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World's First Bulb-type Fluorescent Lamp, “Neo Ball” (Ball-shaped)

An important point was how small we could go.
We finally succeeded in fitting Neo Ball in a ball-shaped glass with a diameter of 110 mm.

World's First Bulb-type Fluorescent Lamp, “Neo Ball” (Ball-shaped)

Ever since Japan's first general incandescent lamp was brought into practical use in 1890, the nights have become brighter and the living environment has significantly improved. In 1940, fluorescent lamps were produced for the first time in Japan as a new source of light. This type of lamp was well received by the public because it was five times more luminous than an incandescent lamp and lasted five times longer.

However, although these fluorescent lamps saved energy and lasted for a long time, they were only available in bar or torus shapes and their size did not allow them to be directly attached to incandescent lamp sockets. Therefore, lighting devices with incandescent lamp sockets that could not accept fluorescent lamps did not achieve energy savings, and users of incandescent lamps had to put up with their disadvantages of short life and the need to replace bulbs frequently.

The first oil crisis in 1973 had a great influence on life in Japan. People involved in the lighting industry, engineers in particular, worked hard to find a way to make a fluorescent lamp with high luminous efficiency into the shape of a bulb. A large fluorescent lamp with a bulb base was developed, but consumers never took to it.

A fluorescent lamp that actually looked like a bulb needed to be developed. There had been one idea to create a “bulbtype fluorescent lamp” by bending a fluorescent light tube into a smaller configuration and combining it with lighting equipment so that it could be inserted in light sockets, but it took a long time before Toshiba decided to start trial production.

Thanks to advancements in glassmaking technology and materials, including fluorescent substances, in 1978 a trial production run was conducted to assess the feasibility of the lamps. First, a thin, bar-shaped fluorescent lamp was bent and equipped with a stabilizer. It was then enclosed in a plastic ball-shaped cover. The test showed that temperatures within the assembly rose significantly due to the heat being generated by the lamp and stabilizer, so the product could not be commercialized.

The lamp became slightly more practical when a number of small holes were made at the top and bottom of the plastic cover, but a glass globe could not be employed because of those holes and the engineers had to use polycarbonate resin instead. Improvements were also made in the diameter, gas pressure, and electrodes in order to optimize characteristics such as luminosity, starting characteristics, and performance life. The major focus was on how far the lamp could be downsized, and at last the lamp was successfully placed in a 110 mm-diameter ball.

Finally, in July 1980, the world's first bulb-type fluorescent lamp, called Neo Ball™, was put on the market. It achieved great popularity despite its high price. In order to further improve marketability and promote the dissemination of this lamp, the globe had to have an enclosed structure to prevent insects and dust from entering through the air holes and the product's appearance had to be redesigned. Engineers found after a number of tests that these goals could be achieved by depositing a substance called indium close to the electrode. This technology helped to reduce heat generation and improve luminosity, and also made it possible to use a glass globe with an enclosed structure.

Toshiba then succeeded in realizing an electronic lighting circuit and commercialized the lighter and brighter electronic Neo Ball™ in 1984, before any of its competitors could release a similar product.

Structural drawing of bulb-type fluorescent lamp, Neo Ball ™

Structural drawing of bulb-type fluorescent lamp, "Neo Ball ™"

Actual Neo Ball Z Real ™ introduced in July 2005

Actual "Neo Ball Z Real ™" introduced in July 2005

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