Improving Heavy Equipment Safety and Efficiency with LEDs

Although most heavy equipment manufactured for industrial applications today is of exceptional quality and design, there are still common problems that arise due to the environments and situations in which it is operated. Most heavy equipment comes factory equipped with only the basic accessories and is primarily outfitted for operation in optimal conditions.

Although most heavy equipment manufactured for industrial applications today is of exceptional quality and design, there are still common problems that arise due to the environments and situations in which it is operated. Most heavy equipment comes factory equipped with only the basic accessories and is primarily outfitted for operation in optimal conditions. This means accessories related to illumination usually receive only basic consideration and are likely candidates for upgrade or retrofitting. Commercial construction projects are being performed during evening hours at an increasing rate and as a result, the need for effective illumination has increased as well. Good illumination of the work area is critical to the safe and productive operation of heavy equipment, and operations during nighttime hours presents added challenges that if not addressed, can result in lost productivity and increased incidents of work related accidents.

Most commercial worksites are limited in their access to electrical power, forcing companies to expend additional capital on the generators, fuel, and lighting equipment necessary for effective nighttime operations. Additionally, heavy equipment is rarely stationary, mandating a need for lighting accessories that can be mounted to the equipment and run off of its own electrical system, yet still be powerful enough to provide the proper amount of illumination necessary for safe operation.

Aside from generators and portable lighting systems costing thousands of dollars,the usual practice is to install additional lighting directly to heavy equipment and wire it into the equipments electrical system. Although illumination is increased, this lighting is often poorly chosen and inadequate for safe operation. The electrical demands of powerful lamps can also pose a serious problem when coupled with the electrical systems of heavy equipment. Further compounding the issue are the fragile natures of the usual standard lighting accessories. Most aftermarket lamps utilize filament based bulbs which are prone to damage and breakage from repeated vibrations and impacts. Many are not rated for use in wet or dusty conditions, and become inoperable after exposure to these conditions. Therefore, any lighting accessories installed onto heavy equipment must be capable of withstanding these conditions, provide powerful illumination, and yet not present too large a drain on the equipments electrical system.

Quality aftermarket lighting accessories address these problems in several ways. Perhaps the most notable improvement is found in the production of lamps that do not utilize filament based incandescent bulbs in their designs. These lamps generally fall into two categories represented by HID or “High Intensity Discharge” lamps, where light is created by generating an arc between two contact points within a gas filled tube which then excites the gas, and LED’s, or “Light Emitting Diodes”. In LED’s, light is created by passing electrical current through a semi conducting material which then emits light as it’s molecules are acted upon by the electrical energy. Both methods of producing light are far superior to filament based lamps, and both methods are much more energy efficient as well. Since neither method uses a fragile filament in its construction, they are a great deal more durable than incandescent bulbs, and have much longer life expectancies.

HID lamps have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their ability to produce powerful beams of brilliant light with less energy consumption than incandescent lamps. However, LEDs have also begun gaining in popularity due to their even lower energy requirements and greater longevity. Where a HID lamp may last 5000 hours, an LED lamp is typically rated at 25-50,000 hours or more depending upon the lamps design and wattage. Further adding to their popularity, LEDs do not require special ballasts for operation as HID lamps do. LED lamps are entirely solid state in their design, and are now capable creating lumen outputs comparable to the best halogen lamps.

In heavy equipment applications, LEDs are also popular because of their relatively simple installation and small profiles. A Larson Electronics LEDLB-20E LED Light Emitter only 12 inches long and 2.75 inches high is capable of producing 3,600 lumens of light, and casting a beam over 1100 feet long. This light bar produces this performance while using 60 watts of power and drawing only 5 amps on a 12 volt electrical system. In order to produce equivalent performance with a halogen lamp, nearly three times as many watts at twice the drawn amps would be necessary. The small profile allows this kind of light bar to be mounted unobtrusively on heavy equipment in locations such as overhead supports, cab roofs, fender railings, and just about anywhere else that a solid mounting surface is present.

The LEDLB-20E light bar is also rated for extreme environments and is sealed against intrusion from water or dust, eliminating the concerns posed by the conditions commonly encountered in commercial applications. The LED bulbs are shock proof and will not be affected by the vibrations or impacts encountered when operating heavy equipment. These LEDs provide further benefits over HID lighting equipment with their ability to be operated on a wide variety of voltages. These units can be connected to electrical systems operating with voltages ranging anywhere from 9 to 32 volts without the need for special equipment or connections. Their solid state circuitry achieves this feat by automatically sensing voltages and adjusting the input accordingly, allowing them to be connected to a wide variety of equipment and vehicles with nothing more than a simple connection to the electrical system.

The biggest concern in commercial applications of course is the quality and amount of illumination these lighting accessories produce. As noted earlier, the LED light bar produces 3600 lumens of light at only 60 watts. In standard configuration this results in a beam of light 1,100 feet long by 110 feet wide. In floodlight configuration this same light bar can illuminate 350 square feet of area with bright white light. Mounted in pairs on a moderately sized loader or backhoe, these lights can easily perform beyond the basic requirements expected of auxiliary lighting equipment, and do it while drawing a fraction of the energy standard halogen lamps would need to achieve the same level of performance.

Chances are, that if you take the time to look around construction sites you’ll notice that on many commercial jobs LEDs are already being used extensively as auxiliary lighting equipment on not only heavy equipment, but on vehicles and in light towers as well. Companies are already reaping the benefits of their energy efficient operation and durability, with further savings still to come from their extreme longevity. When considering performing commercial operations at night, companies are increasingly turning to LED light bars to provide the lighting power their equipment requires to perform safely and efficiently without the losses in productivity associated with nighttime operations.

As companies continue to shift their operations to late evening hours, and LEDs continue to advance in design and function, it is only a matter of time before the old standards in heavy equipment lighting become obsolete and LEDs take over as the new standards to beat in the coming years.

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