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The big switch to LEDs

Posted: February 11, 2015 by Peter Carter

TORONTOThe first automotive headlights – gas lanterns, really – were invented during the 1880s and it took less than a decade for somebody to replace them with electrical versions. Then in 1912, Cadillac revolutionized the business with the introduction of the first sealed light – it stayed illuminated regardless of weather.

Improvements continue to this day; and in some cases military apps heralded commercial usage. The first LED headlamps were produced by Truck-Lite to illuminate action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now LEDs are everywhere.

“This is the 25-year anniversary of Truck-Lite selling LED [stop, turn, and tail] lamps,” comments Mitchell Wilston, Truck-Lite’s marketing communications/product specialist. “In that regard, it’s hard to believe that it’s still considered a new technology. There are already many fleets that operate with nothing but LEDs.”

But still, it was fairly big news in early January when the American reefer giant KLLM-Frozen Food express announced it would be installing Truck-Lite LED forward lighting on all its Freightliners and Volvos models, nearly 700 trucks, which is about one-fifth of its total fleet.

They might cost more up front but they’re lasting longer, they don’t need as much maintenance and drivers like them more.

GE’s Nighthawk, for example, comes in either 7-in. round or 5×7-in. rectangular formats. According to GE’s Jenni Vadney, sales market development manager, they last 15,000 hours versus about 375 hours for a traditional sealed beam.

“So you will have to replace the traditional sealed beam 40 times for every time you replace the LED,” she tells Today’s Trucking. “When you add up the cost of the bulb and labor for 40 bulbs, although the LED costs more upfront, you are saving in the long run. In addition, you don’t have the downtime of the truck being off the road to have the headlights replaced.”

Vadney says the Nighthawk is a great over its lifetime even when it retails for about US$260 and an analogous sealed beam halogen goes for under $20.

She also said forward lighting represents only a fraction of the applications for LED lights in the industry. LEDs are becoming more prominent on other parts of the truck as well as in shops and on fleet property.

Comments Truck-Lite’s Wilston: “Initially, marker/clearance lamps led the way in adoption because fleets realized that keeping maintenance technicians off of ladders was in their best interest. LED lighting held the promise of a life of the vehicle lighting solution – not to mention its other benefits.

“Take dome lamps, for instance. Customers see all the same benefits: longer life, less maintenance, a brighter and whiter light, and less current draw. They are extremely popular. Every truck OEM has approached us in looking at projects that include LED forward lighting technology in the next few years.

“As technology has developed, we’ve seen an increase in lumens per watt (light output per unit power) and a decrease in lumens per dollar. That is a great equation for the consumer, and will surely lead to an even wider acceptance of LED lighting.”

LEDs have become standard on Freightliner’s Cascadia and International’s ProStar, and are options on Volvo’s VNL and VNX. While Peterbilt and Kenworth have yet to embrace LED headlights as standard, they do employ LED for sleeper-berth and in-cab lighting.

One final rationale for investing in better lights?

Aging drivers. The average driver age in Canada is 52. There’s strong evidence that night-vision problems that come with age are serious, unavoidable and, in fact, insidious.

Deterioration of vision is so subtle you don’t even know about it until there’s a problem. What price can you put on that?

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