over the years, Rigid has learned a lot about sealing light assemblies. In the early days, light housings were fully sealed, but subsequent heating from high ambient temperatures and operational heat would cause internal pressure to rise and sometimes rupture housing seals. Rigid has worked hard to develop alternative ways to provide superior weatherproofing of their lights.

Rigid products are designed, engineered, and assembled in the USA. We visited the company’s manufacturing operations to offer you a peek into what it takes for Rigid to design, test, and manufacture its LED lighting.

We’re all familiar with the common LED lightbars that are built within a finned, extruded aluminum housing. Rigid starts with a polyester powdercoated housing on the assembly line, and then internally populates it with circuit boards that hold the LEDs and driver circuitry.
Duplicate circuit boards are placed side by side within the housing to create the various lengths of lightbars offered. The boards are skillfully soldered together by hand. Also, each LED is wired to the power bus on the circuit board separately, meaning that if one LED should ever fail it does not affect the operation of another.
A clear impact-resistant polycarbonate lens over the reflector array along with custom-molded synthetic polymer gaskets serve to keep dust and moisture out of the light. Chrome-plated 304 stainless steel hardware is used on the lights. Many of the fasteners are installed with power tools using precise torque settings.
The housings are further sealed where needed with a precision-dispensed sealant and the final assembly is completed.
Assembled lights undergo 100 percent pressure testing to ensure they are fully sealed. Using a custom fixture for each light type, gas pressure is applied through a small hole in the housing and monitored briefly for any loss of pressure.
Each light is also fully powered and checked for operational correctness. A technician makes a final check to ensure all the individual light sources and lens components are properly aligned and aimed.
Some of the smaller Rigid lights come in cast aluminum housings.
Portions of the assembly line are adaptive, switching as needed to build the various lights Rigid produces. In some cases, assembly jigs are used to organize and speed the builds, depending on the complexity of the process.
Lights on vehicles are subjected to high heat, cold temperatures, and extremes of moisture. It takes some creative design techniques to build a housing that can withstand these extremes and keep moisture from entering. Rigid now uses a small Gore pressure-equalizing vent on the lights to solve this issue.
We wandered through the stocking warehouse and saw literally thousands of lights on hand for shipment to vendors and customers. The variety of available formats has grown wildly in recent years.
The designers at Rigid use an integrating sphere combined with a spectroradiometer as tools to test the spectral, photometric, and colorimetric parameters of lighting sources. They also use a goniophotometer in a non-reflecting dark room to accurately measure pattern qualities of their light designs. In other words, they do some serious testing and optimization of their lights by measuring light output, patterns, wavelength of light, and intensity.
Bolting anything onto your off-road rig means it’s going to be subjected to some severe vibration in addition to hot and cold temperature cycling. Rigid uses a large electromagnetic vibration shaker to simulate the punishment a light might receive on a vehicle. By doing so, they can check the mechanical reliability of not just the light assembly, but also check mount durability.
We accompanied some of the Rigid design and product team members out into the desert one night where they were making test runs on a Geiser Brothers race truck. Nothing truly tells you how well a product performs better than actual use in its intended environment. The teams were evaluating high-speed lighting performance of an improved design with Rick Geiser bombing across the desert at 100 mph.
The night we watched the light comparison testing one of the guys was tracking the truck from above with a drone. This gave the team another way to look at the actual illumination pattern the light was throwing into the desert.
This chart offers an idea of the various types of lighting available to cover illumination at any point around a vehicle, and to cover any forward moving speed.
Here’s a screenshot of Rigid’s Viewpoint software found on their website. It’s a lighting viewer that allows you to pick one or more Rigid lights and see their lighting intensity and pattern on a real-world simulator. This can help a customer choose an array of lights to fill specific needs and see the expected lighting result onscreen. It offers views from hood, dash, and aerial perspectives.
Rigid’s latest system is their new ADAPT lighting. These pods can be ganged together and used in any of eight lighting modes as commanded by a dash controller. The system allows the driver to change the beam pattern manually on-the fly from 15 to 70 degrees wide, or in adaptive mode will switch based on vehicle speed. Colored accent backlighting is also included.


Rigid Industries
Mesa, AZ 85215

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