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DragonChain Colourmix

Issue 48 Apr / May 2009

Following a successful launch at the ARC Show, Osram's DragonChain Colourmix is put under the microscope by David Morgan.

The rapid growth and interest in LED lighting is both a huge opportunity and also a threat to the major traditional light source manufacturers. Osram have addressed this challenge by robustly promoting their LED systems as an essential element to any residential, commercial, architectural or interior design lighting project. While establishing themselves as a major manufacturer of high performance LED emitters, which are assembled onto pcbs and integrated into luminaires of all types, Osram has also carved out an important niche for itself in the production of modular LED lighting elements that can easily be connected together either by manufacturers or by end users. These modular systems are a halfway house between light sources and complete luminaires and offer flexibility and simplicity of use in a wide variety of applications.

The Osram DragonChain Colourmix system is an example of the modular approach and is the most powerful RGB colour changing system in the Osram Colourmix range. This plug and play range includes a variety of colour changing flexible LED tapes, strips and boards that can be easily connected to the appropriate power supplies and drivers to create fully working systems. The DragonChain is designed for ease of installation and is intended for use in architectural, retail and interior design lighting applications.

The DragonChain consists of six metal layer pcbs connected to a flexible ribbon cable on 500 mm spacing. Each board has four single colour Golden Dragon Argus LEDs, two green and one each in red and blue. When all are on full power a reasonable quality of white light is achieved. The power consumed per board is 5 watts with a 24V DC power supply.

The pcbs are designed to be fixed to an aluminium housing to ensure adequate heat sinking of the LEDs but if the system is mounted on an insulating surface then the pcbs need to be fitted with a separate die cast heat sink that spaces the boards from the mounting surface and allows some air movement behind the pcb. Since the LEDs need to be spaced away from the diffuser to achieve a uniform lighting effect the volume of air within the light box should be sufficient to keep the LEDs within their maximum operating temperature. However if the light box was too small and made of insulating materials then there could be thermal issues as there is no thermal feedback control to the power supply.

The light distribution from each module is wide so that when used in a light box the spacing from LEDs to diffuser can be as little as 100 mm while still achieving reasonable uniformity. The area of even illumination is determined by the spacing from the diffuser material to the LEDs as well as the diffusing materials. With a 200mm spacing the system is meant to evenly illuminate 1sqm.

The hand controller is perhaps the most interesting part of the system. An IR receiver plugs into the power supply driver and by pressing the various buttons on the controller almost any colour can be set and stored for later recall by the pre-set buttons. An adjustable timer is also included so that the length of a colour change pattern between pre sets can be set from 1 second up to 99 minutes.

When used with a DMX controller the whole string of six modules changes colour together as one pixel, unlike the Color Kinetics iColor flex so it can not really be used to create low resolution video images
A maximum of two strings of Osram DragonChain can be powered from a single 75 watt Optronic power supply driver. These power supplies can be connected together so that a number of chains can all be controlled together. Osram also supply their own software as part of the system – Easy Colour Control. With this software scenes and colour changing sequences can be set up and run via a PC.

The DragonChain is a well-engineered plug and play system that will allow designers and end users to introduce colour changing effects in a very simple way. This means that an interior or exhibition designer with little expertise in lighting controls could implement a simple colour changing effect in a variety of applications including light boxes, illuminated floors and perhaps for indirect lighting. The simplicity of the DragonChain system means that its breadth of application comes without the extra costs of hiring a more adept technical hand to commission it, a necessity with many other systems of this type.

Osram have claimed an IP rating of X5 for the system on the basis that the boards are coated with a clear conformal coating and that they are thus suitable for outdoor use. However it strikes me that the interconnecting ribbon cables are too delicate and would be prone to UV, heat and wind damage if used in an unenclosed exterior situation despite their IP X5 rating. The conformal coating could be helpful in protecting the LEDs and other components mounted on the pcb from damage while the system was being installed but for outdoor use the system would need to be fully enclosed.

As with most LED systems this is not a low cost solution: two strings of DragonChain Colourmix, one driver, IR detector and hand controller cost approximately £640. The ease of use when using the hand controller and the high light output from each pcb definitely makes the DragonChain System a useful addition to the Osram Colourmix range.


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