In most discussions around manufacturing efficiency, the focus is primarily on streamlining processes, systems and supply chain. With the move toward more sustainable operation, resource and energy efficiency has also now become a larger part of the discussion, with corporate mandates for reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact in general.
But, when it comes to energy efficiency, until recently, few auto manufacturers considered the thousands of lighting fixtures that illuminate their facilities, instead treating them as simply a necessity for safe, productive operation. That’s now beginning to change as modern LED (light emitting diode) lighting technology gains traction across the industry. Some of the major manufacturers have already gone “all-in” on LED technology, implementing large retrofit projects to convert entire facilities from conventional, high-maintenance lighting systems to longer-lasting, zero-maintenance LED lighting.
As it turns out, making the switch to LED lighting offers a substantial roster of benefits that not only make for a wise investment in better lighting, but also a robust, future-ready investment in overall plant efficiency and productivity.
High Efficiency: Energy efficiency is most often the primary driver in an LED lighting conversion for auto manufacturers. The most advanced, high-efficiency LED fixtures can deliver energy savings, cutting consumption by more than 60% per fixture while meeting light levels of conventional HID (high intensity discharge) systems. The result: brighter, better quality light at less than half the cost for energy consumption. Money saved on lighting energy can be reallocated toward other capital investments.
Greener Operation: Environmental friendliness stands out as a priority for automakers. With the push toward putting more high-performance electric cars on the market, automakers are under especially high pressure to ensure the manufacturing process is just as sustainable as the vehicles they produce. By virtue of the dramatic cut in electrical consumption, converting to LED lights can slash carbon emissions, eliminating the production of thousands of tons greenhouse gasses. Plus, with LEDs, there are no harmful materials to dispose of on a routine basis, as it the case with certain HID systems. This enables manufacturers to operate much greener, with a smaller environmental footprint, to meet sustainability goals.
Reliability: The durability of LED fixtures is a significant differentiator for auto facilities. Unlike conventional lighting, which relies on delicate filaments that are prone to failure in harsh environments, LEDs are solid-state devices which can tolerate high-vibration and impact. They can also withstand higher ambient temperatures without overheating and with no catastrophic failures. The highest quality LED fixtures are also fully sealed units, which means they’re dust and moisture resistant. And, for hazardous location applications—such as paint spray booths and other areas where volatile materials may be used or stored—there are plenty of hazloc certified options for reliable, safe illumination. Because of their superior durability, LED fixtures are a smarter long-term solution—the investment you make today will deliver outstanding performance for up to a decade or more.
Zero-maintenance: The best LED fixtures are completely maintenance free for years of performance. That means no more bulb changes, purchasing and storing of new bulbs and ballasts, and no more downtime to accommodate safe lighting maintenance near production equipment or in tough-to-reach locations. Not only does this save a tremendous amount of time and money, it also frees up maintenance staff for more mission-critical projects besides changing bulbs
Superior Visibility: LEDs offer outstanding color quality, visibility and safety. The clear light emitted by LEDs is superior in color rendering than virtually every other conventional light source, especially the dingy orange glow of high-pressure sodium. This not only enhances visibility in areas where quality assurance, tight tolerances and color matching is required, but also improves safety by ensuring workers can in fact interpret colors accurately, such as on wiring, warning signage and other color-coded situations. Plus, the light emitted by LEDs is far more vibrant, which helps to keep workers more alert on the job, for improved safety and fewer weary-induced accidents.
Smart Controls: Smart LED lighting controls are where the rubber really meets the road for auto manufacturers. The addition of occupancy and motion sensors, automatic scheduling of on/off times and daylight harvesting systems that automatically adjust the lighting output based on available ambient light, significantly amplify the energy savings of an LED conversion. The combination of LED’s instant-on (which eliminates the warm-up period required for HIDs) with the ability to automatically control the lights means they’re only on when absolutely needed. This dramatically reduces energy consumption and extends the life and performance of the fixtures, so the last longer to save even more money. In the near future, the LED lights will also tie into building management systems and automation systems to further enhance energy savings, reliability and safety measures.
With the growing adoption of LED lighting technology, more and more fixture manufacturers are offering LED systems. Of course, as with any other investment, identifying the highest quality, longest-lasting and most efficient products among a field of competitors and marketing hype can be a challenge. When evaluating suppliers, there are several important differentiators that separate fixtures that can actually go the distance from those that just look good on paper.
Thermal protection. Sub-standard LED fixtures are prone to unexpected overheating, which dramatically shortens the lifespan and creates a potential safety hazards. The most sophisticated and safest LED systems are designed with built-in thermal protection, which reduces power and lumen output to protect the fixture under abnormal conditions. This “thermal roll-off” point varies widely, as some manufacturers will set this benchmark to be at the fixtures maximum ambient temperature. That means high temps approaching that point put tremendous strain on the integral components, weakening the fixture over time. Instead, choose a fixture with thermal protection that actually safeguards the fixture. A high roll-off point isn’t worth it if it jeopardizes overall fixture reliability.
Purpose-built components and integrated design. In their rush to get into the LED market, many manufacturers simply buy and assemble off-the-shelf components, which are not built for the rigors of lighting applications. They’re also not designed to work together, and this piecemeal approach results in fixtures that have numerous potential weak links. Look for a manufacturer that uses purpose-built components and a closed-loop integrated design process that ensures the fixture operates with optimal thermal, mechanical, optical and electrical performance.
Rigorous testing and verification. Most LED fixture “assemblers” must rely on their suppliers to verify performance data for individual components. But, this only qualifies the individual parts, not how they will perform together once assembled into the fixture. When combined with minimum industry standard burn-in testing (a 4 to 6-hour test burn), this provides little confidence that the fixture will perform to specification over a longer period of time. Instead, choose a manufacturer that not performs total design verification using purpose-built components, but also a rigorous Highly Accelerated Stress Screening (HASS) process. This subjects the fixture to an extended burn test under high-stress conditions far exceeding any that it would likely encounter in its intended application. This ensures the fixture can withstand the worst case scenario and deliver outstanding long-life performance under normal conditions.
Full-system warranty. LED fixtures are relatively complex electronic devices with multiple components. It only takes a single weak link to cause a failure. It only makes sense that a warranty should cover all of those components. But, while many manufacturers claim to offer 5- or 7-year warranties, some only cover the LEDs, and not the power supply, for example—the weakest link of all in mediocre fixtures. Choose a supplier that offers a true, full-system warranty, and even better, one whose products have proven to last through their first warranty cycle.
Between the energy, environmental and maintenance savings alone, LED lighting is proving to be a wise investment, with advantages like Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) support as an added bonus. Total savings combined, many organizations are finding an LED upgrade pays for itself in less than two years in many cases, five if just energy savings alone are the only ROI factor considered. That’s why it’s even more important to choose fixtures that are proven to go the distance, with a warranty that will outlast the payback period so that facilities are guaranteed to reap the benefits.At the same time, an LED retrofit still requires an upfront cash outlay, but there are some off-balance sheet types of creative financing that can lower the initial costs. Some energy service companies offer programs that allow companies to install the lights and actually use their resulting energy savings to pay for the lights over a five-year period.
One thing is certain: the movement toward higher efficiency, environmental sustainability and smarter automation will only going grow stronger and more critical as a competitive differentiator for the auto industry. While switching to LED fixtures certainly solves an immediate challenge—reducing the high cost of electricity for facilities—they’re also a promising investment in the future. As advances like smart controls and network automation gain traction, LED lighting systems will enable productivity and efficiency across every aspect of auto manufacturing, illuminating a path toward more profitable and sustainable operations.
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