TMC sheds light on AquaRay


Michael Barrett TMC’s lighting consultant, steps into the firing line to answer some of your most frequently asked questions about this lighting range.

You claim your tiles are as bright as a metal halide at a fraction of the running costs and heat, but I feel that an Arcadia series 3 will light a much larger area. How many tiles do you really need to have equivalent PAR over a large space as opposed to a halide?

I used to light a 0.9m/3’ tank with one 150 metal halide. Now I'm using two AquaBeam 1000HD tiles and still don't have the light spread of the halide.

The directionality of light from LEDs is a great benefit but can be a perceived disadvantage. We do not like comparing LEDs to other lighting sources as they are completely different, but the market dictates that we have to do so to describe what the light is like.

Tests have proved that the Lux and PAR readings under an AquaBeam 1000 are comparable to a 150W metal halide lamp. However, a metal halide lamp has a wider spread of light due to the completely different nature of this technology.

Unfortunately the wide spread of metal halides leads to wasted light because inefficient reflectors have to be used to redirect the light downwards. There’s also a great deal of light pollution into the surrounding area.

We recommend that to light a 0.9m/3’ full reef, with soft and hard corals and clams, without having to worry about specimen placement would be at least three AquaBeam 1000 HD units.

By using these lights you can make big energy savings by only providing high PAR lighting over the more light-hungry specimens. By replacing a 150W metal halide with two AquaBeam 1000s you have more than halved your lighting energy cost, and still sustain and grow corals under those lights.

Based on what you have said, those tiles will pay for themselves within a couple of years if you also take lamp replacements into account.

When are you going to use royal blue LEDs? AquaRays don't have the colours of Reef Beam or Ecolamps.

At the beginning of AquaRay development we decided to use standard blue LEDs from Cree rather than its royal blues. This was after extensive testing on the invert systems in our own fish house.

Although royal blues produce a much deeper blue and, in theory, would be better for fluorescing corals we found that most species fluoresced far more vividly under the standard blues —mainly due to the fact that the output of standard blue LED is much higher than that of royal blues.

More recently we have worked with a leading UK coral reef research laboratory to compare the spectra of both types of blue LED to common corals’ chlorophyll action spectrum as well as their fluorescence spectra. The results confirmed our choice of the standard blue LED on both counts.

When are you going to make it possible to control the blue and white LEDs independently on the HD tiles? I want to control blue only. I know that you do a blue only AquaBeam but I just want it in the tiles.

This is something that we would love to do. The reason we have not done it with the AquaBeam 1000 is that it has to have five LEDs on each controllable channel. If we were to make the unit with 5 x blue and 5 x white LEDs the overall colour would be too blue. We have however recently released the AquaBeam 1500 Ocean Blue which has 5 x 9,000K white Cree XP-G and 5 x blue Cree XP-E LEDs. The XP-Gs are much brighter than the XP-Es and so the colour temperature balances out nicely. In this case the blues are on a separate channel and so these can be controlled independently. This unit is perfect for keeping nano reefs and larger soft coral set ups.
 

It would be great if AquaRay incorporated a natural moon cycle. It’s not expensive, as I have recently purchased a set of Mooncycle LEDs from Marine Dreams on eBay for £24, plus delivery, and they have the natural 29.53 day cycle programmed into them. Just plug in and go.

I am running two Reef White AquaBeam 500 singles on a my 0.6m/2’ cube seahorse tank and three AquaBeam 1000 HD Reef White plus two AquaBeam 1500 XG Ocean White tiles on my 1.8m/6’ marine tank. This was TMC’s recommended set-up and all seems fine. It’s not quite as bright as produced by the two 250 metal halides I used to have, but room heat is no longer like an Amazon rainforest.

I would be very dubious of a controlled LED system at that sort of price. This would suggest that the LEDs may not be of a sufficient standard and that their thermal management is not fully thought out. That said, I hope they work for you.

The user interface and processor in the current range of controllers does not allow for this extra function. However, an accurate mimic of moon phases is a feature we have thought about adding to future controllers.

While we are all for mimicking natural light conditions as closely as possible, we are concerned that a moon phase simulation could result in coral spawning. While this would be amazing, it may not be so good for your tank!

I have been using four GroBeam 1000 on my 1.8 x 0.6 x 0.6m  /6’ x 2’ x 2’ tank and been really been pleased with the plant growth and light effects these lights give.

However, I have had to get three of the four lights replaced due to individual LEDs failing. TMC replaced them immediately which was great, and I was told the failings were probably down to power surges. I wanted to check if this was common and likely to occur again, so I now have a surge protected power board.

Will future controllers be more versatile in their programming ability, as I feel the current controllers are very restrictive? In this age of Wi-Fi and iPhone apps, I feel much more functionality could have been used in the current controller.

We do not often see failed LEDs on our GroBeam/AquaBeam 1000 and 1500 ranges and because you have had multiple failures this case is interesting.

Please contact us so that we can perhaps investigate further. Power surges are one possibility, but it would be worthwhile finding out a bit more about your set-up to see if anything else could be causing issues. Perhaps the way they are mounted is causing a heat build-up?

We are looking at improving and adding to the controller range, so please watch this space!

I recently bought a twin pack of AquaRay GroBeam 500s for my Aquastabil framed aluminium tank. However, its low profile hood negates the use of any AquaRay mounting systems.

I had to use other methods of hood mounting which a week later failed on one of the units. This resulted in one end of the sticks being submerged by about 5cm/2” The unit had a fair degree of water, both in the outer casing and, more worryingly, the inner casing of the LEDs themselves.

The unit had technically been used submerged and therefore was out of warranty, and I also had a new piece of expensive kit potentially out of action.

I opened up the unit to drain the water, and make good which meant breaking the warranty sticker. I would expect a piece of kit advertised as waterproof would be able to withstand this accidental dunking. In addition, when I opened the unit it seemed that the white/clear silicone/rubber rectangular sealing "ring" had not been positioned correctly.

This raises some issues. How would a unit last in an environment, warm and very close to water when the pressure of a 5cm/2” submersion was able to breach a "waterproof" seal.

I greatly respect TMC as a great innovative British company and, this aside, I'm very happy with the AquaRays, subsequently ordering another two, twin units.

I'm just upset that I had to void, within one week, a five-year guarantee.

 

I would urge anyone who has this type of problem to contact TMC directly. While we cannot help with all problems, we treat customer issues on a case-by-case basis, so it is always best to check.

I am also very surprised that there was no suitable mounting option, as the GroBeam 500s and AquaBeam 600s can be mounted directly and securely, without an MMS rail, by screwing into the threaded inserts in the back of the units. This would allow for an extremely low profile.

We are confident that the current AquaRay products are all waterproof to IP67 and this has been independently tested (see above picture). IP67 means that under test conditions the light unit can be submerged in 1m/39” of water for up to 30 minutes without ingress of harmful quantities. We have surpassed this in our own testing, however we stress that these units are not meant for use underwater.

AquaRay lights are all hand built in the UK and although it is impractical to water test every unit we electrically test and visually inspect all of them. Unfortunately units with bad seals do occasionally get through due to human error and we will replace affected units under our five-year warranty.

Anyone in a similar situation should call us as soon as possible and not break the warranty label. We pride ourselves on being quick to resolve issues like this and if we found that the silicone seal was not placed correctly we would have replaced the unit free of charge. If we are informed that a particular return is urgent then we can turn it around the same day of receipt.

I’ve been interested in the TMC AquaRay GroBeam 1000 ND lighting tile for a while now, but not been able to get a straight answer to a couple of questions when contacting your company.
 
I have a freshwater planted aquarium built in to a wall cavity in my kitchen. It is 70cm/26” tall with a small footprint of 60 x 50cm/24 x 20”. Space above the aquarium is limited, so these units could be an alternative to the pair of efficient T8 15w florescent tubes I currently have.
 
I have an IKS Aquastar aquarium computer to control and monitor the lights, temperatures and pH, That’s overkill for a small aquarium, but small aquariums are more unstable the big ones
 
So is it possible to interface the TMC AquaRay GroBeam 1000 ND lighting tile to be controlled by the IKS Aquastar via, maybe, the IKS SIMMOD 0(1) 10v to simulate sunrise and sunsets, and the moon phases?

 
Our units are not currently 1-10V compatible. This is something we also feel may benefit to our range of controllers in the future, but to add the 1-10V input to the basic light would add cost.

If you wish to add light control we have a full range of controllers, although these cannot be interfaced with your IKS Aquastar computer. GHL has made a 1-10V interface for AquaRay for its Profilux range of aquarium computers.

I have AquaRays in my 350l Jewel marine reef tank and had the 500 range fitted in December 2009, but all the bulbs started failing.  Ian, from the Trop Shop in Grays, Essex, replaced them all for me with the 600 range some months ago and one of the new ones has already gone.

Why don’t they make them waterproof, as obviously the new 600 are still not up to the job.
 
However I do like their lighting effect and the added bonus of a downward usage of electric.

The failure of the first LED in line on an AquaBeam/GroBeam 500/600 is a problem we have seen only in the last 12 months. It seems to be an installation specific fault because certain users have experienced the problem more than once while many others have no problem at all.

We have put much time and effort into this problem for two reasons. Firstly,
because it represents about 60% of our total AquaRay lamp returns
Secondly, Cree, the LED manufacturer, has never seen anything like this before. Even the developers of the Cree X-Lamp LEDs have taken an interest.

We know it is not an issue with the LED itself, and that the failure is caused by current spikes, but we cannot find the cause of those spikes. Our tests have proved that it is not the PSU, and that even lightning strikes to the mains supply are not passed through to the LEDs.

Despite the small number we are talking about we are currently building a small protection circuit into new units to try to combat the issue. This will not affect the price.

As for waterproofing please refer to my answer to an earlier question.

Since the launch of the AquaRay 500 LED lighting strips do you regret offering a five-year warranty and how much has that cost you so far? Every one of my lights has been replaced at least once in the last 24 months, mainly due to the first LED failing and others following, due to significant salt creep into the unit — even though full manufacturer's instructions have been followed.
 
We saw improvement with the 600 series, however, even those still showing significant salt creep into the units, so fully expect those to be replaced within five years.
 
I view these as 'lights for life' as, when replaced with a new unit, the five- year term starts again and I don't expect to ever need to buy new lighting. This must be costing you!. Big mistake in guarantee terms or big mistake in quality?

We have extreme confidence in all of our products, so don’t regret offering the five-year warranty. We don’t shy away from our problems and all have been tackled head on and solved.

We are now market leaders in LED aquarium lighting in the UK and Europe, and we also sell into the USA and Australia. With more than 50,000 lights sold worldwide to date we have seen many AquaRay success stories. We continue to improve and add to the range, and we feel that the secret to our success is not only having a great product, but also a top-notch warranty with the service to back it up.

As for problems with salt creep the change in AquaBeam 600 design has solved this issue, as long as care is taken. As with any piece of equipment it should be kept clean simply by wiping down regularly. Splashing water onto the units should be minimised because, although the unit is IP67, salt creep is damaging and very difficult to completely guard against.

Could you make some sort of wiring hub? I have six AquaBeam 600s on the modular mounting system, but I've got cables everywhere.

We have looked at making a wiring hub as we know that this is a problem for some users. Due to design implications on the electronics side we found that the cost of this hub is not much cheaper than our AquaRay MultiControl 8 which will offer control of 8 x AquaBeam/GroBeam 500/600, or 4 x AquaBeam/GroBeam 1000/1500 or a combination of the two.

We took the decision not to go ahead because for a small amount more the same thing can be achieved with timing, dimming and storm function built in!

Why are the AquaBeam 600s 50cm/20" long? I have a 75cm/30" tank and have to overlap two of them, looking untidy and giving an uneven light spread.

When we first developed AquaRay, and more specifically the AquaBeam 500, we based them around the standard tank lengths (i.e. 2', 3', 4', etc…) the 50cm/20" AquaBeam 600 and its predecessor (the AquaBeam 500) are a perfect length for a 60cm/2' tank.

Unfortunately there are infinite tank lengths out there and so we had to pick a standard size to work with. I believe we have created the most flexible lighting system available which can be used in its various forms to fit any size of tank.

My TMC LEDs went wrong. My local shop's went wrong and then the 6-way controller went wrong when they got that in. That's not good is it?

No that's definitely not good! Of course I am not sure which problems you and your local shop had with the lights, but I will try to cover all bases here.

As with any new technology there have been some teething problems. The biggest problems we have had have been with the PSUs (power supply units). We found that we had an unacceptable rate of return on the twin output power supplies. This was due to some heat sensitive components being placed too close to other components that can get quite hot. This was not picked up in our initial product tests as it took a long time for this failure to occur.

Once the problem arose we were very quick to remedy it by making the casing larger and moving the components apart. I am pleased to say that the failure rate on our new design PSU is just 2% which is more than acceptable for an electronic product.

I should point out that even if the old PSUs fail outside of their one year warranty period, they can be replaced very cheaply as we took the decision to subsidise the cost of these.

We do not make a 6-way controller but if you are referring to our 8-way controller (MultiControl 8) some of these units had a problem because we were supplied with a faulty batch of PSUs. Due to this problem we took the time to source a new PSU at the end of 2010. Since then, we have had no further failures.

There have been other problems with the range however these have represented a very small percentage of our sales, and I will cover some of these issues in answer to other questions here. Where we have had problems we have always endeavoured to be open and honest about them and have always honoured our guarantee as quickly as possible.

Why can’t you make a nice looking housing like a luminaire? Surely you could slide them into a nice silver housing and the whole thing would be better?

Yes, we could make a luminaire but the difficulty is designing one that can be mass produced and will reach you (the end user) at a reasonable price.

We have now developed a tank mounting bracket called the MountaRay. This can be used in conjunction with the MMS (Modular Mounting System) rail to make a sleek, tank mounted luminaire that is fully customisable. The beauty of the AquaRay MMS range is that it is almost infinitely flexible, allowing for mounting in any situation, over any tank.

Why don't you get together with Red Sea and produce a Red Sea Max LED? I tried to change mine and killed the tile because of heat build up.

The Red Sea Max range of tanks has been hugely successful. However, we aim to produce LED luminaires that can be used on any tank. Heat build up can be avoided if the AquaRay units are given space for heat from the heat sink to escape as per the user instructions.

Can you make a PC controller interface and App? I want more control of my LEDS.

We are always looking to improve and add to the AquaRay range of products. The next logical step for us is to look at more controllability and a PC interface - this is something we have in the pipeline. As with all new technologically-based products it presents a challenge to get this out to market at a reasonable price and so it does take time. We could have something very quickly but it would cost a lot of money. We at TMC always aim to bring high quality products to the hobby at an affordable price and that is what we will continue to do.

Your LEDs don't penetrate very far. Can you produce an LED cannon that spotlights corals?

Firstly, I would have to disagree with you about this. Our AquaBeam 1000 HD lights have been used by public aquaria over tanks of up to 3m depth with great success. This is due to the slightly focused beam on these units.

Of course we could focus this beam further, allowing for higher PAR levels at depth, but light-spread would then be reduced, which would mean more lights needed over a tank.

Also the LED cannons that we have seen in the market go against what we are trying to achieve with the AquaRay range of lighting. This is because they use power hungry LEDs with lower efficiencies which negate the main purpose of LED lighting i.e. to save energy.

These LEDs use the same chip technology as any other high power LED, but they have many chips (or dies) crammed into one LED housing, which then also makes thermal management difficult and therefore can cause problems.

Until we see another (better) way of tackling this we will not be looking at producing this type of light.

Can you do a storm function?

Our range of AquaRay controllers already have a storm function built into them which is simply activated by pressing a button. Once the button is pressed it takes five minutes for the lights to dim down as the clouds roll over. Then over a 30-minute period the lights will flash at random intervals to simulate lightning. Finally the lights will brighten back up to the user set level over five minutes.

We have made this a button press rather than a random function for two reasons:

  • The user can set it when they are about to do a water change – this has been proven to stimulate breeding in certain species of fish.
  • It prevents random flashing whilst you are sat in your living room trying to watch EastEnders!

I must first say what a great product, one of my best ever purchases in over 40 years of fiskeeping.  

Given the speed of technological advance what do you see as the next big leap in reef aquaria lighting? We already have plasma in the USA, is there anything else to look out for?

In short – keep watching LEDs!

LEDs are already surpassing the lumen per watt ratio of plasma lamps. These plasma lamps also use a lot of power and although the lamp is small, the equipment to run it is quite large. They belong to the school of hobbyists that like to pump as much light as possible into their aquarium; however the future is to provide the correct amount and quality of light to sustain and grow the corals without overdoing it. In this way, energy savings can be made.

Of course the conscientious aquarist will realise that the amount of power they use will have a direct impact on the amazing environment that they are trying to replicate in their glass box (i.e. the coral reefs). It is imperative that we only use as much power as we need to and so for the majority of fish keepers the plasma lamp is overkill. The only possible place that it has in the hobby is over large public aquarium-sized tanks.

Another possibility for the future is OLEDs. This is a similar technology to LEDs but results in a large but very thin panel of light. It is the same technology that is used in modern mobile phone screens. Whilst lighting class panels have been manufactured, they are certainly not bright enough to light aquariums at this stage. It would provide a nice even spread of light but there would be no shimmer effect and this light could not easily be focused.

With energy prices going up all the time, massive amounts of money are being piled into the research and development of LEDs. Indeed, Philips have recently won a $10 million cash prize from the US government for successfully developing an LED product that is equivalent to the good old 60W light bulb. With all of this time, effort and money going into the humble LED I think we will see big things in the future.

The only issue we face in the aquarium lighting industry is that the LED developments are mostly aimed at task and building lighting. This means that warm whites are where the R and D is concentrated with the cool whites that are ideal for an aquarium following along a bit later.

The reason that we at TMC are able to get our exclusive very cool white LEDs (14000K) is purely because of our early adopter relationship with Cree and the volume that we now buy. As mentioned these aren’t available to anyone else and having spoken to other LED manufacturers including Philips and Osram I have found that they don’t even make LEDs in whites that cool.

You can rest assured that TMC will continue to keep its collective ear to the ground and will strive to bring you cutting edge products at a reasonable price.

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