As an electrician working in northern Alberta, Canada who specializes in the installation and maintenance of rental light towers, I’ve seen more than my share of entirely preventable equipment failures.
It’s only been in the last dozen or so years that these trailer mounted light towers have become commonplace in the north’s booming oil and gas industry, and in bitterly cold, daylight starved areas in general.
Initially portable light towers were heralded as a safety and productivity godsend, and rightfully so. In industries that operate 24/7 regardless of weather or light conditions, allowing the rapidly growing number of workers to keep production and security at normal daylight levels in the 16+ hour winter nights was enticing. These relatively inexpensive, small, and supposedly durable machines were bought in huge numbers by both equipment rental companies and end users as demand rapidly increased.
Unfortunately it was soon discovered that there were some serious problems. The general construction materials and methods used when building the towers were found to be lacking in key areas making them both unable to travel the rough roads without damage, or operate reliably in harsh weather conditions with -40 degree temperatures commonplace.
The portable light tower manufacturers had been in business for years in the United States. Understandably, during those years these competing manufacturers had become very competitive with one another on a cost basis. As such, light towers were built with the minimum necessary materials to operate in the mainly urban and comparatively gentle climates found in most of the United States. As a nod to the cold northern climates, the small diesel engines were outfitted with electric block heaters prior to shipping. Engineers who designed the equipment were completely unfamiliar with the harsh conditions that their creations would face in the north and were in for a challenge.
Within a couple of years, equipment purchasers and mechanics were tired of struggling with the myriad of preventable issues. Engines that would freeze up their breather tubes resulting in blown engine seals, leaking radiators, smashed lights, bent frames and chassis, and access doors that wouldn’t open or latch closed were all too commonplace.
Complaints and warranty claims were plentiful and due to the high numbers of portable light towers being sold to businesses operating in the remote higher latitudes, the manufacturers took notice and began to send their engineering teams to gain first hand experience in the operating environment.
Thankfully today’s towers are built to a higher standard and can be had with inside light storage for travel. “Arctic kits” consisting of breather tube heaters, coolant circulating heaters, trickle battery chargers, oil pan heaters, glow plugs, and temperature controlled shutters or covers to help keep the radiator warm are also now standard issue.