New technology to ‘lighten’ costs

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As we reported in our July issue, a survey done for the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC), of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) pegged lighting failures in a typical fleet at about 4 percent of maintenance parts and labor costs.

That seems fairly benign, until you consider that the frequency of lighting-system repairs came in at 15 percent of all repair orders generated – the highest of all vehicle systems. And, aside from safety concerns, every time a vehicle has to come in to the shop to correct a lighting failure, that’s freight-hauling, revenue-producing time lost, which has a definite dollar value.

We went on to tell how some fleet operators have reduced costs by spec’ing longer-lasting LED marker and signal lights, even though they’re initially much more expensive than their incandescent counterparts.

But there are no LED headlights on the market. And, while gas-discharge-type headlights last longer than incandescent headlights, and fail gradually instead of abruptly, they’re not yet offered by truck OEMs, and reportedly will be a fairly expensive option when they are.

So, for headlights, fleet operators are pretty much stuck with incandescent technology.
According to Rod Coupal, director of maintenance, New Penn Motor Express, Lebanon, Pa., the fleet replaced about 500 9004-type headlights on its 325 trucks in 2000. “And, according to Sylvania, that’s doing pretty well,” he says. “Sylvania says its long-life 9004s are rated at 850 hours of life. In our operation, that’s about three months’ use. We’re actually getting about six months out of them, but that’s still not enough.”

A cost-effective solution to frequent headlight replacement may well be a new device made by IntraUSA Group, Tukwila, Wash., and to be distributed starting this month by Truck-Lite Co., Falconer, N.Y.

The Headlamp Life Extender is a solid-state unit that uses MOSFET technology. MOSFET stands for metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor. It can switch current with no moving parts and can handle high current without generating significant heat.

The new unit is claimed to significantly lengthen headlamp life by providing a soft-start to the filaments, regulating DC voltage and eliminating voltage spikes.

According to Will Watson, vice president, sales for IntraUSA, the devices are projected to lengthen headlamp life by as much as 60 percent.

Watson explains that the Headlamp Life Extender limits output voltage (input to the headlamp) to 12.8 volts – for a balance of brightness and long-life. “Typically, truck-mounted headlamps are operated at 13.8 to 14.2 volts,” he says. “For every one-tenth of a volt above the optimum 12.8 volts, headlamp life is decreased by 11.3 percent. That’s why careful voltage regulation is so essential.”

Headlamp failure happens often during engine start-up, adds Watson. “Up to 30 amps of in-rush current is felt at the headlamp. The Head Lamp Life Extender eliminates this DC current shock with a soft start-up.”

“Depending on unit cost (Truck-Lite’s target price is $100), and if you need two per truck, it may be a cost-effective solution,” speculates New Penn’s Coupal. “But if they can get one unit to handle both the left and right headlights on a truck – and if our testing confirms that the devices perform as claimed – then it’s a no-brainer. We’ll definitely use them.”

According to Truck-Lite, a single-unit system will need to carry more current and may be offered within a year or so. But for now, because most initial applications will be retrofits, one unit per headlight makes for an easier installation.

For more information on the Headlamp Life Extender, visit Truck-Lite’s website, www.truck-lite.com, call (800) 562-5012, or visit IntraUSA Group’s website, www.intra-usa.com.

Paul Richards is editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail prichards@eTrucker.com.