PIAA: seeing the difference
PIAA is one of those venerable Japanese companies that have been around for ages.
As early as I can remember, even in my teen years when I was starting to get into cars, PIAA products had always been expensive, beyond the reach of most average enthusiasts.
Times have changed though, and now PIAA strives to be the world’s premiere Japanese aftermarket and replacement company for lighting, wipers and car horns, and almost all other things.
PIAA brands itself as a “visibility” company: it aims to produce products that provide unsurpassed visibility for users in terms of lighting and wiper technology, as well as allowing other motorists and pedestrians to be made aware of your presence by way of horns.
So after our Tokyo Auto Salon shenanigan with friends, we travelled to Gunma, about an hour’s drive from downtown Tokyo, to check out the PIAA Studio.
It’s an industrial building where majority PIAA’s products are tested.
The studio’s lobby greeted us with a collection of many PIAA lighting and wiper models, from its founding in 1963, to today, 55 years on this year.
A large array of gondola and shelf displays later gave us an idea of the vast array of products PIAA sells in many stores worldwide.
Particularly in Japan, PIAA can be found in automotive retail accessory chain stores like Super Autobacs, Ken’s Garage and Up Garage.
The science of displays and promo-dizing has changed the game for automotive spares and parts retail, much as it for fast moving consumer goods and fashion products.
PIAA arranges their products at the studio to give stores an idea of how they want their items displayed.
Finally, we came to the first test lab, a real torture-testing environment. This is what separates PIAA from its competitors worldwide.
Inside the lab were ovens designed to simulate hot engine bays and environments.
A variety of PIAA auxiliary lighting equipment (fog lamps, LED light bars, wipers and even retrofit aftermarket LED bars) were undergoing extreme simulated testing.
Two ovens were heated up to 85 degrees Celsius, and inside were a variety of PIAA products.
The oven is left on for 4 to 8 hours—simulating the hot engine bay and extreme environments like a desert—to see if performance would diminish, or parts would break, crack or burn.
There was another rig that could simulate -40 degrees Celsius testing for vehicles operating in areas like Siberia in Russia, the coldest most inhabited place on earth which PIAA sells quite a lot of lighting equipment, horns and wipers.
Another test rig had a PIAA LP570 auxiliary LED lamp completely submerged. It was undergoing IP67 testing, a global standard for meeting water resistance.
While not advertised as completely water-proof, the LP570 light was happy to operate completely immersed under water at almost 1.5 meters deep for hours, well above and beyond the IP67 testing standard of 30 minutes immersion in one meter of water.
The added depth creates more pressure to break into the seals and gaskets. Hence, while we don’t drive underwater, if ever we had to, PIAA would have you covered.
Another rig had salt spray continuously washing down PIAA’s auxiliary LED lights and wipers to see how well they could withstand corrosion with salt water.
This test was also done for 4 to 8 hours to simulate long-distance driving on coastal roads with strong winds and torrential rains coupled with windswept water.
The last display had a variety of PIAA LED retrofit bulbs left turned on for over 500 days straight.
PIAA LED bulbs are supposed to last a minimum 10,000 hours of use, hence the 500 days of continuous testing.
The next testing studio was for the silicon wipers. Rows of windshields and windshield frames had been cut up, laid side by side, and the wipers left in continuous action to see how well the silicon in the PIAA wipers give would react and last.
It’s hard to see in the picture on this page, but the silicon-treated side had softly beaded water forming, which was easily wiped off.
The last test facility was the light room. Here, PIAA proudly shows of their lighting equipment.
PIAA says it’s not enough to simply create a powerful LED bulb: efficiency is important. Thus, PIAA LED bulbs have the lowest current draw while heating up the least in the market.
Heat kills the LED bulb’s longevity, and increased current draw is susceptible to electrical short circuits and even fire in the engine bay.
All PIAA kits are designed to be as close to plug-and-play as possible to avoid this.
PIAA built a special testing rig that accepts a variety of popular vehicle headlight housing assemblies that can accommodate their LED bulb replacement kits for testing.
The headlight assemblies with the PIAA LED bulb kits are then turned on, and the light pattern is projected onto a wall 25 meters away (as per most government testing standards) to check on alignment, illumination, cutlines, and focus.
A properly engineered headlight, regardless if it is halogen, HID/Xenon or LED, should always have a slope beam pattern: sloping to the right for right hand drive (RHD) vehicles and sloping to the left for left hand drive (LHD) vehicles.
This avoids glare and blinding incoming motorists, and puts the light where it needs to be: down the road, and not up in the air or below your vehicle’s bumper.
By testing their lighting kits inside actual headlamps, PIAA can engineer, design and manufacture a properly focused beam which uses the least amount of electrical energy, making the retrofit kits safer, and at the same time, completely road legal.
As of today, practically all PIAA LED lighting equipment pass stringent American SAE, European ECE and German TUV safety standards.
No other aftermarket lighting equipment manufacturer worldwide can boast of the same exacting engineering standards.
In fact, competitors as well as government agencies sometimes make use of PIAA’s facilities to perform their own testing.
I left impressed with the Japanese’s sense of pride in their work. Who would have thought that so much R&D went into these lights, bulbs and wipers?
I am definitely upgrading my vehicle’s lighting and wipers with PIAA products.
Thanks to the presence of an official PIAA Philippines distributor, prices of PIAA products are now within reach of the average motorist, and come with full warranty on defects, plus great technical support on installation and proper specs.
PIAA_1: PIAA RF18 LED bar lights undergoing heat torture at 85-degrees Celsius to check for reliability and longevity without compromising performance
PIAA_2: PIAA’s LED headlight retrofit kit shows perfect cut-lines for RHD vehicles, making them perfectly legal retrofits in many countries such as Japan and in Europe. The perfect cut-lines allow a properly focused beam pattern that will not glare or blind oncoming motorists in the opposite lane
PIAA_3: a collection of PIAA lighting systems that have undergone testing through the years
PIAA_4: PIAA LP570 LED auxiliary light undergoing IP67 testing for water resistance; submerging it underwater for 30 minutes is overkill for this test
PIAA_5: heat testing equipment at 70-degrees Celsius before the oven is opened for us to check the contents inside, the RF18 LED light bar and LP530 LED auxiliary lights
PIAA_6: LED bulbs undergoing continuous 10,000 hour testing; these bulbs are left on for roughly 500 days straight!
PIAA_7: heat testing oven made specifically to PIAA’s specs
PIAA_8 & 20: this specialized rig in the light testing room allows PIAA to mount a variety of headlight lens assemblies with their bulbs inside and allow it to be perfectly aligned to give a realistic beam of light cast over the road; this allows a more real-world simulation as the bulbs will have to conform to various vagaries and quirks of different designs of headlight lenses
PIAA_9: salt-spray testing machine continuously sprays salt water on PIAA lighting equipment to simulate driving on coastal areas and see how they resist corrosion and continue to deliver reliable lighting performance
PIAA_10 & 19: wiper testing of PIAA’s Super Silicone windshield wiper; the silicone from the wiper blade treats the windshield, making it smoother thus resisting acid rain build-up
PIAA_11: heat testing another PIAA LED auxiliary headlight assembly at 85-degrees Celsius
PIAA_12: a collection of vintage PIAA auxiliary lighting systems from the late 70’s to the mid 90’s.
PIAA_13 & 14: evolution of the PIAA Super Silicon wiper blades, an industry leading technology even today
PIAA_15, 17 & 18: a mock-up of PIAA’s gondola display stands at popular Japanese automotive parts retail chains like Autobacs, Yellow Hat and Up-Garage throughout Japan
PIAA_16: PIAA personnel stand proudly beside the wiper testing machine
PIAA_19: PIAA Super Silicon wipers undergoing long-term continuous testing; the softly beaded section has been treated by the silicon content of the wipers making it easy to scrub off and avoid residue build-up on the windshield
PIAA_21: this custom-made headlight rig allows PIAA engineers to mount popular car model headlight lenses and check how the PIAA LED and other lighting products actually behave when installed in the car’s headlight housing assembly.