Wipac lights il­lu­mi­nated

Jerry Thurston spends an il­lu­mi­nat­ing day with ex­perts spe­cial­is­ing in pres­tige ve­hi­cle light­ing

LRO (UK) - - Contents -

Jerry Thurston finds ex­actly how these bril­liant lamps are tested and de­vel­oped

e are in­side a plain­look­ing works unit on a Buck­ing­hamshire trad­ing es­tate. It’s pitch black apart from a thin lu­mi­nes­cent blue line across the floor and the glow from a com­puter screen that il­lu­mi­nates the faces of the tech­ni­cians who work here at ex­te­rior ve­hi­cle light­ing spe­cial­ist Wipac – which has given LRO an ac­cess-all-ar­eas pass for the day.

At a given sig­nal a switch is thrown and a bril­liant beam of white light hits the far wall, pro­jected from a test rig set at De­fender light height. It cer­tainly looks im­pres­sive – but just how great the dif­fer­ence is be­tween this and what we’re used to is re­vealed when the guys flick be­tween the Wipac LED unit and the stan­dard seven-inch halo­gen head­lamp

that many of us use. It’s like com­par­ing a 1934 black and white movie and the lat­est big-screen, high-res­o­lu­tion block­buster – one fuzzy and muf­fled, the other sharp and zingy. That’s not un­ex­pected, of course – it’s how high- and low-tech com­pare. Ques­tion is, when com­pared with the Wipac unit, how does an­other, cheaper LED lamp com­pare?

I spring a bit of a sur­prise on my hosts. From the back seat of the LRO De­fender I pro­duce a com­monly avail­able bud­get-priced LED head­lamp. Okay, this is the least ex­pen­sive op­tion, but I’m in­ter­ested to find out if you re­ally do get what you pay for – so can we com­pare them, please?

Craig By­rom con­fi­dently wires my cheapie into the rig and switches it on. It looks okay to me – bright enough and sim­i­lar in pat­tern. But af­ter the guys have switched be­tween the two beams a cou­ple of times, I no­tice the dif­fer­ences. I don’t need re­course to the high­tech mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment to see how the beam is less de­fined and more scat­tered. The ex­perts’ keen eyes are pick­ing out more sub­tle weak­nesses: ’See the shadow ar­eas here and here? Now com­pare it with ours.’ They flick it across… Ah, no shad­ows. ‘Ours is sharper over­all and doesn’t zing off to the side ei­ther.

‘It’s brighter too,’ they pro­claim. ‘You’ll not see it on the back­ground, be­cause it’s a fi­nite dis­tance away. It all just looks bright and white, but look at the im­age on the com­puter, it’s eas­ier to see from that.’

The lighter the colours, the brighter the light, they ex­plain. The im­age shows the beam pat­tern and in­ten­sity, look­ing like elon­gated ovals on their sides, on top of one an­other; bright yel­low in the cen­tre, turn­ing to pur­ple as they spread out across the screen. It’s easy to see that the Wipac light has lighter colours, so it’s a lot brighter. But by how much? Some key­board prod­ding fol­lows: ‘We are at about 45,000 can­dela [one can­dela be­ing the power of one wax can­dle] as op­posed to about 25,000 can­dela for the other.’

De­fender head­lamps

I ask about the e-mark that you see stamped on ve­hi­cle lamps. ‘Es­sen­tially, it’s a stan­dard that al­lows us to pro­duce a com­po­nent – in this case your De­fender head­lamp unit,’ I’m told. There are dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tions for North Amer­ica and Canada but the e-mark means the unit is ac­cept­able for use all over the Euro­pean Union. E11 is the mark for the UK, but all mem­ber states have a dif­fer­ent one: E4 de­notes the Nether­lands, for ex­am­ple.

The spec­i­fi­ca­tion the units need to meet is tough and you can’t self-cer­tify – they have to be tested in­de­pen­dently. The testers look for things like the way the power of the beam is dis­trib­uted – you don’t want a huge amount of light high up in the pat­tern be­cause it will daz­zle on­com­ing traf­fic. That’s just one of many dif­fer­ent things they will as­sess.

To pass and get the e-mark a light has to com­ply with all of these. It’s a guar­an­tee of qual­ity and per­for­mance, if you like, although like ex­ams you can just scrape through or get full marks and both will get the cov­eted E11.

The mak­ing of a head­lamp

I’m keen to find out how you ac­tu­ally make a head­lamp – and my guides are happy to oblige by show­ing me around the pro­duc­tion plant, which makes orig­i­nal-equip­ment lights for such pres­tige mar­ques as Lam­borgh­ini. Af­ter­mar­ket lights are made in a dif­fer­ent plant, but it’s much the same process.

What hap­pens is that mas­sive, eight-ton mould­ing tools squeeze out molten plas­tics to form the bod­ies and lenses. Plat­ing, if re­quired, is zapped on with great pre­ci­sion and the sub-units are then as­sem­bled into the fin­ished light units.

Clean­li­ness is the watch­word here, with white-coated work­ers work­ing in ul­traspot­less rooms. No, sorry, we can’t go in

– we’re far too dirty! But we do know what goes on in these rar­efied sur­round­ings: the com­pany’s pro­duc­tion ex­perts insert the LEDS and in­ter­nal lenses, then as­sem­ble the wiring be­fore the units are heat-bonded to­gether. Af­ter a strict qual­ity con­trol in­spec­tion, the lights are shipped to the cus­tomer.

How can we be sure that LED lamps for which we have just forked out more than £400 can cope with the worst that a de­ter­mined driver Land Rover driver can dish out?

An­other works unit con­tains the an­swer to that one. It’s part of Wipac’s test fa­cil­i­ties – and on the day of our visit, light­ing units des­tined for the next gen­er­a­tion of £200k-plus ve­hi­cles were be­ing tested.

Vi­bra­tion like noth­ing else

And I mean tested. A hun­dred per cent hu­mid­ity at 40ºc; salt spray; baked at 80ºc for a few months; vi­bra­tion like you’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore… The mo­tor that dishes out this pun­ish­ment weighs more than a tonne and the rig is hugely over-en­gi­neered.

But my favourite bit of kit is a com­bined oven and freezer that takes a lamp on an eight-sec­ond jour­ney from 101ºc to mi­nus 41ºc and back again, over and over again. Baked, fried, drowned, knocked about – if the pro­to­types sur­vive this tor­ture cham­ber for a few months they’ll be all right for many years on the front or back of a hy­per­car.

Af­ter see­ing what Wipac ex­pects its lamps for road cars to en­dure, we can be pretty cer­tain that the far more ro­bust-look­ing units des­tined for our Land Rovers will be all light on the night.

Wipac tech­ni­cians en­sure pre-test set­tings are as they should be

No mat­ter where you look, you’ll see a test rig

High elec­tri­cal cur­rent is used to coat parts with a metal layer

LEDS and in­ner lenses as­sem­bled in eat-your­dinner-off-it spot­less­ness

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