For years, electricians carried a basic flashlight. While most people in the trade still use them, flashlights are nothing like they were even two years ago.
First, the latest flashlights use LEDs. Many other compact personal task light options are available—including spot and flood lights, headlamps and freestanding task lights—all using LEDs and often powered by lithium-ion batteries. The LED/lithium-ion combination provides reliable, durable lighting in compact packages.
How big of an impact have LEDs made in the personal lighting market?
“There is a significant number of halogen and incandescent lighting still in the market, especially in extremely high output, large outdoor lights,” said Ben Cabot, product manager, Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis. “But within personal, task and area lights, you are seeing those quickly become LED-based, and they have become a majority of the market offering.”
Charlie Chiappetta, product manager—tools, Bosch, Mount Prospect, Ill., said the percentage of LED lights in the workplace is hard to determine, but the trend toward LEDs will continue.
“Bosch is only designing new products using LEDs and has been for some time now,” he said. “LEDs for portable lighting are increasing every year and will continue to with the advancement of lithium-ion battery technology.”
Lithium-ion batteries provide the sustainable power that lighting users need, while advancements in LEDs provide bright light at lower power draws. This combination enables the exponential advancement of the portable lighting market.
“Improvements in lithium-ion battery technology have allowed for higher powered LEDs to be more common on job sites,” Chiappetta said. “There also are industrial design elements that allow light to reflect in different ways, producing everything from narrow beams to wide areas with the same LEDs. The lighting category is continually innovating in ways that were thought to be impossible.”
Bosch makes several types of task lighting, including compact flood lights and stick lights on both 12- and 18-volt platforms.
DeWalt, Baltimore, is 100 percent committed to LEDs in its portable lighting category, said Sean Fitzgibbons, product manager—systems and expansion categories.
“There are two distinct measures for lighting,” Fitzgibbons said. “The total amount of light [luminous flux] produced, measured in lumens, is impacted by the type and power consumption of the bulb or bulbs. And, second, the intensity of light, measured in candela, which is a function of the beam angle. This is determined by physical elements of luminaire design, i.e., reflector shape.
“LEDs provide an optimal mix of performance, durability and reliability. We still encounter many other bulb types on job sites, such as incandescent, halogen and [compact fluorescent], but these types of lights are less durable, less reliable, and can generate hazardous amounts of heat. Their reduced efficiency contributes to higher energy costs and bulb replacement costs in the long-term due to their shorter life span. LEDs certainly have enabled portable lighting products to reduce in size while improving in overall performance,” he said.
Fitzgibbons believes lithium-ion batteries and LEDs go hand in hand. The improved performance of lithium batteries supports DeWalt’s range of cordless lighting.
“The efficiency of LEDs and lithium-ion enables cordless lighting products to meet or exceed the performance of corded lights with other bulb types,” he said. “Lithium-ion batteries allow lights to stay brighter, longer compared to NiCd batteries.”
DeWalt offers handheld task and spot lights, freestanding task lights, flashlights and headlamps.
Due to the sharp increase in the use of LEDs, cost has dropped and performance has improved, so more lighting brands are introducing new LED-based offerings.
Cabot said two elements affect the intensity and type of light emitted by LEDs. One is the efficiency of the electronic components used in LEDs to maximize output and runtime. However, the biggest factor is the use of reflectors and optics, which direct and distribute the light coming from the LED. Depending on the intended use of the light, some have large, expansive light beams typically using a reflector, while some lights have very tight, intense beams for targeted, bright and often long-distance illumination. These beams may require a reflector or optic. Each manufacturer offers varying light beam patterns, depending on the intended use of the light.
“LEDs are very efficient, run cooler and are small in size,” Cabot said. “When combined with lithium-ion batteries, LEDs use the power stored inside the batteries most efficiently to deliver maximum runtime capabilities. With the small size and cooler operation of LEDs, we can group several LEDs together to achieve higher outputs in a more compact solution than what was possible before. Lithium-ion batteries give us the best energy-to-size ratio possible to deliver high performance in a compact size.
“The output of LED systems has increased exponentially, all while becoming more efficient. This factor, along with our lithium-ion battery technology, has allowed us to overhaul categories of job-site lighting that have been previously hindered due to old technology, and it has led to the company becoming the largest provider of cordless LED job-site lighting available. And, because of their unmatched performance and durability, these LED battery-powered lights can truly simplify the temporary lighting process by cutting down on the costs of constantly replacing flimsy halogen, incandescent and metal halide options,” he said.
Lithium-ion batteries have affected portable lighting products in two major ways.
“First is with their performance,” Cabot said. “Unlike NiCd batteries, lithium-ion, combined with LEDs, can deliver runtimes that allow users to cut the cord while matching or exceeding the outputs of today’s corded tools. Next, lithium-ion’s size has allowed manufacturers to deliver high performance and rechargeability in a compact product. Compact lithium-ion batteries give users rechargeable convenience and performance where maintaining a small size is critical.”
An additional benefit of cordless lighting is elimination of the need for extension cords, which reduces the number of on-the-job trip hazards that cords create, Cabot said. In addition, safety features integrated into corded products include battery backup for AC/DC tools that automatically switch the light to DC power during a power outage.
Milwaukee Tool recently introduced a new family of personal lighting products that includes several options particularly well-suited to structured wiring technicians.
“Flashlights remain the go-to light for looking into dark spaces to locate the origins and paths for wiring,” Cabot said. “Once the user is ready to perform the work, lights like headlamps and flood lights are very helpful.”
Because work in commercial systems often is done overhead, headlamps provide users the ability to position light where it is most needed. Also, it is hands-free, providing users the ability to direct light where it’s needed without compromising work performance.
“Pocket flood lights are useful for task lighting, especially for applications around electrical panels or HVAC equipment,” Cabot said. “Our USB rechargeable pocket flood model is designed with a dual magnet clip that helps it stick, clip and be carried practically anywhere.”