Nov. 10, 2008 – Lighting technology improves

A lighting system developed in the medical industry has been released to recreational markets this year, including ATVs and off-road motorcycles. The system from Solarc NGX allows riders to see clearer down trails due to a more spotlight effect compared to traditional halogen lights.
Available for about $100 more than an average halogen light, the system is available from Trail Tech, a distributor based in Battle Ground, Wash.
“If you put the (halogen and Solarc NGX lights) side by side or put them in addition to the stock lighting on these off-road vehicles, the performance speaks for itself,” said Travis Chambers, R&D Mechanical Engineer of Trail Tech.
Lighting is 30-40 percent of Trail Tech’s business, Chambers notes. The distributor has had a long-standing relationship with Solarc lighting since it hit recreational markets.
The high-performance technology stems from another industry as Welch Allyn Lighting Products, manufacturer of Solarc NGX, originally made Solarc lights exclusively for the medical field.
Doug Rutand, marketing manager for Solarc, says as Welch Allyn developed the technology and it became more inexpensive, the company expanded into more recreational markets.
“This technology finds its roots in medical equipment back to 1994,” he said. “At that time it was very expensive. You’d have to pay $100s for a lamp and $100s for a ballast. Over the last decade, we’ve refined the product, expanded the wattages and got the cost down so we could get it into more consumer-oriented markets.”
Solarc lighting is a class of high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting, and it has been around for more than a decade. The recreational lighting, however, has only been around for about five years, and the latest Solarc NGX version came out just this year. Tiffany Moon, associate marketing director of Solarc, said the NGX version is the next generation.
“We took a lot of feedback from previous solar technologies, made changes and made the application more efficient, rugged, etc.”
There are two versions of the Solarc NGX light. There’s a 10-watt version, which can be placed on riders’ helmets for a headlamp, and there’s a 24-watt version that can be mounted to the vehicle.
The combination of the amount of lumens per watt and the ballast, which regulates the lamp power, is what gives the light its intensity. “With NGX, the ballast is much more efficient than the prior version,” Rutand said. “When you couple both the lamp efficiency improvement and ballast efficiency improvement, it’s about 70 percent total efficiency improvement. That’s very dramatic. It’s a lot more light for the same amount of energy consumption.”
Along with the additional light, Solarc NGX is more focused than other lights, adds Rutand.
“What’s technically important for light is the size of the light source itself,” he said. “We differentiate ourselves on a very small arc size. It’s a very, very small, almost point of light. This tiny point of light determines how efficient it is optically. That’s what essentially differentiates us from other HID technologies.
“We have miniaturized the light source to a point that makes it highly efficient for lighting up a pathway. The other light sources out there that produce the same amount of light can’t be focused as efficiently as our light. Riders can see clearer as the light is more precise and controlled.”
The more advanced technology comes with a higher price tag than standard halogen lights, but both Rutand and Chambers say the performance justifies it.
“It’s a more expensive technology fundamentally but they get dramatically better performance,” said Rutand. “Over halogen lighting, it produces at three times the brightness for the punch down the trail.”
As the daylight hours become fewer, Chambers says the extra light after dark is crucial. This is Trail Tech’s busiest time of year because riders want to have as much riding time as possible.
“Users who are familiar with the products actually plan to continue riding after it’s dark because for once they have light to actually be able to see,” he said.
Trail Tech sells a combination of both the headlamps and lights on the vehicles, says Chambers.
“We have a core network of very good dealers that are familiar with our products and know how to sell them really well,” he said. “That’s closely followed by the strong network of enthusiasts who are buying directly (from Trail Tech’s Web site).”

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