Q&A: Adopting an integrated strategy for fleet lighting

Q&A: Adopting an integrated strategy for fleet lighting

For heavy-duty truck fleet managers aiming to maximize safety, productivity, and profitability while minimizing downtime and the cost of doing business, having an integrated strategy for tractor-trailer lighting is key.

For heavy-duty truck fleet managers aiming to maximize safety, productivity and profitability while minimizing downtime and the cost of doing business, having an integrated strategy for tractor-trailer lighting is key. 

Having such a strategy can minimize costs, downtime, and CSA fines, saving a fleet millions. Kevin Cornelius, global marketing manager for trailer and body builders at Grote Industries, a manufacturer of vehicle lighting and safety systems, answered a few questions about what fleets need to know about lighting. 

Q: What makes a fleet lighting strategy effective? What does this process involve?

Kevin Cornelius: An effective fleet lighting strategy requires more than simply buying a replacement bulb when one burns out. Instead, enhancing the reliability, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the fleet’s lighting involves considering all the relevant concerns—from tractor headlamps to trailer taillights—over the lifetime of the equipment.

A comprehensive lighting strategy should also address the integration of superior technologies. This includes how all the components of the system—such as LED lighting, smart trailer lighting systems, data telemetry, wiring harnesses and power cables—work together.

Many fleets partner with lighting manufacturers for integrated “nose-to-tail” solutions. This can ensure a smooth transition to updated and superior technologies. A single-supplier approach also reduces part costs through bulk purchasing programs, while eliminating the time and labor of managing many suppliers and thousands of part SKUs.

By doing so, fleets are realizing significant savings by minimizing inspection, replacement, labor costs, downtime and CSA fines, while at the same time improving fleet safety and productivity.

Q: How much can a fleet save by effectively integrating LED lighting technology?

KC: Because of the sheer number of total lamps in vehicle fleets, switching to more reliable LEDs from short-lived incandescents is a core aspect of any fleet lighting strategy. With an expected 15-year lifespan of a trailer utilizing quality LED lamps, the savings can amount to millions of dollars over this period, including the cost of repair, replacement and downtime, depending on the size and usage of the fleet.

A quick review of the numbers shows that the hidden costs of using short-lived, incandescent lamps can add up quickly. For example, a basic incandescent stop tail turn lamp may cost $6. However, installation costs about $11.25 ($45/hour for 15 minutes), and downtime about $30 ($60/hour for 30 minutes), for a total of $47.25.

In fact, with incandescent lamps, a 1,000-trailer fleet of long Class 8 trailers would experience about three failures per day, with the costs and penalties ranging between $50 and $300 per inspection. Combined with the average cost to provide, change or repair these bulbs, this would cost about $3 million averaged out over the life of the trailers.

Compare this with an expected 15-year lifespan of the same trailers utilizing quality LED lamps. With no unplanned maintenance or CSA points, the total cost of about $165,000 would save more than $2.8 million over this period.

Q: How do LED tractor-trailer headlights compare with traditional technologies?

KC: When it comes to tractor-trailer headlights, most still are equipped with halogen or high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps. However, switching to LED technology can provide significant advantages.

Because the color of LEDs is closer to that of daylight than the yellowish hue of halogens, the lights appear brighter and can illuminate details of objects in the distance better. They also help a driver see more at the edge of the road, where traditional lamps tend to fade out even on high beam. This improves safety and reduces eye strain since it helps the driver more quickly and easily spot vehicles, pedestrians, signage, road conditions and wildlife to prevent potential collisions and driving errors.

LED headlights can last 30,000 hours, about ten years of service for a commercial over-the-road truck. So, they can also dramatically reduce the risk and cost of unscheduled downtime to service failed headlights. They can also significantly reduce the number of fines and points against the driver and the fleet’s CSA scores if cited by law enforcement.

Although LED replacement kits have been available, some may not be DOT approved. Replacement bulb kits designed to convert halogen lamps to LED must be marked with the DOT symbol.

Because typical cars and over-the-road heavy duty trucks are so different in size, shape, configuration and use, LED headlamps need to be specifically designed for Class 7 and 8 trucks. They should not come from headlamp manufacturers trying to adapt a car design to satisfy truck requirements.

Q: What should I think about when it comes to full trailer lighting integration?

KC: When considering full trailer lighting integration, the complete range of trailer lights should be reviewed. For safety’s sake on the highway, this would include stop/tail/turn lights, rear turn signal lamps, and stop lamps. To further enhance visibility and compliance, it would also include clearance marker lights, license and backup lights.

If the fleet is not ready to switch completely, some lighting manufacturers offer an LED lamp option that looks like an incandescent lamp and connects to the incandescent pigtail. This means less work on trucks and trailers to make the switch, and provides the option of changing out failed incandescent lamps with LEDs to make the conversion gradually.

Q: What about smart lighting systems? How do those work, and how can they help fleets?

KC: Because lighting outages can be so costly, fleet managers are also looking to innovative smart trailer lighting systems that can help to prevent or proactively handle most lighting outage and maintenance issues. For example, one device called the Grote Guardian Smart System can be easily integrated into the trailer’s wiring harness system at the nose box. The system delivers real-time status of the entire trailer lighting system and works with any type of lamp. The system’s sensor continuously monitors voltage and current passing through the wire harness.

The system alerts a driver, maintenance or fleet manager using a smartphone app or it can be connected to the on-board telematics system. All the information on status and any changes are logged in cloud-based storage for data analysis. The same sensors could be used to measure temperature, humidity, pressure or other factors.

In addition, these systems incorporate a geo-fencing feature, which allows a virtual geographic boundary to be drawn around a specific location, such as a facility or repair depot. When the geo-fence is crossed and there is a lamp or light outage, it can be programmed to automatically trigger a warning via e-mail or text message to appropriate personnel. Once the tractor-trailer crosses the established geo-fence, the maintenance manager will immediately be notified. This approach could even allow for automatic electronic ordering of replacement lamps, if desired.

This article was contributed by Grote Industries.

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