Printed light

The Munich-based company Ambright has developed a light printing technology that enables architects, designers, and planners to create individual lighting solutions and have them produced immediately. The company’s founder and managing director Dr.-Ing. Florian Ilchmann tells us how it all works.

Anna Moldenhauer: Dr. Ilchmann, you came up with the idea for Ambright 13 years ago and have since worked very hard to bring it to market maturity. How did the concept come about?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: Back then, I was studying electrical engineering at the Technical University of Munich, and then I got the chance to do a doctorate in the field of medical electronics. It was through the doctorate that I came into contact with Siemens. At that time, there was a need for an optimal solution for illuminating a computer tomograph and I was confident I could develop one. I founded Ambright in order to be able to approach Siemens in China with my idea, albeit still with no employees and no premises of our own. I was able to build a sample for the presentation simply relying on the technical possibilities available to me through my research – and it was enough to convince Siemens. The product then went into mass production, and to this day we are still a technology supplier to Siemens Healthineers for such things as lighting technology for mammography devices, X-ray equipment, and fluoroscopy. This knowledge helps us enormously because lighting and lighting systems for medical equipment have to meet particularly stringent requirements. For Ambright, it proved to be a very good training ground for which I am hugely thankful.

With your team, you have developed a globally unique process that prints lighting units automatically with extreme precision. The result, among other things, is the individual “SparkShapes” luminaires”. How did these come about?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: The term “printed light” came about over the years because we developed an additive platform technology for medical devices and then transferred it to other applications. The process we developed makes it possible to use electrical connectivity as a connecting bracket. Electronic components are normally integrated on circuit boards, with the drawback in this instance that the boards are basically designed to have a high component density and be as small as possible. We therefore developed our own technology for applications that require you to make something as big as possible but with only low-to-medium component density. This formed the basis for “printing light”. After the first few years working with a laboratory system, last year we succeeded in launching the first large mass-produced system “Candela. I am really proud of our team.

How exactly does the process work?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: In detail, the process works like this: First, we position the normal electronic components that you would otherwise put on circuit boards. When these components are fixed in place, they are connected electronically through the additive application of copper in a high-frequency process. These copper conductor tracks practically run from one component to the next, forming the conductor paths – just like on a circuit board, only much larger in spatial terms. This way, we can build up large-format electrical circuits and connect a whole range of active components electrically. With potential implementation on various materials such as plastics, metals, paper, or film, we can develop bespoke luminaires, among other things. We therefore embed the active components such as LEDs, drives, or suspension points and optics within a specially developed composite material – in other words, everything that is needed for a luminaire to function in technical terms. After the components have been connected, an individual shape is milled out of the substrate material. This gives us a manufacturing process with which we can tackle the shape, but also the lighting design of a luminaire, on an individual basis because users can specify in each case where the light sources are to be located. The number and position of down and uplights can also be determined as required. In this way, we can produce individual one-off pieces in a single process, where not only the shape of the luminaire but also the amount of light or the position of the feed bears the customer’s signature.

What other opportunities do the “SparkShapes” offer?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: Our approach is very early-stage, because we want to encourage designers to make plans that include our product. The existing offerings from established lighting manufacturers come from a catalog. Our product is more digital and agile and can be designed as required: The technology means you can produce virtually any shape in any size. We want to elevate the design profession and offer our customers a lighting tool with which they can utilize this freedom. Their own signature should be reflected in the luminaire. Basically, with “SparkShapes” we can produce a catalog item according to specific ideas and place it in different dimensions and orientations – we can even use it to create multi-layered, spatial sculptures.

How does the configuration work?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: In order to underpin designing with SparkShapes, we created a dedicated software tool called “LightSketch”, with which customers can draw for themselves. It is thus possible to import a draft design from a CAD or graphics program into our digital tool, to position the light sources as preferred, and to then deduce the technical data for the luminaire immediately – how many lumens, how much lux and at what distance, and what would it cost to produce the design. What is the effect if I want a different color temperature or surface? The data set changes in real time depending what you input – complete with feasibility check. After finalization of the specs, users receive a data package that is on a par with that of a traditional lighting manufacturer: 14 pages of information complete with inspirational images and 3D views. We want it to be fun to design a luminaire without the need to request a new lighting calculation for every change in parameters. The high degree of digitization is an important step and is unique in the industry in its diversity. It is not a configurator that only ever offers finite possible combinations – in terms of design, LightSketch offers unlimited opportunities.

The material the luminaires are made from has a defined thickness throughout. Does that have an impact on creative freedom?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: Mathematically speaking, there is infinite variety in terms of shape. In reality, though, there are framework conditions for production, which we already take into account in LightSketch, such as a maximum size of 2.5 x 1.25m² per luminaire. There are currently 23 different surfaces available. The thickness of the material is just six millimeters, and all the active components are integrated into it, including the drive or the optics for glare control.

What materials do you use to build the “SparkShapes”?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: We work with two 0.5-millimeter-thick aluminum layers that serve as thermal conductors. Added to these is a core made of high-quality acrylic glass. These are the only materials, aside from the electronics, that the luminaire is made of, with a choice offered between anodized aluminum and a color coating.

Human Centric Lighting (HCL) is currently not a focus for you. Would it be possible to integrate this function at a later date if required?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: We currently offer three different light colors for “SparkShapes”: 2700, 3000, and 4000 Kelvin. Our customers can choose which of these best suits their project. But we’re working on an HCL variation right now. The CRI color rendering index is 98, which is an excellent value. For us, that’s almost the most important figure, because good light is something you can feel. We believe flicker-free dimmability is also very important. The three light components of a SparkShape can each be controlled wirelessly using Casambi.

With such enormous creative freedom in the product, how are you still able to integrate recognition value for your company?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: That’s a very important point: We achieve recognition value not only with the consistently slender construction but also with our light edge – the third light component of a SparkShape. Regardless of the individual shape, it forms a recurring element, so the luminaire is thus recognizable as one made by Ambright regardless of its geometry. We were inspired here by discussions with architects who wanted an elegant finish for the edges. We therefore developed a refined element which underscores the visual impression that the luminaire is simply hovering in the air.

Ambright and the Lindner Group have formed a strategic partnership. How is this reflected in the product?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: Our DNA is the inventiveness of engineering. We were therefore looking for a strategic partner for our increased work in the architectural sphere. I approached the Lindner family directly and was able to convince them that the topic of “printing light” has huge potential in architecture. Not only for lights, but also for other applications, since we can also use the system to create shelves or acoustic elements, for example, which we can shape and equip with light according to the customer’s wishes. Our platform technology can likewise be applied to ceiling-based heating and cooling systems. In other words, there are a great many potential applications. The Lindner Group has a huge amount of knowledge about how to successfully implement general planning for interior design – we can only marvel at all the amazing things the company has achieved. We’re able to learn a lot from that and this close partnership helps us better understand the market.

What are the next steps for Ambright?

Dr. Florian Ilchmann: In 2018, we had a small stand at Light + Building in order to find out from the market directly whether there was any interest in individual luminaires. The feedback was very positive, but at that point we were not yet able to manufacture the product. The strategic partnership with Lindner, however, has enabled us to realize a mass production line, which went into operation at the end of last year. We are currently supplying a lot to the discerning super-yacht segment, where individuality is highly prized. Next, we will introduce the “SparkShapes” at Architect @ Work in Munich. On top of this, we will also be exhibiting at the Light & Building Autumn Edition in October, and – something we’re really delighted about – we have recently been nominated as one of the three finalists for the German Innovation Award 2022.

Stand Architect @ Work
27 and 28 April 2022

Stand number 54

Munich Trade Fair Centre
At the Messeturm
81829 Munich