Lighting Retrofit Scenario: Warehouses

By Brian Dibble

Today’s industrial warehouses have become models of efficiency and productivity, but they frequently become a “forgotten facility” when it comes to lighting. They can be underequipped or completely overlooked during retrofit projects. Properly illuminated workspaces can help increase worker productivity, improve workplace safety, and reduce maintenance costs. When a warehouse’s lighting is not up to the task, it’s time for the facility manager to evaluate the system and identify opportunities for improvement that can not only help create savings on the bottom line, but can also help provide a better work environment for retrofit

Success Upgrade Begins With Goals

When upgrading the lighting, establishing informed goals is a critical first step. Based upon the intended application, goals may go beyond simply reducing energy consumption and also include improving security and enhancing the quality of light in warehouse aisles.

Facility executives should start by evaluating the existing lighting system, independently or with a consultant, and determine how the new lighting may integrate into the warehouse’s current infrastructure. Expert lighting consultants and designers can play an integral role in auditing the existing system and providing recommendations on optimal improvements. They can also aid warehouse managers in understanding advances in new energy management technology and in addressing the latest standards and regulations. For example, though LED technology has made rapid advances in recent years, it is not automatically the best solution for every application, so managers shouldn’t be quick to do a full LED retrofit before fully understanding their options.

Outline the project’s key objectives by answering a few initial questions:

  • Is the existing light level adequate? Is it too high or too low?
  • Can task performance be improved either by adjusting illumination or reducing glare?
  • Can employee productivity/safety be improved?
  • Can energy consumption or maintenance costs be reduced?
  • Can the change make maintenance easier?
  • Are changes to the work processes or equipment anticipated in the near future?

Once goals have been set, managers next need to understand the potential total cost of ownership (TCO) of the new lighting: the initial expenditure against long-term savings in operating costs. LED lighting, for example, has a higher upfront cost than traditional fluorescent lighting solutions. In this instance, the greatest TCO can be seen when accounting for the combined savings of lower energy consumption, minimal need for maintenance, reduced operational interruptions, lower cooling costs, and related additional benefits.

lighting retrofitChoosing the Right Light

At this stage, managers can begin determining the types of lighting solutions that will be needed. Light level and required visibility will depend on several factors, most importantly on the purpose of the space. The more active the area — such as a loading dock or staging area — the greater the light required. Light levels will also be affected by the size of the items that are being handled. Be cognizant of whether the tasks are horizontal or vertical, which will determine the best light distribution pattern for the space.

For distribution centers, which are more often highly automated with round-the-clock operations, ideal choices are high color rendering light sources that aid in accurate identification of products and long life lighting systems that extend maintenance cycles and reduce disruption to operations. In a medium-sized facility responsible for producing and packaging high quality goods, T8 fluorescent lamps in high and low bays offer improved lighting and better color for considerably less energy.

Lighting controls should also be part of the discussion when scoping out a retrofit project. Controls today are underutilized in warehouse and industrial spaces but can dramatically increase savings. Turning off or dimming the lights when a space is unoccupied, providing flexible light levels for multi-use spaces and overall comfort, and reducing electric lighting when adequate daylighting is available are only a few of the control capabilities managers can have in their building. Depending on operational goals, lighting controls can reduce the overall demand for energy by up to 70%.

The Bottom Line

Overall, good lighting is essential in a warehouse. A well-lit facility can not only help improve worker productivity and energy efficiency, but also reduce operating costs. Warehouse managers, owners and designers have many decisions to make from the beginning to the end of a lighting upgrade but, no matter what type of solution they choose to install, going through the process thoughtfully will allow them to successfully create an efficiently illuminated warehouse that can also help improve the bottom line.

With goals defined and the new lighting systems specified, facility managers need to ensure the retrofit plan is comprehensive, thorough and fiscally responsible. The next article in the series will explore the key financial considerations of taking on a retrofit project as well as some of the major missed opportunities or pitfalls that warehouse managers should be aware of.

Dibble is vertical sales manager, Industrial, at OSRAM SYLVANIA.

Tomorrow, Dibble will address in a follow up article the key financial considerations of taking on a retrofit project as well as some of the major missed opportunities or pitfalls for warehouse managers to recognize.