Keeping your plants in the green: 5 ways to leverage energy-efficient lighting and controls at industrial sites

Outside of assembly line equipment, lighting is one of the single largest categories of energy consumption for industrial plants. Upgrading to energy-efficient lighting and control systems can have dramatic impacts on total cost of ownership by driving down power costs, maintenance costs and boosting plant productivity.

Using LED lighting is an easy way to achieve corporate sustainability goals and reduce costs at the same time.

Here are five ways multi-site industrial companies can harness the power of energy-efficient lighting to build their bottom line:

Energy savings

LEDs are known for their energy benefits. As a result, organizations that upgrade from legacy light sources enjoy dramatically smaller electric bills. Justin Moon, director of product marketing at IM Supply manufacturer partner Acuity Brands, Inc., provides numbers to the equation, “Industrial customers can typically save 50 – 75 percent in energy costs when they upgrade to LEDs. This is a huge opportunity to save and get a good ROI. Many of our customers use those savings to reinvest in the business.”

That 50 – 75 percent savings Moon referenced isn’t petty cash. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2014 Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS), industrial facility lighting accounts for 55 billion kWh (or about 6.2 percent of all manufacturing energy used in the United States).

Those dramatic savings can be magnified further through control systems.

“Controls amplify the savings,” says Moon. “A big thing we see now in manufacturing is scheduling the lighting. Now that lighting can roll up into the building management system, it plays into strategies across the plant and even across the country. As lighting gets connected with the Internet of Things (IoT), local control and national strategies come together. Facilities can have a level of local control over their lighting, so it fits their specific needs, but also be on the same control system as all the other facilities a customer has. This way, the lighting becomes part of the bigger decisions and management across the organization.”

Keep assembly lines running instead of changing light bulbs

An oft-overlooked area of lighting expense is maintenance. Outdated lighting technologies like HID and fluorescent require frequent maintenance, such as relamping and replacing ballasts. Not only do LEDs last for a long time (i.e. years, even decades), they also deliver better quality light for longer than conventional lighting.

Upgrading plant lighting to LEDs can deliver enormous maintenance savings and position the plant for better operations all around.

“Group relamping plants with LEDs can save thousands in maintenance, especially over fluorescent and HID lighting,” says Moon. “It’s expensive to have a guy on a lift changing burnt out lights every day. After upgrading, many of our customers have been able to reallocate their maintenance staff to areas more important to driving company’s bottom line—such as preventative maintenance on assembly-line machines.”

That kind of reallocation tends to deliver 10-20 percent in immediate hard savings for plants. Even bigger are the savings from reduced factory downtime.

Safety first

Workplace safety is a critical issue, especially for industrial settings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports nearly three million Americans get hurt at work each year and inadequate lighting is to blame for many common accidents, such as slips, falls and contact with equipment.

Inadequate lighting can lead to all sorts of accidents and problems, yet many industrial facilities still rely on outdated and dangerous lighting—like high-pressure sodium lighting and fluorescent lighting. However, research is showing that merely improving workplace lighting can reduce accident rates by 60 percent.

Proper lighting highlights moving machinery with adequate light levels and avoids flicker, glare and shadows. It should also reduce the chances of accidents from that momentary blindness that occurs when rapidly changing light levels (e.g. the feeling you get when walking inside a dark room from directly from the bright and sunny outside).

Shining a light on productivity

Good lighting begets good work. Science backs that up: One study actually found that our brains make “fewer connections” when working in dim conditions. The researchers described the results of dim lighting as “diminished learning and memory performance. In other words, dim lights are producing dimwits.”

Another study profiled a company that realized a 0.7 percent increase in productivity after upgrading to LED lighting. The energy savings alone from the LEDs were projecting a payback period of 3.5 years. Adding the productivity increase to the calculations shortened the payback period to just a few months.

What does this increased productivity look like? It’s a few seconds here and a few seconds that add up over the course of a day. “When workers can easily read labels and pick parts quickly, they can shave several seconds off each pick,” says Moon. “Seconds matter over the course of a shift.”

Lighting improves morale

Good lighting just feels good to be under. Just like we can feel happy on a sunny day and feel “blah” on a rainy day, the same principle applies to indoor lighting. Also contributing to employee morale is the self-assurance that comes from being able to see clearly.

As Moon explains, “We’ve made lighting change outs in our own facilities and where the place might have felt dark and dingy like a cave, the new lighting is bright and brings life to the place. It’s very refreshing.”

When workers can operate equipment without having to worry about being able to see, they have more confidence in their ability to work. For example, in a well-lit space, operators don’t have to worry about causing an accident because someone is walking through a dim area.

IM Supply is a national electric and lighting MRO partner with deep experience in helping customers leverage lighting for maximum plant productivity and lowering total cost of ownership. IM Supply can offer a wealth of advice on keeping plants running safely, more efficiently and in full compliance with applicable regulations.