Ford engineers subject LED headlamps to extreme heat and saltwater baths, and pummel with rocks, rock salt and ice to prove lamp toughness
DEARBORN, MI--March 18, 2014: When the assignment is to reinvent the Ford F-150 while maintaining its heritage of being Built Ford Tough, even the headlamps matter.
Until now, headlamps often needed to be replaced long before the end of a vehicle’s life. For the all-new 2015 Ford F-150, Ford wanted durable headlamps that would last as long, or longer, than the truck. Ford lighting expert John Teodecki and his team found the answer in technology they believe could change truck lighting forever – light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.
No other light-duty pickup truck on the road today has LED headlamps. LED lamps use 63 percent less energy than the halogen bulbs seen in competitor trucks, and the light quality and aesthetics of the technology are superior, Teodecki explained. Most important, the LED headlamps in the new F-150 are more durable than conventional lights, and are made to last more than five times longer.
“Stand on it,” Teodecki said, perched atop an 11-pound F-150 headlamp unit. “This lens just won’t break. We fire stones at it, expose it to extreme sun, soak it in saltwater, shoot rocks, rock salt and ice – this thing is very tough to crack.”
LED is the fastest-growing segment in lighting technology, according to trade magazine LED Inside. Applications include smartphones, tablets,computers,TVs, luxury sedans, industrial, commercial and outdoor lighting. Even supermarkets incorporate LED lighting to make produce look fresher.
What sets F-150 LED technology apart is how the headlamps are made, and how superior they are from what the industry has traditionally used. To develop this cutting-edge headlamp technology, Ford leveraged the expertise of its longtime lighting developers OSRAM and Flex-N-Gate. The program is creating more than 30 jobs at the OSRAM Hillsboro, N.H. facility.
Halogen bulbs have been in use for most vehicle applications for years. The design is similar to standard household light bulbs. Thin filaments inside the bulb last for about 40,000 miles before needing to be replaced. Extreme temperatures and vibration from washboard roads can shorten the life of halogen filaments even further.
The next step up from halogen is high-intensity discharge headlamps. HID light illuminates the road more uniformly than halogen bulbs. Ford offers this type of lighting on many of its vehicles, including the current model F-150.
With the LED lighting system available for the new F-150, Ford lighting experts had more freedom with the lamp design, because LEDs are smaller than typical headlamps and are easier to package.
The new Ford F-150 LED headlamp unit uses semiconductor chips to control the light. The technology is much simpler than halogen or HID, which helps make LED lights more durable and therefore longer-lasting.
Ford designers created a unique lens for the F-150 LED headlamp with special machines that carve out 16 precision optical surfaces and 80 facets on the lens face to spread the light evenly. The innovative design magnifies the light, allowing Ford to better illuminate the road for the new F-150 driver using just a single LED per lamp.
Teodecki, a University of Michigan graduate with 29 years’ experience in automotive lighting, puts on a white glove to handle the fine lens – much like a jewelry expert would before showcasing an expensive ring or pendant.
“We don’t want to get fingerprints on the surface, because that would change the lens’ ability to spread the light evenly,” Teodecki said.
The crowning touch for the lighting on the all-new F-150 is another first for the auto industry. Ford designers outlined the LED headlamp with a thin LED tube to create a signature appearance for the new truck that can be spotted from great distances at night.
“Remember the craze in the 1980s with truck light bars?” Teodecki said. “It looks so cool. I’m telling you, this LED light tube is going to be the next big thing. Our new F-150 owners will be longing for dusk every day, just to show off their trucks in dramatic lighting.”