There is no money to made out of warehouse lighting. It’s just a cost that companies need to bear because, after all, warehouses are a necessary burden to the business, so let’s just keep it tight and expenditure to a minimum, right?
Well – it all depends on how efficient a business expects its distribution network to be. With ‘logistics’ being the buzz word on everyone’s transport fleet, it’s probably worthwhile giving a bit more attention to the quality of service that goes on inside those huge sheds.
Spending as little as possible is a fool’s errand. The less that gets spent on lighting, the more will get spent on dealing with returns, damaged goods, staff turnover and general incompetence. It’s because warehouse staff would prefer to be able to see what they’re doing and to be able to read the label on the box.
Know what you need to get the job done properly
Design guides exist to let you know what the recommended lighting levels are for warehousing. Those lighting levels are based on the level of detail that’s expected from staff. If your pickers are under pressure to satisfy intense daily delivery schedules it would help them, and help the business, if they have enough light to read labels easily and without squinting to see whether that ‘3’ is actually an ‘8’.
And if you’re lucky enough to have an automated picking process that doesn’t require the human touch, and so requires very little lighting, remember that the robots will also need some TLC occasionally. So a maintenance lighting installation, even if used only occasionally, would still get the job done more quickly than hauling temporary lighting around.
Understand what your warehouse landscape looks like
Warehouse sheds tend to be high structures, with plenty of height for vertical storage, triple-tier shelving being typical. But the closer your storage gets to the roof, the more lighting you will need. If your aisles are like canyons then you must have lighting that is dedicated to the aisle layout; there’s no point thinking that a light fitting mounted directly above a bank of shelving is doing any good at all. The rule of thumb is that a lighting installation that is dedicated to an aisle layout will be more expensive than an installation that provides overall illumination, but the added cost has to be offset against the greater storage efficiency achieved by multiple storage tiers.
Control the energy usage
Part of the assessment of how the warehouse functions should be a review of how the building actually works. It may be that it’s not necessary to illuminate the entire building for the entire time. Lighting controls are becoming a regular component of aisle-lighting schemes. If there is no one in an aisle, then the lighting automatically drops to a lower level, reducing energy spend.
Rooflights make a huge difference to the cost of lighting for warehouses. Use free light
Use free light
If you’re prepared to make holes in your roof, then there is a free light source available for at least half of the working year. Rooflights make a huge difference to the cost of lighting for warehouses. Obviously, there is a cost to installing them and they will require some maintenance – and you may want to check your insurance cover against potential weather damage if one of them fails, but, generally speaking, rooflights are a good thing.
Be conscious, though, that skylighting also brings occasional sunlight with it and that’s something that ought to be avoided. Solar gain can aggravate internal temperatures in a shed structure, and direct sunlight onto packaging could be damaging. Oh, yes, and rooflights can be a great escape route for heating in the winter months. These environmental issues are resolved by having rooflights fitted with solar glazing. Look for a glazing system that incorporates solar control that reduces direct sunlight into the building and also offers low heat emission, so that less heat can escape by that route.
Buy quality light fittings
Don’t be tempted by the cheapest light fittings on offer; they may come at an unexpected price. The new generation of LED high-bay lighting are reporting extraordinarily high efficacv figures in terms of the amount of light that gets delivered per Watt. But those figures need to be considered alongside the way that the light is delivered. Crude optics that ensure as much light falls out of the face of the fitting as possible may be a hazard to staff if glare becomes a problem. Coming back to high-level shelving, fork-lift operators need to have clear sight of their surroundings and that includes especially the shelves’ upper regions. Looking up into the face of a super-brilliant light fitting is a problem, and it could become a dangerous one.
Know your light sources
There are three light sources that are currently in use for warehouse lighting. Let’s start with the one that’s likely to disappear first. Metal halide light sources were the success story of the 1990s. The lamps improved in their colour rendering, more wattages became available and the lamp changed its shape, meaning that a whole new generation of high-bay lighting was created. But everything that the metal halide lamp delivered can now be provided by LED lighting, with the important addition that LED sources can be dimmed. Despite attempts to dim the metal halide lamp, the idea never caught on and in these energy-conscious times, that is likely to mean the death knell for the metal halide lamp.
The source that is holding out against the march of the LED is the fluorescent tube. The latest generation of T5 tubes (16mm diameter) demonstrate an efficiency that the LED has struggled to better. Though it’s probably only a matter of time before that stops being the case – and it may already have happened by the time you read this, the T5 fluorescent lamp is a very good source for warehouse lighting. Aisle schemes, in particular, work well as the sideways distribution from the fluorescent source often outperforms the LED equivalent, making it a more effective source for high shelving.
Of course, the LED has taken over in almost every lighting sector. It is a very efficient source, and continues to get ever brighter. A good LED luminaire will hold its own against any other type of fixture, but it’s a technology that comes with a warning. Too much of a good thing can be bad for you. LED sources, as mentioned above, can create a level of glare that makes a job difficult and uncomfortable. That glare comes from two possible sources; either because the optical control of the luminaire isn’t very good, or because, quite simply, the LEDs are too bright. There has to be a balance between the light from a luminaire and the comfort of the people working under it.
Flicker of LED sources is becoming the surprise issue of recent months. Perhaps this is to do with the burgeoning LED market and less than scrupulous manufacturers taking advantage of ultra-cheap components, but flicker can be a disabling problem and if you are putting staff into an environment where 100% of the illumination is coming from an inferior source, then expect absences, illnesses, poor performance and, eventually, a writ.
Explore new technology
We're used to the idea that lighting installations can be fitted with daylight linking so that maximum benefit is made of the available light, but the world of lighting control is moving far beyond that.
Facilities management is looking at the use of electronic reporting to keep better control on the energy management of commercial and industrial buildings, so we can expect to see more use of lighting control systems being linked to BMS (BuIlding Management Systems) and BIM (Building Information Modelling) software.
Also, more luminaires are being fitted with self-checking circuitry that can report back to a central monitoring system if a fault occurs within the fixture. And with the advent of new technologies such as Li-Fi (Light Fidelity), where digital information can be transmitted to hand-held devices via an LED lighting installation, we can expect to see logistics management taken to exciting new levels.
Good warehouse lighting should be at the heart of a consumer economy and there are sound financial reasons why companies should see the investment in their warehouse environment as being very good for their bottom line.
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Picture: courtesy of Daviid Thrower, Redshift Photography/Holophane/Travis Perkins