By Jeff St. George
From the December 2021 Issue
The pressure for retail distribution centers to fulfill orders quickly and accurately doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon. In 2020, demand for large warehouse centers hit a record high.¹ While distribution center operators must find ways to adapt to demand, they’re also under pressure from consumers, investors, and regulators to improve the sustainability of their facilities.² Sustainability is also an important cost control strategy, and with more distribution centers operating around the clock operators need to identify every possible opportunity to reduce energy expenses and streamline their operations.
That’s where lighting comes in. Instead of being just another operating expense, lighting can play an important role in reducing energy costs and lead to better control and flexibility over operations. Here are four ways that LED lighting technology, when combined with smart lighting controls, can drive sustainability in distribution centers.
1. Reduce Energy Consumption and Costs. LEDs have long been viewed as key components of a sustainable lighting strategy due to their long lifespan and high efficacy rates. LEDs are capable of producing more lumens per watt than standard fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, as well as some high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures. Their maximum typical rated lifetime of 50,000 hours exceeds that of any other type of light source.³
Automated controls allow you to maximize the energy efficiency of LEDs and reduce costs. For example, LED fixtures outfitted with photo sensors automatically adjust indoor lighting when natural light levels are high (known as daylight harvesting). And occupancy sensors turn lights on and off, or dim to a lower level, depending on activity in a particular area.
2. Make Smarter Operational Decisions with Advanced Lighting Controls. Lighting controls can do much more than automate lighting levels. Lighting fixtures can be integrated with cloud-based systems that facility managers and staff can control from handheld devices or remote computers. These systems provide data intelligence on traffic flow, occupancy levels, and worker patterns. With these insights, distribution center operators can better manage lighting levels to reduce costs and energy consumption:
- Measure worker activity to identify unoccupied areas that are lit unnecessarily.
- Monitor the status of fixtures to quickly and proactively respond to maintenance issues.
- Create preset scenes and lighting zones based on work schedules to reliably ensure the proper lighting levels.
Cost concerns have traditionally been a barrier to implementing advanced lighting control systems. However, costs for sensors, fixtures, and lighting control systems are coming down. And the benefits they offer make the return on investment attractive. For example, fixtures can also house wireless range extenders to help boost wi-fi throughout the facility. This removes connectivity barriers and allows facility management to implement technology and mobile devices throughout the distribution center. They also improve safety.
3. Eliminate Older Lighting Technology Containing Mercury. One of the major complications of using fluorescent lamps within high bay fixtures and HIDs—both of which are common in warehouse environments—is that they contain mercury. Because mercury can’t be disposed of alongside other waste, these bulbs often end up in storage areas, where they sit until someone can execute a disposal plan. If one of the lamps breaks, mercury will release into the air, which is harmful to employees and the environment. LEDs, on the other hand, are not considered to be toxic and can be disposed of in the same manner as other waste.
4. Improve Overall Lighting Quality. Improved lighting quality can have a significant impact on improving efficiencies. Better visibility allows employees to pick materials more easily and efficiently. Newer lighting technologies with a high color rendering index (CRI) allow workers to see items as they would in natural light. In addition to reducing picking errors and the waste that comes with them, these lighting technologies can also improve worker safety and wellness. High-quality lighting helps prevent slip and falls in poorly lit areas. And high CRI lighting allows workers to have high visibility without the eyestrain and headaches that can be caused by fluorescent lighting.
You can even install circadian rhythm lighting. Different color wavelengths signal to the brain when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to be alert. With workers in a facility around the clock, implementing circadian lighting can help support healthy brain function and promote healthier sleep patterns.
These are just a few of the ways higher quality lighting makes your facility more comfortable and attractive to potential employees. And considering how high demand is for warehouse personnel, distribution centers need all the competitive advantages they can get. Sustainable lighting allows you to address multiple facility challenges at once, but to take advantage of all of these benefits, you need a lighting strategy. Lamp types, fixtures, and lighting control system selection can all have an impact on your ability to reduce energy consumption, lower operating costs, and improve worker safety. Working with a lighting expert that understands warehouse environments and can advise you on the latest lighting technology will allow you to leverage these benefits cost-effectively and with minimal disruption to operations.
St. George is director of sales for ABM, a leading provider of facility services. He has 15 years of experience designing customized integrated facilities services solutions for clients across multiple industries. St. George has spent six years focusing on retail distribution clients.
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