Upgrading to LED Boat Lighting in a Practical Manner

One of the most effective ways of improving a boats maintenance, durability, safety and operational costs is through the upgrading of existing lighting equipment to LEDs. Almost any person who spends more than a weekend or two onboard their boat knows quite well just how important effective lighting can be. Everything from operator alertness, to safety, to just plain aesthetic appeal can be directly affected by onboard lighting, and whether that effect is negative or positive depends greatly on the quality of the illumination being provided.

Of all the ways lighting can impact a boats performance, how it affects safety is the most important. Decks and walkways that are well illuminated provide less chance for slips and falls that could cause an injury. Many boats are also outfitted with lines, rigging, fishing gear and equipment that has a tendency to come loose and end up on decks or jutting out into walkway areas. Good illumination allows boaters to more easily move about the decks and avoid the potential hazards such equipment can pose. Good cockpit lighting reduces eyestrain and overall operator fatigue, thus helping to maintain a higher state of alertness. Even more important are the navigation lights, and if they are not up to snuff, it can be difficult for other boaters to see your craft and collisions could occur as a result.

For most older vessels, the onboard lighting installed by the boat manufacturer is of minimal effectiveness. This is not to say it is not “good”, but only that it meets the minimum requirements posed by safety and operating concerns. This lighting usually consists entirely of incandescent bulbs, and in order to better illuminate some areas, manufacturers often simply added more bulbs. Would this improve lighting? Certainly, however, on a boat where available power is limited, it is simply not practical to run a lot of lighting without having to burn excessive amounts of fuel to run generators and replenish onboard batteries.

By now you have probably already heard abut LEDs and how great using them on your boat can be. You’ve also probably heard a few conflicting opinions on just where to use LEDS onboard and just how effective they are. Let’s a take a few moments then to mention a bit about where installing LEDs onboard your boat can be effective and what you can expect from such an installations. First and foremost, modern LED lamps are pretty much capable of being installed just about anywhere a traditional incandescent lamp can. However, for many skeptical boaters who are new to LEDs, it is more sensible to try LEDs in a few select locations first in order to determine for themselves just how effective and practical LEDs really are.

Exterior lighting such as deck, spreader and spotlights onboard a boat are exposed to harsh weather conditions. Outfitting exterior lighting with LEDs is a good place to start your trial of LED lighting because not only does it allow you to gauge an LED lamps’ performance under the most demanding conditions, but exterior lighting is typically easier to access and install as well. When installing LED lighting on deck areas or attaching them to railings or canopy frames, keep in mind that these fixtures are going to be exposed to frequent salt water spray, rain, intense sunlight, and lots of windy conditions. Choose LED fixtures that are rated IP65 or better for wet conditions, and look for lamp housings finished with a tough powder or heavy paint coating. Mounting hardware should be stainless steel as well for added corrosion resistance. Also be certain to utilize waterproof wiring connectors and sealants to avoid any problems with power supply to the fixtures.

Bridge, cockpit and cabin lighting are more locations where trying out a few LEDs before a complete upgrade to LED lighting can be educational. Most boat owners are quite familiar with rationing the use of cabin lighting in order to reduce the drain on power reserves, and LEDs installed in these locations can demonstrate just how effectively you can reduce power consumption while increasing the usefulness of your interior lighting. Imagine being able to illuminate your entire cabin effectively for hours, well enough to read or simply entertain passengers, without the need to frequently run the generator or engine to maintain power levels. Since LEDs can use up to 80% less power than traditional halogen cabin lights, you can operate several LED lamps using the same amount of power it would take to operate one or two halogen lamps.

On the bridge or in the cockpit are still a couple more areas where trying out LEDs can be quite productive. For cockpit and cabin lighting, red colored light is popular due to the prevailing wisdom that red lighting interferes less with the eyes’ natural acclimation to dark conditions. LED lamps are available which natively produce red illumination without the need for lenses or filters, thereby improving efficiency and reliability. Additionally, many interior LED boat light fixtures are designed to allow operators to choose from a variety of colors simply by moving a switch. This means operators can run white, red, blue, green, or any of several other colors inside their cockpit according to their preferences. Yet again, efficiency is a big plus and operators will be able to run their lights far longer, with less power consumption as well.

Navigational lighting is somewhat less ideal for trying out LEDs for a couple of reasons. Navigation lighting is regulated by law and although there are plenty of LED nav lights available that meet all requirements and specifications, it is still possible to run into problems with proper installation, or occasionally even improperly designed lights. If you go this route, make sure the LED nav lights you choose carry Coast Guard approval, and pay close attention to the proper installation of these lights.

For those new to LED lighting, taking a one step at a time approach to trying out LEDs can be a good way to gauge their effectiveness in an objective manner without breaking the bank or any major disappointments. Chances are, if you choose quality fixtures and give some attention to installing the proper lamps in the proper manner, you will realize great improvements in efficiency, safety, costs and the overall reliability of your onboard lighting systems.

A Few Safety Guidelines For Electric Chain Hoists

Electric Chain Hoists are essential material-handling equipment that is widely used lift heavy objects easily and quickly. However, improper use of electric chain hoists can lead to damage and even death. This article tries to outline some of the safety issues concerning electric chain hoists. At the outset, these hoists should always be used in accordance with the applicable safety regulations. Under no circumstances should anyone try to hoist loads over or near people. Therefore, the operational area should be kept clear of people to avoid any untoward mishaps. At the same time, care should be taken that no one should be allowed to work under or near hoisted loads.

The manufacturer will always provide a safety and usage manual for the electric chain hoist. Organize a training session for the proper handling of the hoist. Also, ensure that the individual in charge of operating the hoist has understood and has demonstrated the capacity to operate this device safely and competently. Care also should be taken to ensure that the operator is physically fit. Always ensure that the hoist is fitted with a torque-limiting device for hoist overload protection. It is essential that hoists be tested for overloading prior to shipping. Any good manufacturer will include built in safety features such as upper and lower limit switches and low voltage controls. There should be an emergency stop button in case of an undesirable situation.

Also, allow the hoist to be inspected periodically by authorized personnel. The hoist should be run through the daily mandatory checks before it is handed over for operation. Regarding operational concerns, the operator should also follow some basic steps to ensure proper functioning of the electric chain hoist. He or she should always check that the brake is functional prior to operating the hoist. Also, ensure that the gears are properly lubricated with the right type of oil. Moreover, the hoist should normally not be used in a moist or saline environment. If there is no alternative, then it is a good idea to inform the manufacturer and obtain proper guidelines for the operation of the same.

While using an electric chain hoists, never operate beyond the rated capacities. Typical lifting capacities of these hoists are from around 0.5 tons to 5 tons. They are also available in different speed capacities. This is because chain hoists have to endure a variety of handling procedures. Care should be taken that you do not end up buying hoist that does not meet your desired specifications. The thumb rule is that never violate the safety norms, otherwise you could be held liable for death or damage to your staff or property. Therefore, the key to safe operation is adherence to all the safety parameters along with proper training and guidance of your staff and operational personnel.

Making an Educated Decision on Your Next Automated Plasma Shape Cutting Machine

Whether you are a first time buyer or have existing installations of plasma and/or oxy-fuel shape cutting systems, continuous advancements in technology and a growing landscape of low-cost manufacturers and integrators has clouded the automated plasma shape cutting machinery landscape.

Plasma cutting is the result of introducing an electrical arc through a gas that is blown through a nozzle at high pressure, causing the gas to turn into plasma and producing a focused flame that reaches temperatures of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Automated plasma cutting systems are classified as either conventional or precision (high-definition), based on the characteristics of the cutting flame. Precision plasma systems are capable of producing parts to tighter tolerances, achieving faster cut rates, and producing less kerf and bevel than conventional plasma systems. The cost of these units can also be significantly higher than conventional plasma systems. It is therefore extremely important to properly match the shape cutting machine with the appropriate plasma cutting system.

One of the most common and costly pitfalls buyers encounter is when manufacturers or integrators mismatch machines and power sources. This is often the result of manufacturers not taking the time to understand the buyer’s requirements, having a limited or single-product line of machines, limited OEM access to power sources, and/or a lack of industry/application knowledge. These manufacturers will then often sell with a focus on lowest price instead of lowest cost of ownership, highlighting the strong point of the plasma system or the machine without regard to the limitations of the other. The best precision plasma power source available will not provide users with the desired cut quality and accuracy if it is not mated to an appropriate base machine.

There are many types of plasma shape cutting machines available in the market today. The most common machines are bridge or gantry style machines made from either fabricated steel or extruded aluminum. Construction of the machine is extremely important relative to your application. Machines constructed of extruded aluminum are typically considered to be hobbyist or artisan machines and most appropriate when doing a limited amount of cutting or when cutting light gauge materials. The plasma and oxy-fuel cutting processes create large amounts of heat which is retained in the materials being cut and can cause deflection or warping of aluminum machine components traveling over the hot cutting surfaces, greatly effecting accuracy and cut quality. Fabricated steel machines are highly recommended for any type of continuous cutting process, cutting of plate steel, and where auxiliary oxy-fuel torches may be used. Auxiliary heat shields may also be available to further protect the machine and components from extreme heat conditions.

Cutting machines are available with a variety of drive systems including single-side drive, single-motor dual-side drive, and true two-motor dual-side drive systems. A well constructed single-side drive system or single-motor dual-side drive system will perform extremely well in conventional plasma applications. The benefit of the extra precision offered by two-motor dual-side drive systems will not be realized in conventional plasma applications due to the limitations in the precision of the conventional plasma cutting process itself. Two-motor dual-side drive systems will provide the accuracy and performance required to achieve optimal results from a precision plasma process.

Sizing of the motors and gear boxes relative to the mass of the machine is also extremely important. Undersized motors and gearboxes will not be able to effectively change the direction of the mass of the machine at high traverse and cut speeds, resulting in un-uniform cut quality and washed-out corners. This not only affects the cut quality, but will also lead to premature mechanical failures.

The CNC control is the unit that ties together all of the functionality and features of the machine and plasma source. There are basically two classes of controls used on most of these machines today. Most industrial applications use industrial PC-based control systems such as those produced by Burny or Hypertherm. These units have user-friendly touch screen control panels and are housed in enclosures that can stand up to the harsh environments they operate in. Smaller machines of the hobbyist or artisan types often utilize standard PCs with I/O cards to control the drives and plasma systems. Industrial based controls are highly recommended for any application, are designed for industry specific requirements, are less prone to the typical PC problems, but can be cost prohibitive in smaller applications.

Another important, and often overlooked, feature to consider when selecting a machine is the construction of the rail system. Plasma cutting machines produce and reside in a harsh environment. It is therefore important that the components used in the construction of the rail system be robust enough to exist in this environment. All rail surfaces should be constructed of hardened materials and cleaned frequently so that they do not become pitted and gouged by the splatter of molten steel that will inevitably fall on them. Self-cleaning wheels are also a recommended feature to keep the wheels clean between regular preventive maintenance (PM) cycles. Sizing of the rails should also be robust enough to prevent deflection as the machine travels across them.

The combination of all of the above factors results in the precision and accuracy of a system. Unlike other mechanical machining processes, it is difficult to assign a standard tolerance to plasma cutting processes. Many manufacturers will strongly promote the fact that their machines have positional accuracy of +/-0.007 in. and repeatability of +/-0.002 in.. The fact is that just about any machine on the market can hold tolerances that far exceed the tolerance and capability of the plasma cutting process itself. There are many factors that will influence the cut quality you will achieve on your parts including: the characteristics of the part itself, power settings, consumables, gases used, material type, gauge/thickness of material, part layout on plate, etc.. Ask the manufacturer to provide you with cut samples of your parts or parts that closely approximate the parts you will be cutting, made on a machine/plasma combination that is comparable to what you are looking at. This will give you the most realistic representation of what to expect from a specific machine/plasma combination and the plasma cutting process itself.

Before talking to any cutting machine manufacturer, clearly identify your requirements:

  1. Identify the types of materials will you be cutting with your system (ferrous/non-ferrous, mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, etc.).
  2. Identify the range of material thicknesses you will be cutting.
  3. If you will be cutting a variety of materials and thicknesses, estimate the percentage of each type and identify the primary types and thicknesses.
  4. Determine the size (length, width, and thickness) of plate you will be purchasing in order to properly size the table, effective cutting area, and weight capacity of your new system.
  5. You may also want to look to the future in anticipation of any future types and sizes of materials you may need to process. The upfront cost of anticipating these requirements may be substantially less than upgrading or retrofitting your system in the future.
  6. Identify the tolerances you will need to maintain. This will help determine whether you need a conventional or precision plasma system, as well as the type and construction of the base machine.
  7. Determine how many hours-per-day and days-per-week the machine will be operated. This will determine the type of base machine construction you will need, help estimate the cost of operation, and allow you to compare the cost/benefit of consumables life of various manufacturer’s power supplies.
  8. Determine how you will exhaust your equipment. Water tables do not require exhaust systems, but down-draft tables do. If there is an existing exhaust system in place, identify the capacity of the system in cubic feet per minute (CFM).
  9. Determine if you will need the flexibility to expand the system or add additional plasma and/or oxy-fuel cutting stations in the future. Some machines are capable of only carrying one or two torches, while others can accommodate slave stations for up to a combination of 10 plasma and oxy-fuel torches. Likewise, some machines have fixed cutting areas while others can be extended in length to increase cutting area or accommodate multiple cutting tables.
  10. Define the area in your facility where the machine will be located. Make note of any obstructions, hazards, or access points that will need to be taken into consideration when laying out the new system. Also, identify how your material will be handled in and out of the area (forklift or crane, aisle locations, etc.).
  11. Identify the power you have available, both voltage and amperage.

A reputable manufacturer should ask you for most of this information before making any proposals on a system. If a manufacturer does not have this information, they cannot adequately evaluate your requirements and propose a system that will best work for you and your specific application. Spending the time to identify your requirements up front will not only save you countless hours of frustration resulting from living with the wrong machine, but also save you money by not over- or under-buying a system to meet the requirements of your specific application.