I was in Quartzsite that year looking for a solution to my RV lighting problems. My rig had come equipped with light fixtures using the all-glass 921 incandescent lightbulbs appearing on the market at that time, and the bulbs were hot and burning holes in the plastic lens covers. My project was to design and build my own LED replacements. Serendipity entered, and I met Kelly instead of trying to brew my own solution.
Kelly demonstrated to me his first attempt to provide a 12-volt plug-in light to replace the ubiquitous 1141 bulb found in many RVs of that era. I was surprised by the brightness of the light and its ease of use. Kelly wondered if RVers would be interested in such a product, and I responded with a strong positive YES! I still have that original LED fixture in my rig.
Kelly and I sat down and worked out a design to fit my needs to retrofit the 921 bulbs. As I said, Kelly was an inventor and designer, and it was easy to work with him on the spot. I knew RVs, and he knew LEDs. It was the beginning of a productive six-year relationship during which we developed much of the early technology for LEDs in RVs.
Later that year I sent Kelly a puck light fixture and asked him to design a replacement for the halogen light bulb. He had a solution back to me within a month, and his G4-RV3H became a big best-seller product. I became a dealer for Kelly's products.
We agreed to guarantee our products for the LED lifetime of 100,000 hours, a rare commitment at that time. Kelly had done some original designs on LED heat sinks that were very effective, but we were surprised when more failures than expected returned. My research in the field determined that even though RVs were described as offering a 12-volt DC electrical system, their operating voltage could easily range from 11 to 16 volts depending on the power source: battery, solar, inverter, generator, or alternator. In addition, there often other noise on the line like AC ripple, ballast RF, and spikes from air conditioners and other gizmos.
Kelly's first LED circuits had assumed a much narrower and cleaner DC range, and once we understood the problem, he quickly designed voltage and power regulation circuitry to protect the semiconductor parts. When these circuits were incorporated into the products, their lifetimes met our expectations.
Competitors purchased our products and sent them to electronics designers in the Far East. They quickly “copied” Kelly's designs, and the competition began to enter the RV LED market, but with inferior products. For a time we remained ahead, for they did not understand the need for some features and cut corners to save costs.
There was a continual “war” as they tried to duplicate the designs and undercut the prices. More and more “knock-offs” appeared, but they could not match the reliability of the Neutek line. We had many customers who came by our booths and showed us the non-working products with which we competed.
In the end, the competition has largely won the war. The good news is that some of their designs now incorporate the features Kelly designed and I introduced, so their products have improved, but none offer the warranty we did. Personally, I do not believe that many of them realize why those features are needed; they do not live in an RV world.
I have drifted back into retirement and writing; Kelly still offers some of his original products at rvLEDbulb.com, and he has gone into larger LED design efforts. The RV industry has more acceptance of using LEDs, and some manufacturers are now offering original product with LEDs installed.
The past six years have been a good run for the development of the RV LED product, and I am pleased with what we accomplished. Now, Kelly is designing to find the next big thing in LED lighting, for RVs and beyond.