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Lighting The Future Of Efficiency

Wed, 07/27/2011 - 11:40am
Joel Hans

For decades, manufacturing facilities have been lit largely by old technological behemoths, like incandescent bulbs. Because they generally reside on the rather tall ceiling of a typical manufacturing facility, these lights can generally go unseen — until they burn out.

Due to recent efforts to decrease energy usage, many manufacturers have turned to various new technologies — halogen, fluorescent, and LED — all of which offer equal amount of light output for less wattage. For early adopters, that has equated to a smaller electricity bill and reduced maintenance. LEDs and fluorescents, for example, have become so efficient that using them to replace incandescent bulbs in a manufacturing facility is now seen as the “low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency initiatives.

The truth is, while many think of fluorescents or LEDs as a relatively new technology — and untrustworthy as a result — Michael Schratz, Director of Marketing at Dialight, disagrees: “A lot of people think of LEDs as a new technology, but LEDs have been around since the mid-70s. (LEDs) are new for lighting, but not necessarily a new technology.” In fact, they have been used in street lights for decades. LEDs, also known as light-emitting diodes, are built using small semiconductors that emit light through the manipulation of electrons, and have been known for their low energy consumption and significantly improved lifespans.

Fluorescents, on the other hand, should not be forgotten amidst the buzz around LEDs. This technology relies upon the modulation of energy to excite mercury vapor, and is more efficient than incandescent bulbs. Matt Galvez, Vice President of National Electric Manufacturing Corporation, says, “Even though LEDs are gaining popularity and certainly have their place, the fluorescent variety of work lights — with reasonable care — will last just as long as these LED products.” In addition, fluorescent lights can be easier to maintain, requiring only a replacement of the lamp.

LEDs, in particular, have seen incredible improvements in energy efficiency, but they’re quickly approaching the rule of diminishing returns in terms of watts per lumen output. Now that they are generally far more efficient compared to incandescent offerings, more companies are trying to employ “tricks” to direct the light where manufacturers need it the most, according to Schratz. “You can work with individual optics that go on top of the LEDs, or you can work with a reflector to really get the light where it needs to be,” he explains. “You can imagine a warehouse: You don’t need light on top of your racks, or all over your walls. You need light on the floor.”

Moving ahead, Galvez agrees with this sentiment: “I’d say the chief development is that LED products are truly here to stay. LEDs are no longer a trend, and as a rechargeable platform they are the best technological development in lighting history.”

Lighting the Next Step
Why should manufacturers be thinking about their lighting systems more often? For one, the new technologies last significantly longer than their predecessors, which means that maintenance costs are driven down, as crews can spend their time better servicing other machinery within the plant. Schratz agrees: “The energy consumption and the maintenance that come with traditional lighting systems are going away because of the longevity offered by LEDs.”

LEDs in particular seem to be future-proof, with numerous government-backed initiatives to encourage their use in manufacturing plants around the country. Schratz explains, “We have groups like the U.S. Department of Energy that is entirely endorsing and embracing LED technology as the future of lighting. Now there are programs in 50 of 50 states, which is incredible, because it helps mitigate that up-front cost, and also drives that pay-back period way down.” One manufacturer was able to receive a $30,000 rebate to replace their traditional high-bay lights with LED offerings.

The complexity and flexibility of these lighting systems can also have additional benefits over traditional incandescent offerings. One company not only switched their 320 watt bulbs to 150 watt LEDs — a savings of 50 percent — but are also “lighting (only) the perimeter of this warehouse, and every single LED fixture in the middle of warehouse is paired with an occupancy sensor, so they’re only on if someone is in that aisle.” Schratz says an individual light is on for 10 minutes a day now, instead of 12 hours.

With initiatives to incorporate LED lighting into manufacturing facilities, it seems like the time is now to make the switch. It’s clear that LEDs and fluorescents offer increased flexibility, which means that they can be tailored to almost any application, whether they’re high-bays in a warehouse, or a work light to see into dark boilers.

To learn more about the availability of rebate programs for LED lighting projects, visit http://briteswitch.com.

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