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Getting ready for new industrial lighting? Start with this guide

Image of Jason Zhang and Brian Friedman
BC Hydro engineers Brian Friedman and Jason Zhang provide tips on lighting, and you can also access a helpful lighting retrofits presentation from the recent Power Smart Forum.

Assess your needs to find the right lighting fit

Switching to energy-efficient industrial lighting can save you money. But there's more to doing a lighting retrofit than that. Light is often overlooked as critical to industrial processes – it can affect safety, productivity, quality and even your employees' moods.

Upgrading your lighting often offers multiple benefits, and there are BC Hydro incentives that help reduce the up-front costs. However, choosing new lighting can be confusing, because technology is changing fast, with an ever-growing variety of fixtures, lamps, and controls.

To help industrial companies prepare for lighting retrofits, last month's Power Smart Forum offered a session focused on industrial lighting. (Access the presentation slides here.) BC Hydro engineers Brian Friedman and Jason Zhang gave tips on how to understand your lighting needs. Here are some of the points they covered.

1. Understand the task you're lighting

"I think most people changing their lighting system are looking for that silver-bullet solution that's going to do everything," says Friedman. "The reality is, however, that different lighting systems all have their attributes. So your first step is to forget about the lighting system, and really think about the task you're trying to illuminate."

Ask yourself about the specifics of the task that might change lighting requirements:

  • Is the task about making something, storing something, or about shipping or receiving? Or is it about an activity around charging for something? Is there an important human or customer need? (For example health care, hospitality, safety/security, education, business, recreation, hygiene)
  • Is colour or texture important? (Think of industries such as retail, warehousing, food processing, manufacturing, residential, hospitality, health care, safety or security)
  • Is accuracy important? (This may be vital in businesses such as banking, warehousing, education, manufacturing, health care, safety or security)

2. Understand your needs for light quality

Knowing your task helps you determine your need for light quality. But what is light quality? Different types of lighting produce light that can look and feel very different. Here are some of the terms to know.

  • Colour temperature: Colour temperature is a characteristic of light measured in degrees Kelvin. The incandescent lamps we grew up with provided light with a colour temperature of about 2,700°K – considered the "warm" end of the scale. A candle flame is about 1,850°K, while sunlight ranges from 5,000°K to higher than 15,000°K at noon on a clear day. We perceive the warmer light as more yellow, and the cooler (higher temperature) light as more blue. Cooler light, around 5,000°K, can help workers feel more alert.
  • Colour rendering: Another measure of the quality of light cast by a lamp is its CRI, or colour rendering index, expressed on a 1-100 scale. The higher the number, the more faithfully the light source will reproduce colours. A CRI above 85% means the light source will do a good job reproducing colours when compared with daylight or incandescent sources.
  • Spectral distribution: A similar concept, this refers to the makeup, in terms of wavelengths, that a light source contains. If the spectral distribution of a light source doesn't include a certain wavelength, such as red, it's hard to view red with that light. This is why "full-spectrum" light is preferred in applications that require high visual acuity, such as quality checkpoints, colour printing, etc.

3. Understand your needs for light quantity

The amount of light needed in a warehouse for picking orders may be quite different from that needed in an area where employees need to do fine handwork. Understanding how light quantity is measured and discussed helps you consider your needs.

  • Lumens: Lumens measure the amount of light coming from a source.
  • Lux (metric) and foot-candles (Imperial): Two names for the same concept, these measure light at the point where a task needs to happen. A lamp that's poorly aimed may produce enough lumens (amount) of light, but fail to produce adequate lux at a worktable for workers to complete their jobs.
  • Luminance/illuminance: Illuminance is the same concept as lux: the amount of light falling on a given surface (i.e. a work table). Luminance is the amount of light being reflected by that surface towards your eye, enabling you to see. A white surface will have a higher luminance than a black surface.

"The key here is that an industrial customer might entirely rely on lighting vendors or distributors to help them find lighting solutions," says Zhang. "What we see in the market is that some vendors are very knowledgeable, and they'll base their solution on the situation and what gives the best benefit to the customer. But some are less knowledgeable, and might just want to sell products. In that case, it's important to be prepared with your own list of needs, and some basic understanding of lighting terminology."

Read Part 2 – lamp life, efficiency and efficacy