Dr. Allan Spence, WAMIC research lead, giving the prototype developed to Kevin LeBlanc, Brilliant Photonics CEO.
Brilliant Photonics is well known for developing high-tech industrial lighting systems for the agricultural and horticultural industries. Now the Kitchener, Ont. company is adding another market to its list – industrial disinfection technology to help kill viruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
Thanks to a project with the Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at Niagara College – under a grant from the NC-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), backed by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) – Brilliant Photonics worked with researchers to further improve the prototype design manufacturing.
The project utilized the high intensity of ultra-violet (UV)-C radiation – long used as a virus and bacteria disinfection method. Invisible to the human eye, UV light is divided into UV-A, UV-B and UV-C, with UV-C being the shortest wavelength and most intense part of the ultraviolet light spectrum.
Using the more powerful deep UV-C LED irradiation, recent research points to the effectiveness in inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, other UV-C LED systems on the market were not powerful enough for commercial applications and were generally used inside small containers to achieve the dose required for effective disinfection, says Brilliant Photonics‘ CEO Kevin LeBlanc.
The applied research project harnessed the more recent technology of UV-C LED lighting that packs a much higher power density to disinfect larger surface areas at higher rates and with more effectiveness. But the company faced a challenge they could not solve alone.
“We are developing a light fixture capable of producing three radiometric watts of radiant power at 265nm spectrum that could rapidly disinfect viruses on surfaces at more than three metres distance,” says LeBlanc, adding the goal is to retrofit their current horticultural lighting system to support UV-C and partner with commercial cleaning services to disinfect places such as hospitals, long-term care homes, schools, factories, and other commercial environments.
However, the UV-C LEDs get very hot. To achieve more power density levels required for commercial-scale application for UV-C disinfecting, high-performance cooling systems were required.
While the company designed a prototype, complete with liquid cooling technology, the challenge with their product was that it was costly and difficult to manufacture at high volumes. They sought expert help from Research & Innovation’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at Niagara College to help reduce manufacturing costs and complexity.
“By using copper heat sinks to reduce thermal resistance, LEDs can be placed closer together thus producing greater photon density,” explains LeBlanc.
Through an earlier project, with funding through the National Research Council of Canada – Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), the WAMIC team was able to distill the company’s concepts into a more readily-manufactured prototype design involving a proposed combination of high-temperature 3D plastic printing, machining of an aluminum housing, and machining of a copper heatsink.
“I took the design review process seriously and we quickly iterated through several impactful design revisions making the product with less material, much easier to manufacture and with performance improvements that will permit us to increase our full spectrum lighting power from 600W to 900W on a five-inch light module,” says LeBlanc.
In its project with WAMIC the research team worked with the company to develop a high-temperature 3D-printed reflector cone, machined finned copper heat sink and aluminum electrical housing, and water housing.
“The project was particularly challenging as the heat sink fins are very slender and may vibrate (chatter) when being machined,” explains WAMIC research lead Allan Spence, PhD. “A low RPM slot mill with a horizontal 4th axis was used. Adding pipe threads is also delicate, and a thread mill was used to produce that feature. Sealing to avoid water leakage required very smooth and flat mating surfaces.”
Brilliant Photonics plans to take a finalized prototype for product testing to the Canadian Centre for Product Validation. The goal is for the technology to support a range of products, including a handheld lamp, mobile handcart, wall/ceiling mountable, chambers, air filters and water systems.
LeBlanc describes the partnership with Niagara College as a win for everyone: “Students got real industry experience, the College receives equipment and industry engagement and we got the professional engineers and machines required for innovation.”
“The research team had a lot more experience than I expected, and as a result, I was able to fully engage in rapid product design cycles and received professional advice from an industry expert who then trained students on how to use the machines and produce the parts.”
Watch the following video of Mankirat Singh assembling the prototype pieces, with Gabriel Bello observing. Singh and Bello are Mechanical Research Assistants enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering Technology (co-op) program at WAMIC and are scheduled to graduate in April 2023.
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