Industrial lighting isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about functionality and performance. And LED lighting reigns supreme in these areas, lowering operations costs, providing better visibility and offering much better controllability over older technologies. Even the upfront installation cost, which is usually cited as the chief issue with LED lights, has dropped steadily as the technology has been perfected and installers have become more familiar with it. This impressive array of benefits is why LED lights have gained traction in not only industrial parks, but warehouses, office buildings, airports and sports arenas as well.
The Future is LED
Ask any lighting designer and they will say that the future of commercial, industrial, and even residential lighting is LED technology. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as the most popular current lighting options are decades old, at least. The time was ripe for a major step forward in the industry, and LEDs are that step.
The real question is – is LED lighting the right choice now? The answer is a definitive yes, and it’s arguably a better option to invest in LEDs now, rather than waiting down the line. As demand creeps up, pricing will likely become more competitive. Facilities that make the switch before demand rockets up will fit LED lighting into their budget more easily. Still, cost is just one concern, and LEDs make up for in other ways. Some of those benefits include:
- Easy retrofitting – LED lighting is, of course, an option worth considering for new construction, but retrofit options are the standard. In the past, retrofitting LEDs took significant time and effort, but fixtures are now designed for specific retrofit scenarios, speeding up the process and making it more cost effective. Retrofit options for T12 fluorescents and high bay metal halides, two of the most common industrial lighting options, are among those available. In short, there is an easy path to LED lighting, no matter how old a facility’s system is.
- Improved efficiency – This is the advantage that LED lighting is known for. LEDs operate at the atomic level, creating light by shuffling electrons across a gradient. The result is a highly precise, measured approach that doesn’t waste a lot of energy producing heat instead. This precision plays out at the fixture level, where LEDs offer the best lumen per watt ratio. And it’s not really close. Although metal halides are listed with ratios that are somewhat near LED fixture listings, metal halides lose a lot of their output to reflectors and bulky ballasts. LED’s added efficiency, which is getting better with every improvement to the technology, means that facility owners will see a rapid return on their investment. In fact, it’s not uncommon for owners to get a full ROI within five years, which is almost unheard of in construction.
- Reduced maintenance – Sure, LEDs may cost a bit more upfront, but that’s before considering maintenance costs. And maintenance should be considered, as LED fixtures are practically maintenance free for up to 10 years after installation. It goes beyond lamp replacement as well, though that’s a large part of it. A 400 watt, high bay metal halide will provide somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 to 20,000 hours of listed performance. That number is misleading, though, as metal halide output drops quickly as the lamp is marred by residue left from evaporated material, dust and other contaminants. By the 10,000 hour mark, metal halides are producing as little as 50 percent of their initial output, which is unacceptable in a number of applications. LEDs, though, can give 100,000 hours of performance, and they retain close to full output even near their end of life. LED fixtures are made with several diode chips, so if one or two go out, it generally won’t affect the perceived strength of the light. Fewer replacements means lower maintenance costs. And unlike metal halides, which rely on ballasts that take on a ton of wear, LEDs function with drivers that rarely have to be serviced before the fixture’s end of life.
- Better durability – Another reason why LED fixtures hold onto their output is their durability. LEDs are built on solid state electronics, so they can take the kind of physical punishment that would ruin a filament or gas chamber fixture. Lighting experts often refer to LED as damage-proof. They are protected behind inches of strengthened glass in airtight chambers. Moisture, dust and insects are kept out, extending the life of the fixture even further. And though LEDs can be affected by high temperatures – something that can be countered with a simple heat sink – they perform better than other lighting options in low temperatures.
- Even coverage – Uniform lighting is safer and helps productivity, so it is sought after by facility owners. When lighting is bright and even, it ensures workers are always aware of their surroundings and don’t have to constantly adjust to different levels of light throughout the facility. This could be, for example, a problem in warehouses, where a forklift driver may have trouble seeing someone around a dark corner. Or, less seriously, that same driver may have to pause to let their eyes adjust every time they have to load something. That’s precious moments lost. Uneven coverage is a problem for metal halides, which radiate in all directions and have to be corrected with reflectors. LED fixtures, though, are directional and can be reliably spaced and aimed to create that perfectly even level of light.
- Unmatched controllability – It’s tough controlling a pressurized gas chamber or a brightly burning filament. Not so with LEDs, which can be tied to all manner of control systems. This is, again, due to their reliance on solid state electronics. With their added controllability, LED systems can be tied to dimmers, timed controls and occupancy controls, switching off or dimming down when no one is nearby. And because LED lights reach full brightness immediately once switched on, there is no lag between when a sensor fires and when the light reaches full output. LED systems can be tied to more interesting control as well. For instance, a warehouse can have LEDs blink or light up a path for drivers looking for a particular product. Or, LED systems can be configured to light in a different pattern at night, which may be better for surveillance cameras.
Map It Out
LED lighting comes with impressive benefits, but they still have to be realized by an expert lighting designer. Just replacing existing lamps with LEDs will likely end in an imperfect outcome.
The most compelling reason for bringing in an expert is their ability to precisely map the fixture layout before any work is done. This is accomplished with the help of photometric analysis software, which builds a 3D map of the property and a bird’s eye grid of the facility’s layout. Using these maps, the designer can place fixtures and consider how they project light through the space. By the time a designer has built the ideal fixture layout, they will know exactly how many lumens will strike each square foot of the facility. This is how lighting experts can use directional fixtures so precisely, ensuring that only the minimum amount of power is needed for the optimal level of light.
LED lighting is an engineering breakthrough, and is decades in the making. Its potential is still sky high, though, and its efficiency and reliability will only get better with continued development.