Illuminating Light Tower Maintenance

Sometimes a contractor’s projects don’t follow a typical 9-to-5 schedule. When work spills over into the evening, a crew needs the right equipment — such as light towers — to stay productive and meet deadlines.

Built with a standard 30-ft mast, these sturdy machines lend a hand in illuminating construction sites, mining locales, disaster and emergency resIlluminating Light Tower Maintenanceponse areas and special events when a little extra light is needed for work to continue. 

“A lot of times night work is performed to avoid disrupting traffic, so light towers play a big role in allowing crews to work safely into the evening,” says Deree Bivins, product marketing manager of lighting systems for Doosan Portable Power. “Aside from night work, light towers can assist in illuminating a jobsite that may be under a bridge or some other cover that could block out the light.”

Offered by manufacturers such as Allmand Bros., Doosan Portable Power, Chicago Pneumatic, Terex, Wacker Neuson, Multiquip and Magnum, light towers provide versatility to a jobsite thanks to their portability, power output and plethora of options. When the time comes to purchase a light tower, it’s important to determine what applications the equipment will be expected to perform. If the tower will be towed and used on rugged sites, it’s imperative to look for one that has a robust and stable design.

Another factor in finding the right tower is the light output that’s needed to illuminate a site. The amount of ground coverage that’s lit by a tower is commonly measured in foot-candles. Since an adequate amount of light helps to ensure a safe and productive jobsite, the Illumination Engineering Society (IES) requires that a general construction site have at least 10 foot-candles of illumination.

Eric Massinon, product manager for Portable Energy at Chicago Pneumatic Construction Equipment, mentions that potential buyers should also consider a light tower’s auxiliary power. Along with its standard lighting duties, a tower may also be used to power some smaller tools and equipment throughout the workday. This power level is rated by kVA. Most standard light towers supply 6 kVA, however, some manufacturers offer higher outputs from 8 to 20 kVA.

On top of the main considerations mentioned, buyers should look at other options such as additional power output, additional lights, various tow hitch options and electric and hydraulic winches. An auto start and stop feature is also a popular option for light towers. This feature utilizes photo cell technology to turn lights on at night and off in the morning or at other times designated by owners. “Green” technologies or energy-saving features are also gaining steam. Some light tower manufacturers offer LED models, as well as solar-powered units. Bivins points out that bulb manufacturers are continuously working on energy-efficient options for towers as well.

If a new light tower isn’t in a buyer’s budget or only needed here or there, buying used or renting is a possibility. However, both Bivins and Massinon point out there are drawbacks with the first option.

“Light towers typically do have a second life, so there’s always an option to purchase used or to rent,” says Bivins. “Of course, your advantage there is a lower price and the disadvantage is the lack of warranty.”

“[With buying used], you don’t always know how the unit was serviced or the amount of useful life left in the unit,” adds Massinon.

Speaking of service, maintenance schedules should be adapted to the operating environment of each individual unit. If the light tower is operating on a construction site in dusty, dirty or other harsh conditions, the unit should be serviced more frequently. If operating in an event environment or used infrequently, the unit may not need to be serviced as often. Operators and maintenance technicians should always consult the light tower’s operating manual to know when systems need to be inspected. Before attempting any repair or maintenance to the light tower, disconnect the engine battery cables and all electrical leads to avoid an unauthorized start or the possibility of severe personal injury or damage to the equipment.

Day-to-Day Maintenance Routines

Checking the machine daily is the best way to prevent any damage in the future. Daily preventive checks should take place before operation start-up each day. If the machine isn’t being used every day, these maintenance checks should be done before each use. Give the light tower a walk-around visual inspection to ensure the machine has not been moved, tampered with or obviously damaged since its last use. Look for: loose wire routing clamps; evidence of arcing around electrical terminals; frayed or loose fan belts, hoses and wiring insulation; and obstructions in the air vents.

Check under and within the machine for any obvious fluid leaks. If all looks in order, engine oil, coolant and fuel levels should be checked and filled to amounts adequate for the job at hand. Any water in the fuel filter/water separator unit should be drained. Once all fluids are level, see that clearance above the machine is clear of all electrical wires. Remove the mast lock pin and inspect cables for any kinks, wear or fraying. Do not use the tower if any damage is seen. If all is clear, reinsert the lock pin and place it in the lock position.

Erect the mast carefully, stopping if anything sounds or looks out of place. When complete, lock and position the lights. Once the light tower engine is running, turn the lights on one by one. Turning lights on and off individually alleviates a stress or heavy load put on the generator. After turning off each of the lights, let the engine run for another minute without the lights on to “cool” the engine before shutting it off. Doing so can extend the life of the machine. At the end of each day, clean any oil and dirt accumulated during operation from the light tower unit, as well as refill the fuel tank. Keeping a full fuel tank minimizes water and condensation, and it also prevents bacteria from growing in the tank. After lowering the mast of the light tower, make sure cables have slight tension on them to prevent fraying, wear and other damage to the cables during transportation.

The air cleaner provides maximum protection against any airborne dust, which can cause a condition called dusting. It only takes one teaspoon of dust to destroy a diesel engine. To prevent damage, the air cleaner’s pre-cleaner dirt dump valve should be checked on a weekly basis. The best way to ensure that the valve isn’t clogged is simply to squeeze it. If it is clogged or the filter needs to be replaced, these steps should be taken to service the air cleaner: 1) remove the filter element; 2) inspect the air cleaner housing for any condition that might cause a leak; 3) wipe the inside of the air cleaner housing with a clean, damp cloth to remove accumulated dirt to improve the seal for the filter gasket; and 4) install the new filter element.

Along with servicing the air cleaner, inspect the tire condition and air pressure on a weekly basis. Tires that have cuts, cracks or worn tread should be repaired or replaced before moving and using the light tower. Battery connections should also be inspected for tight, clean connections, as well as corrosion. When work calls a crew to stay late, a light tower can keep workers productive and safe well in to the night. By examining a buyer’s needs, applications and the different features and options that are out there, the right light tower is there just waiting to shine.

Pam Kleineke is a contributing editor to Compact Equipment, based in Brecksville, Ohio. 

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