Cool Tools: Work Area Portable Lighting

By Jeff Griffin | Dec 15, 2018




Self-contained portable light towers are widely used on commercial projects for outside construction at night and inside large structures before power is available. Light towers that are easy to transport and set up are essential in emergencies to permit crews to restore power, communications and other essential services.

Today, the range of portable lighting goes from compact, battery-powered light stands to larger, towable models with onboard generators and compact engines to power them, as well as an increasing number of balloon-bag lighting systems.

Portable light towers are widely available for rent, making it possible for contractors to limit the investment and maintenance of inventory-owned equipment and rent temporary lighting when needed. As in most types of lighting, LEDs are taking a growing share of the portable light lighting market.

“LED has made an impact in the light tower market and for Terex and Genie branded light towers,” said Josh Taylor, Genie product manager for Terex AWP. “LED is a major development in this type of equipment. LED light provides a more natural looking light that reduces glare and avoids harsh lighting tones. LED lighting gives users clear, useable light with an instant-on/off capability, which means that the lights come on at 100 percent brightness almost instantly. In addition, LED lights can be turned off quickly and cool immediately.”

Terex and Genie light tower vertical mast design dramatically cuts setup time by using only one, self-braking winch for fast, easy tower erection and extension. The units are easily towable behind a pickup truck equipped with a standard hitch.

Generac MLT6SMD portable LED light tower

“Vertical mast design also means these units can be stowed with the mast on top of the unit, rather than hanging over the end, which reduces the potential that the unit will be damaged in transit,” Taylor said. “IP-68-rated LED panels eliminate the inconvenience of broken bulbs while towing the unit. These design features increase utilization from rental to rental and lower the total cost of ownership.”

Terex and Genie light towers have a compact footprint that allows transporting as many as 17 units on a 48-foot trailer.

“Today’s Terex RL4 LED light towers are powerful enough to run as many as three units at one time from a single engine and two additional units on standby, as well as tools and accessories,” Taylor said. “And, they can be plugged into a standard wall outlet to run off the power grid for completely emissions-free operation. Another new option is gas-powered models powered by a Champion inverter, which features an innovative 3.5-kW gas-powered engine/generator inverter design.”

With a fuel-efficient engine, users can get up to 80 hours of run time per 20-gallon fuel tank. It is EPA/CARB compliant and has wireless start capabilities.

“These units are quiet with 58 dBA under full load at 23 feet, making them ideal for use in urban areas and other noise-sensitive work environments,” Taylor said.

Multiquip portable balloon light

Generac offers a wide variety of mobile light products including metal halide or more advanced LED lighting capable of lighting any work site, said Michael Goche, Generac product management director. Other power options include a range of fuel-efficient diesel engines and models that can plug into a diesel light tower to expand the areas that can be economically lighted.

All models offer external power connection to operate additional job site tools, saving the need to have a separate power generator on-site.

“For inside work, electricians prefer the plug-in PLT240 model, since it is small enough to pass through a standard doorway, yet delivers LED lighting output similar to our larger models,” Goche said. “For outdoor work, the MLT6SMD is very popular because it offers a fuel-efficient, two-speed engine and clean export power for running sensitive electrical products used on job sites.”

Most customers today understand the value that LED lighting offers, such as more natural light color, reduced power requirements, and lower maintenance costs.

“LED technology has provided us the ability to control light output offering more punch (forward projection) and spread (width of light projection) to light up any work site,” Goche said. “All of our products provide light module adjustments without tools, two-handed mast cranks, easy service access, and rugged construction to provide years of trouble-free use.”

Portability is important for both towing behind a vehicle to the job site and ease of movement once it is there.

Honda portable work light

“Our development team works hard to optimize designs so that both these operations can be performed safely and easily,” Goche said. “Our small model was specifically designed to pass through a standard doorway for use indoors and has slide-out ‘wheelbarrow’ handles and a compact vertical mast.”

Bruce Coleman, product manager, Multiquip, believes the most preferred portable lighting solution for electricians is a portable, stand-mounted, diffused balloon bag LED lighting system.

“For workplace safety and to support operational efficiency, portable high-lumen output LED lighting has become the overwhelming choice of professional craftsmen,” Coleman said. “Advances in balloon bag diffused lighting systems permit powerful, clean light projection with the benefits of low power requirements, aerospace-like quality components, immediate strike/re-strike ability, and clear shadowless light projection. Additionally, these systems tend to be highly compact and mobile with setup time taking less than several minutes.”

Coleman said balloon bag LED lighting systems commonly operate on 115 volts AC power and can be connected to portable generators for job application flexibility. Many provide foot-candle performance often required by OSHA and other regulatory agencies. With minimal power requirements and extremely low heat signatures, balloon bag LED lighting systems provide a safe lighting platform wherever they are employed. Also, dimming position switches can dial in optimum lighting performance when operating in confining indoor spaces.

In addition to balloon lighting systems, Multiquip offers portable, cart-mounted, nondiffused LED and metal halide projection lighting systems.

David J. Bush, senior marketing strategist at American Honda, said portable lighting kits for construction range from metal halide, halogen, HMI and, now, the latest in LED technology. Ease of setup, coupled with multiple accessory options such as stands, pole mounts and vehicle mounts allow these light configurations to be adaptable for any situation. Examples include mounting to a light tower, lighting a flagger station or mounting to paving and excavating equipment.

“Electricians typically specify lighting systems based on the actual square footage that needs to be illuminated,” Bush said. “For example, Honda offers lighting kits that can illuminate areas as small as 3,000 square feet and as large as 24,000 square feet. The application and duration of the project will determine the specifics and the quality of lighting needed.”

Other questions for consideration for selecting lighting are: Will the unit remain in one place of does it need to be portable? How is equipment to be transported? What types of traffic are at the site? With budgets and time frames in mind, should LED be considered? Also, depending on all of the above factors, how much generator power is needed?

LED technology definitely is making an impact on this market.

“Overall, the introduction of LED technology has added value to the development of the equipment,” Bush said. “LEDs offer longer lifespans with no lengthy warm-up or cool-down required as well as power and energy savings over the long run for a variety of applications. At the same time, advancements in generator technology—such as inverter types for quieter, smoother power—fuel-efficiency and ease of use, maintenance and durability have increased the utilization and popularity of lighting systems. Portable lighting systems offer additional options and accessories for different applications, such as self-inflating balloons and mobile autonomous systems combining cart, balloon and mast.”

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





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