Machinery lights

Agriculture.com Staff 04/24/2008 @ 7:30am

During planting and harvesting, the workday usually doesn't end when the sun goes down. Farmers are spending longer hours in the field, and it's important to be able to see when day turns to night.

"At planting and harvesting time, we seldom ever shut down field operations before 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. There are days we put more hours in with lights on than with lights off," says Gower, Missouri, farmer Bob Grier.

According to Chad Hogan of John Deere, three factors are driving the demand for better lighting.

1. Faster operating speeds. With operators moving at a quicker pace, it's important for them to be able to see a fair distance ahead.

2. Wider implements. As farmers continue to purchase larger implements to cover more ground in less time, the need for a light that can illuminate a wider area is key.

3. Advances in precision agriculture. "Technology like AutoTrac has led to much more productive night work. In many cases, this has increased the amount of time customers are spending working at night, which in turn pushes the demand for better lighting," says Hogan.

Over the years, there have been several different types of lighting on farm machinery.

"First, we had the traditional incandescent sealed beam rubber work lamps," says David Shanahan of S. Sterling Company, a distributor of Hella, Inc. products. "Next, we had halogen technology. Today, we have Xenon (HID) technology."

In terms of lighting, Hogan says the introduction of high-intensity discharge (HID) Xenon lighting is the biggest change he's seen over the past 10 years.

Hella claims that HID lighting is three times as bright. The light output is whiter and easier on the eyes. HID light is more like daylight; halogen light is more yellow.

"The technology enables operators to see farther than with traditional halogen bulbs," says Hogan. "And because Xenon HID bulbs have no filaments, the bulb life is increased as much as 10 times vs. filament-style (halogen) bulbs. HID lights offer a clear benefit over halogen lights both in terms of replacement frequency and in terms of visibility."

The majority of manufacturers are installing Hella Xenon (HID) lighting on their equipment right from the factory, says Shanahan. "It makes a big difference in light output, and it's a must for farmers who work a lot at night."

As someone who puts in a lot of hours after dark, Grier agrees. "I want enough light to light up my work area," he says. "I ordered six more add-on HID lights to put on two tractors and two combines. HID is the best thing since candles."

However, he says most farmers can't justify the cost if they don't work at night.

Hogan says customers have always asked to see farther and more clearly at night. What's relatively new is that more and more of their customers are asking for things like delayed egress (exit) lighting and programmable lighting.

"Delayed egress lighting keeps lights illuminated for 90 seconds after the headlight switch is turned off for additional visibility while exiting the cab," Hogan says. "Programmable lighting allows operators to select which lights they want on and off in field positions. This allows a tractor and grain cart, for example, to shut off the roof- mounted field light to keep from shining on the combine operator."

Like egress lights, beacon lights are a safety feature growing in popularity, say equipment manufacturers.

"We continue to see higher and higher demand for rotary beacons that provide better transport visibility," Hogan says.

Challenger sales manager Ryan Schaefer comments on safety feature placement. "Most high-horsepower tractors are available with orange or amber rotating beacons on the roof of the cab or somewhere near the mirrors, at the highest point of the machine."

Other machines like combines and self-propelled forage harvesters are available with rotating beacons somewhere near the rear of the machine as well.

"The rotation causes the light to have a flashing effect in low-light environments, which draws the attention of oncoming motorists or other machines to warn of slow moving or oversized traffic," Schaefer says. "The rotating beacon is becoming as important to farm equipment safety today as the SMV symbol became years ago."

Although LED (light-emitting diode) has been around since the 1960s, only recently has it gained more attention.

LEDs have been used for taillights and marker lights for the past several years on passenger cars and semi-trailers. They're starting to show up in headlights used by European and Japanese luxury carmakers because they use even less energy than HID.

"I don't know of any farm equipment manufacturer currently using LED lights, but as automotive technology goes, so goes heavy equipment technology. I can see this type of lighting being the next step in the farm equipment industry," Schaefer says.

Although LED lights last longer and are easier to replace than HID lights, there are some drawbacks. They cost more than the already expensive HID lights because of limited production, and they're sensitive to extreme applications and environments.

Schaefer says there's also some debate over whether LED-based headlights will be as close a replication of natural light as HID. But he still believes LED lights will have a place in agriculture.

"LED lights can very easily be used for taillights and marker lamps in farm equipment in the future, potentially in concert with HID headlight systems," Schaefer says.

He may be on to something. Hella, Inc. is developing an LED work lamp and it should be to market sometime this year.

"Xenon is still the brightest and the best and will be the standard in a few years," Shanahan says. "It has a low amperage pull (35 watts) and produces about three times as much light output as halogen. LEDs are not bright enough yet to compete with Xenon, but they may some day."

During planting and harvesting, the workday usually doesn't end when the sun goes down. Farmers are spending longer hours in the field, and it's important to be able to see when day turns to night.

Most major equipment manufacturers now offer an HID lighting package to supplement or replace the standard halogen work lights on their tractors, as well as some combines, self-propelled forage harvesters, cotton pickers, and self-propelled windrowers. HID light is whiter and easier on the eyes. An HID work lamp from Hella, Inc. costs approximately $400.

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