Seven mistakes to avoid when upgrading your plant to LEDs

Mistakes to avoid when highlighting your plant to LED include choosing the wrong watt level, not using available technology, and making a purchasing without doing your homework.

By Dwayne Kula, MyLEDLightingGuide March 17, 2017

Lighting may not be the biggest expense in your operating budget, but its performance effects every area of your plant—from productivity to safety.

Industrial environments pose lighting challenges that aren’t seen in traditional office or corporate environments: hard-to-reach ceilings; large, open spaces; extreme temperatures; and nontraditional operating hours, to name just a few. As LEDs have become more prolific, and less expensive, they’re being used more and more in plant operations.

It can be tempting to cut corners or rush an LED lighting upgrade when you have several other irons in the fire. But hurrying through the process without fully understanding all the decisions that need to be made can leave you with a system that’s less than satisfactory. Avoid these seven common mistakes when upgrading to LEDs.

1. Choosing the wrong light level

Wattage is what most of us are used to dealing with when it comes to making lighting decisions-the higher the wattage, the brighter the lamp. Wattage, however, doesn’t actually represent lamp brightness; it measures power consumption.

For this reason, LED wattage isn’t comparable to wattage used to describe other types of lamps; LEDs naturally have a lower wattage because they’re designed to be more energy efficient. Many people see the LED wattage level listed and assume it means that LEDs are dimmer than their counterparts.

LEDs use the lumens rating to represent total light output (lamp brightness). The higher the lumen rating is, the brighter the light.

Today, it can be difficult to recognize which type of lighting system you need if you don’t understand what lumens are, the difference between wattage and lumens, or the number of lumens you need. Several LED manufacturers still sell based on wattage instead of lumens. This makes it challenging for you to truly understand what you’re getting in an LED lamp, and can lead to a purchase of the wrong lighting system for your plant.

2. Not paying attention to codes and standards

Are you over- or under-lighting? It’s important to stay up to date on the latest requirements so you don’t spend money unnecessarily.

For example, lighting power density (LPD)—a lighting power requirement that is part of the ANSI/ASHRAE/IES 90.1 energy standard—recently was reduced by 23% in manufacturing facilities (to 0.9 watts per square foot) and 27% in warehouses (to 0.48 watts per square foot) as part of ANSI/ASHRAE/IES 90.1-2016. This update helps plants save energy without compromising lighting quality.

3. Purchasing without investigating options

No matter what you’re purchasing, you don’t ever want to make a buying decision based in incorrect information. Misinformation from manufacturers is not uncommon, making it harder to select a lighting system that gives you what you need without added costs or performance issues.

Manufacturers can be a good starting point for information gathering, but talking to outside experts or consultants who aren’t connected to a specific product can provide an unbiased perspective and comparisons between lighting systems and lamps that seem similar.

4. Not using available technology

In the past, lighting controls were often an afterthought—and they were very expensive. Today, lighting controls can be added to nearly all types of lighting systems, including LED systems. When it comes to saving money, there’s nothing better than shutting your lights off (or at least dimming them)—and LEDs do that well. They respond immediately, with no warmup time or concerns about hot restrike. Lighting controls can set lamps to illuminate specific areas during times of high traffic, turn off or dim based on activity and occupancy levels, and supplement available daylight entering through windows and skylights.

If you don’t have lighting controls in place, it’s time to seriously consider investing in a system that can help you manage lighting usage. With the savings you’ll see, it’s possible that the reduction in your energy bills could pay for the system in a few years.

If you do have lighting controls in place, but aren’t using them—which we’ve seen happen—now is the time to start.

5. Not taking advantage of incentives

Because a lighting upgrade or retrofit is a utility-based initiative, LEDs certified by the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) are eligible for utility rebates. This voluntary DLC certification requires participating LED lighting products to comply with distribution, color and longevity/stress performance standards. A quick look at your local utility’s website will tell you what LEDs rebates are available.

Consultants and experts who regularly work with utility companies are often available to help you fill out rebate forms to make sure you supply the correct information, get your rebate as quickly as possible, and understand the true costs associated with the lighting system once the rebates are in place.

6. Not investigating in a retrofit

If the existing fixtures in your plant are in good condition, and the design and layout of the lighting system meets the needs of your plant, then a new LED lighting system may not be necessary. Instead, you can save time, money and plant disruption by using an LED retrofit kit that allows your fixtures to accept LED lamps.

In fact, the LED engines in retrofit kits are as efficient, or sometimes more efficient, than LED engines in new fixtures. Because of their efficiency, they can replace existing luminaries in otherwise perfectly fine lighting fixtures in a plant.

7. Forgetting about areas beyond the plant floor

The lighting used in your plant’s parking lots, conference rooms and front-office areas is just as important as the lighting used in your plant environment itself. These areas are often overlooked in plant operations, but the lighting in these spaces can impact overall safety, comfort and productivity as well.

Even though they’re not working in the plant, office workers in manufacturing facilities can benefit from lighting improvements that decrease fatigue and glare, provide appropriate lighting levels for the tasks at hand, and function automatically through lighting controls based on occupancy and schedules.

When your lighting upgrades aren’t rushed, you have time to establish procedures and processes to make sure you end up with the right LED lighting system for your plant. Avoid these common mistakes, and you’ll end up with a system that offers the savings and performance you expect.

Dwayne Kula is founder of MyLEDLightingGuide, a consultant that helps commercial and industrial building owners save energy and money by finding efficient LED lighting solutions that will work in their specific environments and to their specifications.