By Justin Moon
Today, LED is driving a relentless quest to innovate in the lighting industry, and industrial facilities lighting is at an important inflection point. Both manufacturers and their customers have to evolve from simple, but outdated lighting platforms, to newer, more efficient and versatile ones that do a lot more than just illuminate. The economic realities of plant facility management dictate that conversion to LED lighting is a question of “how soon.”
The increased functionality of LED lighting systems enable more application-specific solutions. This helps everyone in the value chain because it allows manufacturers to be more ingenious and differentiated in their product designs. At that same time, it drives incremental value at a lower cost to customers. With the myriad of lighting forms and configurations being managed, discerning where to innovate can be a challenge.
There is a wellspring of inspiration for innovation from a highly-credentialed source: the customer.
Through ongoing conversations with facility owners, managers, contractors, and lighting agents, at Acuity Brands Lighting, we’ve guided new product development, product enhancements, and system integrations that meet specific customer challenges and requirements. Some of these are common: reduced energy costs, lower maintenance costs, and improved lighting quality. Others are unique to the business, and that is where the real kernel of innovation occurs.
For example, Chatham, NJ-based Preferred Freezer Services is one of the largest public refrigerated warehousing companies in the world, with 270 million cubic feet of warehouse space. The company takes great pride in its modern, full-service, temperature controlled warehouses.
In keeping with the desire to have the best cold storage facility in the business, senior executives at Preferred embraced the idea of retrofitting an aging lighting system with newer LED lighting technology for its Woodbridge, NJ facility.
Preferred Freezer had several challenges when retroftting to LED:
- Huge spaces to light, with 60′ high ceilings and aisles the length of football fields; the high ceilings made providing adequate light difficult. Any upgrade would require a very specific high-power, tight distribution so workers could quickly see labels as well on the bottom racks as the top racks. The height also made maintenance more difficult.
- Freezer temperatures ranging from -11°F to -25°F
- A very aggressive payback threshold — close to 12 months
To achieve Preferred’s cost reduction goals, it was agreed that Preferred should take a step approach to upgrading — first, starting years ago, switching from high-pressure sodium to metal halide, and then, last year to LED. We visited the facilities, observed the work, and spoke to fork lift operators. We asked questions and listened, which drove a deeper understanding of their needs. We then used that feedback to update existing products to meet the challenges of their high mounting heights. For example, we created a new option on the Lithonia Lighting® I-BEAM® IBH LED high bay to meet their specific performance and financial needs. In addition, by using Preferred’s existing RELOC® modular wiring system that facilitated upgrades by swapping out old lights and wires with ready-to install LEDs, the installation time, and cost was reduced by more than half.
Preferred’s leaders also had specific operational performance goals they wanted the new LED lighting system to address:
- First, they wanted the new lighting system to help improve speed and accuracy in picking (retrieving products from the warehouse). In a warehouse, clear sight requires a lot of light. So the new LED system had to deliver sufficient brightness to properly illuminate barcodes on cases for quick reading and retrieval. At the time, there wasn’t an LED solution that addressed this challenge well from a 60′ mounting height in their very narrow aisles. So we developed new directional diodes for our IBH high bay to achieve a very focused distribution that lit up the racks from the floor up. Additional features were also developed, such as a solid-top housing to keep moisture, dust, and break dust from fork lifts out of the IBH fixture housing.
- Second, Preferred needed to reduce the cost of air conditioning its freezers. Metal halide and high pressure sodium light gives off immense heat. With more than 300 fixtures in a freezer, the lighting system generated in excess of 400,000 BTUs/hr, which required refrigeration systems to run harder, costing more. Our LED solution reduced heat output by 60%, significantly reducing their cooling costs.
- Third was safety, always a priority for Preferred Freezer. Prior to switching to LED, the loading dock was so dark the employees felt more susceptible to injury there than other places in the facility. The LED lighting made a dramatic change.
Beyond product and technology, customers are also driving innovation in service and fulfillment. Today, they want a full experience — great products, on time delivery, everything working, ease of installation, and service after the sale — even financing. The rise of the robust digital lighting solution has opened the door for manufacturers to be creative and unique — in a business that has typically been viewed as commoditized. And, warehousing and storage companies that build their reputations on excellence, with superior facilities, leading-edge technologies, and outstanding people can be primary innovation drivers for those suppliers.
Moon is director of vertical marketing at Acuity Brands Lighting, a lighting, controls, and daylighting manufacturer based in Conyers, GA. With more than nine years of experience in the lighting industry, he is passionate about understanding challenges within industrial facilities and aligning solutions to optimize facilities. He is a Veteran of the United States Army and holds a MBA from Liberty University.