Real innovation in airfield lighting depends on listening closely to what technicians need. Lisa Sheelan discusses how Eaton researched for its airport lighting products to deliver durable, high-performance equipment.

‘The customer is always right’ is an often-misused quote. Its original meaning was that merchants should try to stock whatever customers wanted to buy. There is still no better way to find out what one’s customers want than to simply ask the people who will deal closely with the product – and their answers can be surprising.

Eaton’s Crouse-Hinds series took the direct approach when creating the two latest airfield lighting products – produced by Cooper Industries, which Eaton acquired in 2012. Among the technical advances in the new Pro APF AGS-LED airfield guidance sign are two simple, structural changes that were at the top of customers’ priority lists.

"Eaton asked the maintenance personnel who service these items on the airfield what their pain points were," says Lisa Sheelan, associate product line manager at Eaton. "Water is a major pain point, so the company made sure it had an IP66-rated box to house all the electronics and keep them safe. It also made the sign from extruded aluminium so that it’s more durable. It has built a product that was really made to last."

Almost perfect

The sign marks taxi routes and intersections on an airfield, as well as notifying pilots of remaining runway distance. Apart from its durability, it is powered by a universal power supply that incorporates Eaton’s Wavetrac technology to boost energy efficiency. This brings the power factor up to a "near-perfect" 0.99, meaning there is almost no loss of energy between the input electricity and the LED’s output. The platform itself does not consume any extra energy, and it’s designed to be virtually maintenance-free, with a modular design that allows it to be easily swapped.

"When Eaton showed the sign off at Inter Airport Europe 2016, it got a lot of great customer feedback on the look and feel of it," Sheelan says. "The improved performance and the ability to reduce maintenance will continue to be a great attribute for customers."

Eaton has collaborated with Vancouver International Airport on a large installation after it won the project based on the signs’ quality and technical advantages.

One point that comes up again and again in discussions with Eaton’s airfield customers is the need for reliability. Airfield lighting needs to shine consistently to keep everything safely illuminated at all times, so it’s essential that LEDs and power supplies make use of a constant current. The Crouse Hinds Pro Power Essential Constant Current Regulator (CCR) is designed to maintain performance and decrease distortion for steady, efficient and long-lasting lighting, with a ferro-resonant core.

"The Wavetrac Technology improves efficiency on the airfield lowering the load requirements, so it allows for the regulators to be downsized. This means that the PRO APF lights, sign and Pro Power CCR saves the overall energy and power costs for the airport."

The CCRs also feature L-829 advanced monitoring capabilities. Where a standard CCR controls a lighting circuit only in terms of on/off switches and brightness levels, this regulator can detect output currents and voltage, power losses, faulty currents and malfunctioning lamps.

"It provides a better tool for analysis: it provides over-current protection and open-circuit protection," Sheelan says.

Built to last

Along with the ability to monitor the circuit more effectively, the regulators have been designed for physical practicality.

"The L-829 is very well received by customers: it’s something that they’ve desired and asked for in the field," says Sheelan. "The general aesthetics and the durability of the CCR is really what they talk about the most. The design enables them to be stacked in a vault, so when you have a confined space, as many airports do, Eaton can fit more units in that area."

Since the industry-wide switch from incandescent to LED lamps, the technology behind them has continued to evolve. Other internal innovations at Eaton have included the Bluetooth-capable Inset Runway Guard Light, which allows diagnostics and reprogramming on the airfield – relieving technicians from the need to uninstall a malfunctioning light and troubleshoot it.

Cost-effectiveness through energy efficiency is something airport operators at every level can get behind. What may be less apparent is what the staff members on the ground really need to make their job easier: hard-wearing, low-maintenance equipment that will withstand wind and weather, and flag problems when they arise. Suppliers should not assume that these wishlists will trickle their way to upper management. Innovation that truly improves performance relies on thorough end-user research.