Automotive Industry Challenge: Heating LED Headlights

February 10, 2021

Over recent years, LED headlights have been growing in popularity across many automotive models. The reasons are plain and simple: they provide a distinctive look, operate at a higher intensity with more efficiency and provide longer life than their halogen counterparts. Incorporating LED headlights into an automotive platform provides the design freedom of new and distinct form factors for the headlights to compliment the overall design and styling of a particular automotive design.

Aside from just looking good, LED headlights can be up to 275% brighter than halogen while requiring 260% less energy. This efficiency in energy consumption also means they generate significantly less heat. If you're an automotive industry product designer or engineer, you likely know about the benefits of LED lights. What you’ll likely also know is that operating LEDs in harsh environments (like winter weather) can lead to issues with fogging or freezing.

This is a huge issue from a visibility standpoint and from a safety standpoint. Modern safety features such as pedestrian detection, lane assist, and forward collision warning (just to name a few!) can rely on the ability to "see" through the car's headlights. Housed in the headlamps, these safety mechanisms are already in a protected area of the car that is forward facing.

Being able to provide customers with the benefit of LED headlights while ensuring that the safety features can operate as needed can be a challenge.

How Can I Incorporate a Heating Element Into a Headlight Design?

With the advent of composite headlights in the early 80’s, every automotive platform and model started to use a unique, nonstandard, and aerodynamic shape as a signature of the design. The sculpted nature of these designs along with the variability in their aspect ratio necessitates incorporating a thermally conductive material into the headlight assembly. Used for many years as a rear windshield defroster, microwire has also been commonly applied to headlight heating. While it is conductive and readily transfers heat, microwire is certainly not optically clear. Also, finding a suitable pattern to provide an adequate heat signature can be complex and time consuming. This can be limiting to automotive designers aesthetically. More importantly, microwires can interfere with the Radio Detection and Ranging (RADAR) and Light Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) systems sometimes used within headlights for safety mechanisms.

For innovative and modern designs, automotive designers look towards optically clear, transparent heaters that utilize hybrid materials such as CNT Hybrids. CNT Hybrids offer a high conductivity level along with transparency (high VLT). They offer <10 ohms/square with greater than 90% visible light transparency. Using highly conductive and transparent materials on film substrates enable automotive product designers and engineers to aim for entirely new concepts and novel designs without the limitations of visible circuits. 


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