As the first consumer drinking water products using UVC LED start appearing on the market, manufacturers and suppliers have begun thrashing over how ultraviolet (UV) disinfection is conveyed to consumers. Above the noise of those clamoring over who owns the right to publish feature superlatives (smallest, strongest, most dependable, etc.), the variety of applications for UVC LEDs in water dispensers represents a major opportunity for product differentiation between water purifier OEMs.
LEDs inherently open the door to apply disinfection just about anywhere inside of a water system. Compared to UV lamp systems, LEDs’ small size and low voltage operation make them simple additions to a wide range of consumer appliances. Today, we’re seeing the emergence of two very disparate routes of applying UV in water: water disinfection and water maintenance.
Water disinfection is the application of sufficient UV energy to water flowing to perform disinfection at a stated reduction rate of an organism.
Water maintenance is the application of UV energy to standing water or wet surfaces inside of a water system to control microbe growth.
Both methods, above, can yield a product with marketing claims of “UV LED Inside” but differ astoundingly on the cleanliness of the dispensed water.
Water maintenance products that appeared on the market had a low power UV LED added to the tank or spigot, ensuring that at least some of the surfaces were exposed to UV. While this can serve as a valuable method to prevent surface biofilm growth, most iterations do not have sufficient optical control or UV intensity to fully prevent growth on all wet surfaces. This results in ample opportunities for biofilm growth in the system as well as dispensed water contamination.
Water disinfection differs by performing a defined log reduction of a stated organism at a certain flow rate. This type of performance messaging requires an advanced level of design as compared to a single low powered LED (~2-3 mW) mounted to PCB, yet it provides a resounding improvement to the hygiene of dispensed water.
Commercial teams can leverage this distinction between disinfection and maintenance to create differentiation for their products. While “UV LED Inside” sounds great, finding resonating points of “why?” when communicating with your customers is where water disinfection defines its value as a product feature. This gives product marketers the ability to engage customers through claims against high profile reference organisms like Legionella, put the specific performance claim of 99.9 percent behind it, and match a flow rate that aligns with consumers’ point-of-use and point-of-entry water purification needs.
Marketers rely on design teams to confirm that these claims are true to the product’s design. Designers should pay close attention to whether performance is at the beginning or end of the reactor’s life, assure that they or their supplier can provide test data against the most valuable target organism, and that any reactor vendor has reliable control over the LED characteristics and supply chain to ensure consistent product performance for years to come.
For manufacturers who wish to incorporate such claims into their products but have little to no interest in making their own reactor design, one route is to purchase an off-the-shelf reactor and subsequently integrate it into their end product. The Klaran WR Series UVC LED Reactor, for example, can be relied upon to provide engaging consumer marketing claims, deep performance characterization by a number of third parties, and whose supply of UVC LEDs stems from an in-house production facility.