Intelligent Lighting That Drives Automotive Plant Operations

The efficiencies made possible with a digital LED infrastructure help to deliver a more productive and safer manufacturing environment.

By Rudy Calderon

In the age of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), automotive leaders like General Motors are using a surprising resource as the secret weapon for ramping up smart factory environments: LED lighting. Intelligent lighting platforms are quickly becoming the foundation for Industry 4.0.

Why? First, intelligent lighting is a low-risk investment. According to a white paper authored by Frost & Sullivan, installing digitally-equipped lighting pays for itself with a 50% average reduction in energy consumption. Furthermore, LEDs coupled with sensors are poised to produce a savings of 190 terawatt hours of electricity a year. That’s equivalent to 24 large power plants or $15 billion according to the U.S. Department of Energy.1

Secondly, lighting is ever-present. And, its positioning throughout a factory offers a prime vantage point for collecting data on the plant floor. With this data, intelligent lighting offers a value proposition that stretches beyond cost savings — it offers increased efficiency and safety. For automakers that measure their success based on product quality and the safety conditions of their factories, deploying a digital lighting platform can be a significant resource.

A More Efficient Assembly Line

The automotive industry is incredibly competitive. It also requires compliance with global regulations and increasing demands for improved safety and energy efficiency.2 As a result, automotive OEMs are hyper-focused on process improvements that drive margins and streamline manufacturing. It turns out that the ceiling is a great place to look for solutions related to quality and efficiency.

General Motors plant (Photo: Current, powered by GE)

On an assembly line, a disappearing cart of parts could be incredibly costly for the manufacturer. Integrating real-time location based systems with intelligent light fixtures enables reliable asset tracking, for example, using Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) or radio frequency identification (RFID) sensors on a factory’s equipment and product.3 Lighting controls can also adapt to changing operations. Should machines or equipment be relocated, intelligent lighting can accommodate the new operating environment by adjusting accordingly, without using manual labor to reconfigure fixture layouts.4 This strategy helps factory managers track equipment and activity throughout an intelligent environment, ensuring product quality and efficiency.

The ability to monitor and collect data on the production line only becomes more important as technologies like additive manufacturing, machine to machine communication, and automation become mainstream. IIoT offers incredible opportunity to digitize the physical activity for industrial companies and with a ubiquitous resource like lighting, it’s possible to connect, organize and optimize assets in an automotive factory.5

Smarter Factories Equal Safer Factories

The efficiencies made possible with a digital LED infrastructure inevitably result in a safer environment for workers. Intelligent lighting can offer up to 100,000 hours of service life, significantly cutting down on the frequency of maintenance checks.6 Sensors also play a key role here by leveraging available data to adjust lighting where it’s not needed — reducing energy costs and elongating the life of a fixture. Many larger facilities require incremental resources just to reach the ceiling.

That data can also inform the air quality for a factory environment. Consider the harm that increasing levels of CO2 or temperatures could cause to employees in a plant. Intelligent platforms that connect the data collected from LEDs to wireless HVAC systems are critical for flagging these issues and automating solutions.

Looking toward the future of intelligent industrial environments, safety will always remain a priority. Beacons positioned within lighting fixtures have the ability to prevent collisions when automated forklifts and robotics eventually become widely adopted throughout factories. The use case for RFID tags will evolve into a safety strategy for tracking individuals inside of a plant during a potential emergency. There are even discussions surrounding opportunities for an intelligent lighting platform to support factory managers’ goals to improve employee satisfaction.

Intelligent Platform With A Bird’s Eye View

Given the cost and safety benefits, it’s no wonder the adoption rate for LED in industrial spaces is expected to skyrocket from just 3% in 2014 to 76% in 2020 and 80% in 2035. Within the auto industry, that adoption rate is expected to be even higher, with the industry projected to invest $150 billion in the next three to five years according to Frost & Sullivan.7

As the cornerstone for an IIoT strategy, intelligent environments have the capability to monitor critical activity throughout a large-scale plant and assess and correct issues as they appear. It’s a facility manager’s window into the connected factory and offers a bird’s eye view of product quality, efficiency, and, most importantly, employee safety. So when it comes to creating intelligent industrial environments, look no further than the ubiquitous light.


Calderon is the general manager of industrial accounts for Current, powered by GE. He leads a team that delivers IoT driven energy savings solutions to Fortune 100 industrial customers in the automotive, CPG, warehousing, and logistics spaces.