Warehouse lighting has rarely been in the forefront of storage operators’ minds as they grapple with other, more pressing issues but rising energy bills and environmental legislation will push lighting more towards centre stage. The problems surrounding warehouse lighting are well-known, though often ignored. They include accidents where lighting is cited as a contributory factor, inadequate lighting owing to outdated equipment, high maintenance and energy costs and tiredness at the end of a working day.

The neglect of lighting issues is due in part to ignorance of legislation governing visibility levels and advances in lighting technology. A good start to breaking down the ignorance barrier would be to digest UKWA’s excellent guide: “Save Energy, Cut Costs,” a joint outcome of a collaborative project between UKWA and the Carbon Trust. It contains case studies describing real scenarios involving UKWA members and provides cogent reasons why all warehouse operators should tackle the challenge of saving energy and cutting carbon emissions.

Lighting technology has moved on over the last 30 years and the more favoured equipment today, like LED, shows just how the technical improvements can substantially outclass earlier lighting techniques like high intensity discharge (HID) lights. These emit a spotlight effect rather than an even distribution of light. The result can be dazzle, especially hazardous for more elderly forklift drivers. Other issues include giving off a sulphury yellow glow rather than a clean light, making it hard to decipher colour coding and so causing picking errors. Adding light sensors can cut energy bills but older lighting kit may not illuminate instantly when switched on.

But just how effective can a replacement of outdated lighting methods be? Given that lighting can account for 50-60% of all electrical costs in warehousing, making lighting more intelligent makes sense. Often, at most times lighting is left on in all areas when no one is working there and they may also be left on fully despite the presence of natural lighting. Some lights, like those from Sonar, not only sense occupancy in each area but also the change in natural light and so adjust the light level and electrical energy usage accordingly.

Based on energy savings alone, new investment payback periods will vary according to site conditions. According to the UKWA report, a 3-year payback would be common. Other factors, however, can reduce the payback further, like greater lamp longevity. March Foods, for example, found that it was spending £2,000 a year having a scissor lift to replace HPS lamps. When it replaced its 84 x 450w HPS lamps on a one to-one basis with Dialight’s Durosite LED lamps, the 150w fittings directed light more efficiently and delivered an immediate power saving of 66%. Unlike HPS, the LED lighting has instant-on ability to work well with occupancy sensors. This boosted energy saving to 72%. March Foods eased the pain of this new investment through an interest-free, £38,000 loan from the Carbon Trust, which has the power to grant such loans worth up to £200,000.

Warehouse operators cannot afford to neglect lighting issues as they could in the past. Rising energy costs and environmental obligations will see to that, so the sooner those inefficiently-lit stores invest in the best, the quicker will come their ability to compete better.

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