Hella: Lighting the way

Introducing technological change into a market can be arduous work, especially if the most fundamental lighting innovation since the discovery of fire is on the line. As a result, those who promote change must often go the extra mile to convince the industry that the old incandescent light bulb is now out-dated; and that LED is the light source of the future. According to Hella’s Martin Reinbach, educating the industry is key during that introductory phase. Not only to convince people that changing to LED can make a measurable difference to the bottom line, but also to point out that if you switch, you need to make sure you choose a product compatible to the failure detection control system used in the truck.

Q: Let’s dive straight in and talk about a common industry issue. Converting to LED will usually lead to rapid flashing – the vehicle’s way to indicate a fault in the circuit. Why is that?
A: LED technology can provide a lot of benefits to the transport industry and has become the retrofit item of choice for transport businesses around the globe. Compared to a globe type lamp, an LED unit will consume significantly less energy, for instance. But there are some technical issues to be considered: Replacing a turn signal bulb with an LED alternative can activate the vehicle’s direction indicator  failure detection light and cause hyper-flashing, for instance. The direction indicator  failure detection light itself is a safety feature regulated by law, but it is also used to call attention to a malfunction of the lighting system.

Q: … which could become a serious safety hazard.
A: Correct – that’s why it is a function required by law. ECE regulation no. 48 states a vehicle must be able to detect and display the failure of the indicator function, because being able to indicate where you are going is an important road safety feature. Failure to indicate or failure to recognise where someone else is heading could cause a serious accident, especially when you’re at the wheel of a heavy articulated vehicle.

Q: Which role does the new ISO code play in that context?
A: The new ISO 13207-1 code was created to standardise the method of detecting LED lamps to allow for a seamless conversion between bulb and LED-equipped trailers. It was formulated and agreed to by Europe’s leading truck manufacturers. LED lighting will be standard equipment on future trucks and trailers and a standardised protocol to monitor the faultless functioning of the LED signal lighting is an important safety feature. In short, it requires the lamp-failure detection of an LED lamp on the towed trailer to be compatible with that for a traditional bulb when analysed by the towing unit – simply to ensure each lamp is being monitored for correct function. To do so, you need to make sure the load is high enough to be recognised by the truck.

Q: How do you achieve ISO 13207-1 compatibility?
A: Some think fitting additional resistive loads in parallel to the LED lamps to simulate the 21 watts consumed by a globe type lamp would be an easy solution, but it would also contravene ECE regulation no. 48 and make the vehicle illegal to operate in countries where this regulation is applicable.
That’s because a pure resistive load solution could mask the possible failure of the actual LED indicator lamp itself by sending the same signal even when the lamp is broken. In that case it would be impossible to detect the malfunction from the truck – not to mention that the solution would virtually eliminate the desired low power advantage of LED lamps.
Hence, we believe the best solution is to fit an intelligent electronic system that is able to provide stable flash rates and recognize every type of lamp to ensure a safe and seamless conversion to LED technology while maintaining full indicator failure detection in the truck.

Q: Please explain.
A: Put simply, the LED indicator generates a precisely timed current pulse; the current of the pulse simulates for a very short duration the current consumed by a conventional 21 Watt bulb. If the LED direction indicator lamp detects an internal malfunction, the timed short pulse is not generated. That’s where the ECU programmed for the ISO 13207-1 or an intelligent flasher is required, to interpret whether the LED direction indicator is functioning correctly of has malfunctioned. Our very own ISO unit does just that.

Q: Why is a standard resistor not enough?
A: As I said, a pure resistive load would normally contravene ECE regulation no. 48 and potentially mask an LED failure and consume a lot of energy, effectively waiving the original energy advantage of an LED. Our ISO-ready equipment can avoid that problem by generating a pulse that simulates the current draw equivalent to an incandescent bulb, allowing the LED lamp to remain a very low power consumer whilst still being recognised similar to a 21-Watt bulb.

Q: Why?
A: New models of future European trucks will incorporate Body Control Modules, which will be based on the new, unified ISO 13207-1 standard. These Body Control Modules will be able to seamlessly monitor trailers equipped with standard bulbs as well as LED indicator lamps that have been specially designed to the new standard. That’s why most Hella lamps readily comply with ISO 13207-1.

Q: All to ensure the truck is able to check all lamps are working correctly.
A: Yes, we need to make sure that every truck and every trailer on the road will be able to exchange such vital safety information. You don’t want to drive a combination where the truck is unable to recognise whether the trailer is fully functional. In fact, astute trailer builders are already planning ahead and installing ISO-ready lamps today, secure in the knowledge that trucks hauling these trailers in the near future will run Body Control Modules compatible with ISO 13207-1.

Q: How did the industry react when you first brought up that issue?
A: The trucking industry is very safety-focused so it was not all too hard to make people listen. But talking about regulations is always a bit of a strain, especially if there is a quick fix like fitting additional resistive loads in parallel. But you need to be persistent and make people aware of the actual issue behind it all. It’s not about finding a quick and easy solution but about making a truck, a truck and trailer combination, or a whole fleet future-proof.

Q: It must have been just as hard to promote LED as an alternative concept to the old light bulb.
A: Yes and no. Today’s technology-savvy market is noted for the speed with which it changes and evolves, and the field of illumination is no different. With a transport world focused on tare weight, return on investment and environmentally friendly performance, LED certainly touched on a raw nerve when we first presented it to Europe’s trailer industry in 2001. But we kept working hard to reverse the notion that LED was a ‘techno trend’ and educated the industry that LED is a highly adaptable concept that is now being adopted all around the world.

Q: And now a new generation is coming to the market to summarise what has been achieved over the years, and reacting to an ISO standard the industry has developed itself.
A: We certainly did summon that spirit, but for a good reason. Our new generation of lamps is able to communicate seamlessly with ISO 13207-1 Body Control Modules as well as LED-compatible flasher units if the vehicle manufacturer does not guarantee indicator globe failure control via the vehicle wiring system. It must have an additional control unit dedicated to indicator malfunction, though. 
That’s important to make sure we’re all safe when traveling on public roads, anywhere in the world. In a way, it’s Hella taking responsibility for the entire automotive lighting industry. If you still use LED lamps based on a pure resistive load solution, please take the time to find out if it will signal a malfunction to the cabin and meet the ECE regulations.

Q: Interestingly, Europe does seem a little more hesitant to change to LED than other countries in the world, like New Zealand.
A: Yes, Germany is a very demanding market and very price conscious as well. After we launched the first LED generation in 2001, we went back to the drawing board in 2010 and developed a more ‘conventional’ but also flexible solution based on a screwed lens covering individual modules that form the rear light, named EasyConn Next Generation. All modules are suitable for both left and right use and can be combined as required. Adaptability became the core quest.

Q: What was the idea behind that approach?
A: We realised that trailer manufacturers and fleets alike were still in a transition phase, so the idea was to simplify the conversion to LED by adjusting the system to the service routine people were already used to. In addition, using variable modules is a good way to reduce complexity and stock inventory. But the real advantage is the system’s interchangeability. You can exchange each module for a traditional globe light or vice versa and you can even run a combination of both and still use the same base and lens. That’ll help getting used the LED idea.

Q: So it’s only a matter of time until Europe’s heartland will make the move to LED lighting?
A: Yes, we are convinced LED technology is the future because the value proposition behind it is ironclad. The lifetime of light emitting diodes is measured in tens of thousands of hours; they are rugged, yet classified as environmentally friendly; and their compact size allows a high flexibility in controlling the light with secondary optics. A classic light bulb-based lamp, although still available, cannot compete. And, our ISO 13207-1 is just the next logical step.

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