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Retrofitting LED Lights in Tractors

Light technology has come a long way. From traditional incandescent lights came halogen, then HID, and now LED lights are taking over the spotlight. While light-emitting diode (LED) technology has been around since the 1960s, four advances are making this throwback a shining star in updated farm machinery.

1. Energy efficiency.

LED lights are classified as very energy-efficient. For you, this means longer life for your machine’s batteries and alternator. It also means that you can add lights without overloading the electrical system, which is especially important with older machinery. An added perk is that no heavy pollutants are used during the manufacturing of the product, making LED lights energy-efficient and green.

Compared with other forms of lighting, LED still takes the gold for efficiency. Halogen and incandescent lights use 90% to 95% of their current draw to generate heat. LEDs, on the other hand, employ 80% of their current to generate light. High-intensity discharge (HID) lights have huge initial current draw, while LEDs have a constant current draw. Due to the lower draw, LEDs operate better at colder temperatures. LEDs turn on instantly; they don’t have the recovery period that HIDs require.

2. Color temperature.

LEDs produce natural light, very similar to sunlight’s color temperature.

“Our eyes love sunlight and will not fatigue when using it, as compared with other types of lighting,” says Tyler Rouse, with John Deere. “Less operator fatigue and eyestrain means longer hours of operation and greater productivity.”

3. Longer life.

LEDs have a long life with no bulbs or ballast to replace. At a life rating of up to 40,000 hours, LEDs have such a long life that they can be a lifetime light with almost no maintenance. In comparison, HID capsules last for 2,500 hours; halogen bulbs only have a rating of 500 hours.

Sealed to an ingress protection of 67 (IP67), the lights are protected from water and dust intrusion, and they can handle a power washer. Also, LEDs do not have a filament; thus, vibrations are not an issue like they were with older sealed beam lighting.

If LEDs do need to be replaced, they can simply be plugged into the same housing as the sealed beam lights.

4. Light output.

For optimal viewing conditions, LEDs create little to no shadow areas around the tractor. LED has two types of directional light output: flood pattern and trapezoidal pattern. Flood pattern lights are designed for illuminating wide and short areas. They are ideal for medium-range visibility. Trapezoidal pattern lights are general-purpose work lights. These lights have a narrow pattern with long-range visibility.

Hot item in ag

Because of advances in LEDs, the lights have become a hot item in the agricultural market.

“We have seen a rapid increase in the demand by our customers for LED lighting options on older equipment,” says Rouse. “A predominant focus of that demand is usually based around our row-crop and four-wheel-drive tractors, but it’s obviously not limited to those models.”

S. Sterling Company, a distributor of Hella, Inc., has also seen a spike in consumer interest.

“Most new applications are focusing on LED technology,” says Eric McDowell from S. Sterling Company. “Hella has developed LED lights that surpass the output of HID lamps.”

Retrofitting is easy

According to McDowell, in almost all cases, retrofitting machinery to LED isn’t a problem. One of the main reasons is that no additional equipment is necessary for installation.    

“By their very nature, LEDs require less current than HID and halogen lamps,” says McDowell. “Plus, they do not have the same in-rush concerns as HID. Hella’s LED lamps have a pretty slick feature called a slow start, meaning they initially light at a lower wattage then step up to full power in a matter of milliseconds.”

John Deere’s LEDs are designed to OEM specifications to fit existing housings on its tractors. “They are a direct replacement for existing lighting, and with their plug-and-play connectivity, upgrading to LED lights is a quick and easy process,” elaborates Rouse.

HID still hot

While LEDs have many advantages, HIDs are still a solid option for farm equipment, especially since HIDs have improved greatly in terms of operational efficiency.

“Hella is on its fifth-generation ballast, which provides better electromagnetic compatibility protection compared with previous-generation ballasts,” explains McDowell. “This is important because many ag machines have sensitive electronics – such as GPS, radio, and telematics – that can be affected by older-technology HID lamps.”

HID lights can be ordered as a premium lighting package on a variety of new equipment, including tractors, combines, and sprayers. The lights can also be retrofit to older equipment, although the process is more complex. In most cases, you will have to install a dedicated electromechanical relay for each light.

While HIDs have an average lower operational current draw when compared with their halogen counterparts, they do have a substantial in-rush during the start-up of the light.

Depending on the light, this can be 20 amps at 12 volts DC. Each circuit will have to be fuse-protected, and the gauge wire used will need to match the current draw of the HID light.

Price comparison

Cost varies greatly depending on length of the wire run, type of switches, and current capacity of relays. There is no standard formula. On average, a 12-volt, 30-amp single-pole single-throw relay will cost about $5 to $10. Wiring, labor, and other install materials will vary. The HID lights cost about $300 per lamp.

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