Lampmaker plans to ramp up production

CHAMPAIGN – Eden Park Illumination is producing a few hundred microplasma lamps every few weeks at its plant in west Champaign, co-founder Gary Eden said.

In the next 12 to 18 months, the company hopes to move to larger-scale production, said Eden, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois.

Eden Park Illumination makes thin, flat, lightweight lamps made possible by technologies developed at the UI.

For now, the company is producing two models, a 6-by-6-inch square tile and an 8-by-8-inch square tile, that can be installed under cabinets to illuminate countertops, Eden said.

But there are plenty of other applications for the ultra-thin, ultra-efficient lighting that can come in a variety of shapes and surfaces.

"Lighting no longer needs to be associated with ceilings," Eden told a lunch gathering at EnterpriseWorks on Thursday, noting that lighting panels can also be on walls.

At this point, Eden Park Illumination is not accepting orders for products, he said. The lamps it's making are going to potential customers – major lighting companies and lighting architects – in hopes they'll incorporate the lighting into their plans.

Eden said the initial market the company is pursuing is "indoor professional" – for use in offices and large public buildings, such as airports.

But it's also possible that microplasma lighting will find its way into refrigerators, he said, noting interest from that industry.

Eden Park Illumination – named for Eden and colleague Sung-Jin Park – was founded in 2007 and moved to a new facility at 903 N. Country Fair Drive, C, two years later.

Currently, it employs about 15. At one time, the company's headquarters were in Somerset, N.J., but all operations were later consolidated in Champaign.

About 60 percent of the work force is involved in design and manufacturing. Another 25 percent are in basic research, and the remainder are managers, Eden said.

Though researchers were easy to find locally, it was "a bit of a challenge" to find employees experienced in the production of lamps, Eden said.

Fortunately, the company was able to attract several people who had worked for a plasma TV display manufacturer on the East Coast. They became available after some of the manufacturer's operations were transferred to Asia.

"Some of them are natives of the Midwest," Eden said. "We tried to go after people who had a foothold in the Midwest."

Meanwhile, the company's CEO, Bill Thalheimer, and the chief operating officer, Ron van Os, live on the East Coast but spend significant time in Champaign, Eden said.

Microplasma lighting is made possible by trapping plasma in microcavities – tiny spaces the diameter of a human hair – and arranging those microcavities into various arrays.

The microplasma lamps made by Eden Park Illumination are only 4 millimeters thick, most of that from glass plates that "sandwich" the lamps.

But the company is working to reduce the thickness to only 1.5 millimeters.

Eden said he hopes to keep production in Champaign until it gets too large. If production grows to a million units a month, production would likely have to move elsewhere, he said.

Apart from Eden Park Illumination, Eden continues to work on other applications for microplasma technology, one of them involving the purification of water.

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