July 25 2006 10:38 AM

If your shipping/distribution center occupies the same location that it did 10 or 15 years ago, theres a good chance that your lighting resources are inadequate, unnecessarily expensive or perhaps both. Why? Because of change. Over the past decade, many managers of shipping/distribution centers have added or upgraded equipment to keep pace with increasing volumes or to accommodate new or evolving needs.


But very few managers have updated their lighting plans or resources to compensate for the new work flows or to capitalize on recent innovations in lighting technology that can provide better light and even more light at less cost.


The culprit, according to many facility managers, is simply the need to keep pace with daily demand. New or upgraded equipment is acquired whenever it is needed. But it is often deployed haphazardly and especially without regard to the adequacy of overhead lighting wherever space is available at the time.


As a result, a lighting plan that was suitable when initially designed becomes outdated as work activities evolve, and lighting resources remain stagnant. And costly problems related to productivity, quality, morale and safety soon begin to crop up.


If you think your lighting may be outdated, here are some tips provided by Ed Effron, an industrial lighting consultant with Philips Electronics, and Mark Loeffler, IALD, a professional lighting designer with The RETEC Group, an environmental consulting firm.


First, take a step back and look at your facility from a fresh perspective. Is the lighting bright, without glare and even throughout the center? Or are there shadows or areas where the lighting is dim and uninviting?


Any modern work place should be bright, attractive and productive, explains Effron. But too often the lighting in shipping/distribution centers is uneven or inadequate. Poor lighting typically results in eye strain and fatigue, particularly for employees who work longer shifts or hours when sun light may not be available to compensate for poor interior lighting.


Poor lighting can also contribute to high error rates, as workers become tired or frustrated and make unnecessary mistakes. In some instances, adds Loeffler, the light required to perform a task safely and competently may be 80 foot candles. Yet in some shipping environments, only 25% of that level may be available. You should also consider the age of your work force. A 40 year old typically needs twice as much light as a 20 year old to perform the same task comfortably, says Effron.


Three key components underpin any good lighting plan. Both Effron and Loeffler recommend comparing your facility against these three factors to make sure your center is fully up to date.


General lighting is the foundation of any lighting plan. General lighting refers to the overhead or ambient lighting conditions in a work place. Good general lighting creates a positive atmosphere for workers and business, says Effron.


Task lighting is next. Task lighting enables workers to successfully perform their assigned job functions. Good task lighting helps workers maintain high levels of productivity and accuracy and reduces costly errors, he says.


Supplemental lighting is exactly what it sounds like. It offers higher light levels in those areas where general light is not sufficient. Why is that important? Because uneven light levels · can cause eye strain or fatigue, as workers must constantly refocus or adjust to different light levels, explains Effron. In general, task lighting should not be more than three times as bright as the lighting in adjacent work areas.


Once you have an idea of your existing light levels and which work areas may need improvement, you should examine your lighting resources to determine which lamps or fixtures can be upgraded and if new or supplemental ones should be installed.


However, it is not always a simple case of just substituting new or improved lamps or fixtures. You may need to contact an industrial lighting consultant to help perform this evaluation, says Loeffler, who points out that the International Association of Lighting Designers (iald.org) can provide referrals to accred-ited professionals.


In some instances, you can obtain the same level of light with fewer fixtures. You may also want to lower the costs related to lighting. Or you may need faster warm-up of lamps to boost productivity or to focus specialized light in critical inspection areas to reduce errors.


The key is analyze your current environment against perti-nent criteria, such as those listed, or the standards established by the Illuminating Engineers Society of North America, and then create a solution custom-tailored to your needs, emphasizes Loeffler.

Costs Many managers believe the cost of light is directly related to the cost of the lamps. But acquiring lamps is just a small part of the cost, roughly three to four percent, according to Effron. The largest cost of light about 87% is electrical power, he says. Upgrading lighting with high-technology or energy-efficient lamps can dramatically reduce the cost of electricity and yield equivalent or even superior levels of light at the same time.


Quality This generally means good light levels or an even and well-lighted work space. Most managers dont realize it, but many lamps degrade over time, gradually yielding less light as they age, says Effron. However, you can counter this problem by using lamps designed to yield as much as 90% or more of their initial light over their expected life. This helps your facility remain bright, attractive and productive over longer periods of time.


Reliability Depending on ceiling height, the expected life of the lamp and other factors, the cost of labor to replace a burned out lamp can exceed its initial purchase price. So it can be more cost-effective and far less disruptive to daily business activities to install longer-life lamps whenever possible to avoid the cost of replacement.


Distribution This generally refers to the practice of varying the direction of light such as focusing a portion of it on walls and ceilings so the light isnt exclusively top-down. Reflecting light in this manner, plus using shrouds or shades, can help reduce annoying glare.


Uniformity Light levels should always be even and coherent throughout any work area. However, the goal is to place light where it is needed but not wasted. So it is acceptable to place lower light levels in places like corridors or circulation areas where there is less need for visual acuity.


Color The color of light can help improve morale as well as the performance of key tasks such as inspections. White light generally creates a more pleasing environment than yellow light, explains Effron. The correct lamp can also help assure colors appear more natural.


Safety Theres little doubt that good lighting leads to good vision, and good vision leads to better performance and higher productivity. But safety is also an important factor, especially in low-ceiling environments. For example, a lamp that is accidentally broken can result in injuries to workers as well as lost productivity. Installing lamps with protective shrouds or coverings can help prevent accidents.


Disposal The proper disposal of all unneeded materials is extremely important in todays environmentally conscious world. Depending on your situation, you may want to substitute lamps that minimize environmental issues related to proper disposal. For example, Philips lamps with ALTO technology are popular today because of their low mercury content.


Strategy The use of automatic timers or occupancy sensors is appropriate for ancillary work areas, such as storage areas and meeting rooms, that are used irregularly or infrequently. These devices are dependable and affordable and can reduce energy costs, adds Loeffler.


Return on Investment In some cases, selecting the right lamp and fixture can yield as much as a 50% return via savings in lower energy costs. Thats a hard-dollar pay back of just two years. In an era when investments such as Treasury Notes and CDs yield in the low single digits, this is an excellent ROI. Plus some investments in energy-efficient lighting may also qualify for utility company rebates or state tax credits, which could yield even greater savings.


Of course, reducing costs is always important. And implementing the right lighting plan with the right resources can yield energy cost savings for virtually any shipping/distribution center. But the biggest pay off from improved lighting may come from higher employee morale, better productivity, fewer errors and enhanced safety. Admittedly, these benefits can vary widely from site to site, and even within a site, so they are harder to quantify. Indeed, some studies show that a modest investment to boost efficiency can be worth-while if it improves performance by just 2/5 of one percent.


So, if you add up all the benefits from lower costs due to reduced energy consumption, to increased productivity, to higher morale, fewer errors and even enhanced safety it is easy to see how a modest investment in improved lighting can yield significant returns.


George Linkletter is a marketing consultant and business journalist. He can be reached at georgeol@ntplx.net. For more information on industrial lighting, send e-mails to either eddieeffron@philips.com or mloeffler@retec.com, or visit IESNA.org and IALD.org for information on standards and referrals.