WATERLOO, Ont. - Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) aren't just for show trucks anymore.New technology is driving prices down and Truck-Lite mid-west regional manager, Andrew Willms, says more and more truc...
September 1, 2001
James Menzies and John Curran
BRIGHT IDEAS: Truckers are converting to LED lighting as costs come down.
INSIDE LOOK: LEDs are made up of a semiconductor chip.
WATERLOO, Ont. – Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) aren’t just for show trucks anymore.
New technology is driving prices down and Truck-Lite mid-west regional manager, Andrew Willms, says more and more truckers are beginning to see the light and are making the switch to LED lighting on their trailers.
He says new developments are making the lights more affordable than ever, while saving trucking companies money on maintenance down the road.
That’s all well and good, but how do they work?
An LED, is a semiconductor chip with a p-n junction encased in an epoxy enclosure; molecules in the n-type semiconductor have excess electrons, while the molecules in the p-type semiconductor lack electrons: Think of them as having “holes,” explains Ken Irwin, national accounts manager for Grote Industries Canada.
When voltage is applied across the junction, the electrons and the “holes” move to the junction and combine, releasing energy in the form of light.
The wavelength (or color) of the light, or photon as it is referred to by the engineers, emitted depends on the semiconductor material.
Since Grote pioneered the idea of LEDs in 1990 with its SuperNova design, LEDs have been steadily gaining popularity in the heavy truck industry.
Their much longer life, faster response time, lower current requirements and better shock resistance than incandescent bulbs makes them a natural fit.
Remove the lens and the light emitted is still the same color as what was being emitted before.
“A red LED light uses red, light emitting diodes,” says Irwin.
The latest development in trailer lighting is clear LED lights, which now make it possible to completely illuminate a trailer with the small, cost-effective diodes from front-to-back.
“It allows us to make licence lamps and backup lamps,” says Willms.
“The licence lamps are usually a nuisance item and they fail all the time. Vibration and corrosion is always a killer on regular lighting.”
But with LED licence lamps that require no maintenance and are guaranteed for life, he says truckers will never have to worry about replacing the troublesome lamps again if they convert to the new technology.
“The big benefit is that these use no amperage and they last forever,” says Willms.
“We have a lifetime warranty on these lights. They’re guaranteed for as long as the customer owns that vehicle.”
Willms predicts that with the cost of LED lighting continuing to plummet, it won’t be long before they become standard on all trailers.
“If you’ve got a fleet that really monitors their maintenance costs, they see the benefit of upgrading to an LED light system right away,” says Willms.
“The biggest customers I see in my market now, are the biggest fleets … they monitor their maintenance dollars very rigidly and they know exactly where they’re spending their money so they see the value.”
He says upgrading to LED lighting has never been more affordable, thanks to new and improved technology.
“The fifth generation is the brightest and cheapest LED we’ve ever had on the market,” says Willms.
“We used to make this lamp that has 62 diodes in it and now we’re down to six because the technology is getting better and we have access to better, brighter diodes so we’re able to reduce the number and therefore reduce the cost.”
If the decreasing costs and maintenance benefits aren’t enough to tempt you switch over to LED lighting, Peterson Manufacturing director of marketing, Mark Assenmacher says the lights are also a safety enhancement, as well.
To prove his point, he refers to a study by the University of Michigan that revealed incandescent lights take two-tenths of a second to light up when the brake is applied whereas LEDs light up instantly.
“If you put the two lamps next to each other, you will notice the difference,” insists Assenmacher.
“That improves reaction time for the vehicles following the trucks,” he adds, noting that the delay can cost drivers 15 or 16 feet of braking distance.
Peterson has just unveiled its latest light, a seven diode LED stop/turn/tail light, which the company claims is its most economical model to ever hit store shelves.
“It’s a pretty dynamite looking lamp,” says Assenmacher.
“It’s a good, affordable unit that still looks darn good and passes all the photometrics and everything.”
He has also noticed the shift toward LED’s, especially with owner/operators who are taking advantage of decreasing costs.
“Incandescents are still the majority, obviously, but as costs in the LEDs are starting to come down, the owner-operators know the benefits,” says Assenmacher.
Although it may cost money to upgrade to an LED light system, drivers are finding that the costs are recouped down the road.
“Sometimes they do it all at once, sometimes they do it a little at a time, but they’re definitely aware of all the benefits of LEDs so they’re doing a lot more aftermarket retrofitting,” he adds.
And that bodes well for the companies that continue to strive to light the way. n